Tuesday, August 18, 2009


(photograph of a print from Memorial Union show "Home Sweet Home," which is up until mid-September . Artist/title unknown. Link: http://www.union.wisc.edu/art/)

So here I am, in writing residency again at the Shambhala Center. It's pretty casual - I hang out and write the whole time, and students and other writers just kind of drop in whenever they have 15 minutes or three hours and write alongside me. I have said I can give advice/feedback, but the main aim here is to just be together, to go somewhere and write. I need it. My students tell me they need it - some of them have told me they are getting wiggly for class to start again, especially since I put it off two more weeks to get some other things done.

Like doing a reading in Appleton yesterday. I went back to my hometown, the place where I lived on and off until I was 19, and read at Harmony Cafe. It didn't exist when I was in High School - I helped to establish a poetry night at the cafe attached to Conkey's Bookstore (RIP) at the time. Harmony is a great establishment - social services, wonderful food, and orange sherbet even, which I hadn't had since I was a kid! (Thanks Matty for buying me a scoop)

I went early and Erika and I swam in her mom's condo association pool. She lives, officially, in Grand Chute, which is sort of the conglomeration of said condos and old farmhouses just past the Fox River Mall. In spitting distance, in most cases, of the mall mecca. So it was a good place to "dip in," so to speak. In the past, going "home" to Appleton has been hard, very hard, but this time it was easier. Erika is from the area, so there was a sense of comraderie. Beyond that, though, we talked about all the why's which could contribute to a stronger sense of ease going back: that we both own our own houses now, we are married, happy in Madison, glad with our work. Add for me Facebook (thanks for coming to the reading, Debbie!) which has gotten me back in touch with the better elements of growing up, in the form of old friends.

But I think Erika said it best when she said, and we were talking about confidence a lot yesterday on the drive from Madison to Appleton, that we are both confident enough in ourselves that our "pasts" have nothing that can shake us up anymore. We might stumble a bit, or feel guilty or off, but nothing that could come up there would actually THREATEN the lives we have now. That was key for me - this idea that nothing can threaten it, at least nothing from my "past." I almost braked the car at 65 miles an hour to sit with that. Wow. When did *that* happen?

I think for me it happened just in the last year. I saw a friend last night at the reading (Thanks for coming, Matty!) whom I saw in Appleton almost exactly a year ago. We spent the afternoon getting wasted. That's all I could do there. I had nightmares about going back before going and was confused the whole time I was there, except for at my nephew's birthday party (the main reason I went back). I realize now that the key point, the key turning point for me, for relating to Appleton, the point on which the THREAT which may have keeled me over turned was realizing, really coming to terms with the fact that my parents died there, that in fact, they both died in the house I grew up in, and in fact in the same bed, 7 years apart.

Of course I have known this the whole time, but I wasn't really aware of it. It was like a secret, a pocket, some part of me was hiding from myself. I wasn't ready to deal with it. Even when I was ready, last year, after that drunken trip, it still knocked me out for a few days. Wow. No Wonder It Is Hard To Go Back There, I thought. And like that, poof. The power seeped out and I got back on my feet.

I didn't realize it but this was a bit of a test. "Good to go back to your place and be recognized for what you do well," Erika said, and I agree. But more than that, all the secrets are out. I've spent the last few years removing the wind from their sails, airing out the closets that no longer belong to me. Now I have my own house, which I keep open and airy, as much as is possible.

It's almost as if Appleton was a grave, not just a closet, but a deep-down dark crypt for me. Literally. And now it isn't. It's not "just like that," it took many years of hard work, but it's clear to me now that it has changed, that I have changed, that my relationship with the town has changed. I am no longer nor likely ever will be a resident there again, but I can go there without a fear so dark it most closely resembles death.

And today I feel light. Airy. Open. Ready to write. Ready to reside in myself, nothing left to hide.

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