July 8th, 2010 §
By Laura Grafham
Summer is when minds float away. All it takes is a tiny breeze. When the Falcon opinions articles talk about the need for an increase in modesty. For roses to unfurl their ruddy feminine petals. For seed pods to float across Tiffany Loop like snow, landing as papery puddles in the grass.
The time when I unintentionally wore a see-through skirt, pointed out to me by my roommate at the end of the day, sending my boyfriend into hysterics. We all imagined the people walking behind me throughout the day, pointing at the patterned underwear shining through.
It is now that my friends and I drink iced tea and put on Zeppelin’s “Going to California” on the turntable my parents found somewhere. We eat green and yellow avocados. We clink jam jars filled with ice cubes.
I notice that as the days get longer, the classes digress and shorten with the season. Teacher and students look at one another with expectant eyes, both parties coming to mutual agreement to end class two minutes early. Warm spring rain persuading us to come inside just a little bit longer, to read the book a little bit longer.
Today in Texts and Contexts II, I was taught that Henry the Fifth’s soldiers use longbows made out of yew wood. The strong heartwood is at the center of the six-foot-tall strip, the pliable young wood at each end. Yew wood leads to a discussion about the landscaping job Dr. Amorose held during college, back hoeing trees with his brother and ex-Vietnam vets.
They were slightly off, he said. Off their rockers, still needing to fight something. So they fought plants, hedges, and root balls with shovels and pick axes instead of guerillas hiding in the forest with guns. Crazy they were, staying up late, drinking coffee, going out to bars. Crazy like us college students, working late, getting up early, sleeping in, bags under the eyes, reloading our guns.
And sitting in the stifling, muggy room of Demeray, I picture Amorose and his brother as Martin Sheen or Robert Duvall, traversing swampy jungles in Apocalypse Now. Slogging through Shakespearean text, through dirt, through wet reeds. Right now, we all are at war with ourselves—fighting to stay afloat, to graduate, to find jobs, to hammock in a grassy yard somewhere. Fire, reload.
May 11th, 2010 §
By Laura Grafham
Where is my home, people ask of me. I’d like to know, too; if you tell me I shall blow kisses to you through the air, floating out from letters on the page.
To avoid asking the question of myself, I’ve found it easier asking other people about their home. When I look inside, shaky and nervous, the signal comes in like fuzzy radio waves, announcers burping out past memories and words like gunshots:
The dogwood trees I climbed as a kid. Now my brother climbs them. My mother shouts through the windows. The teakettle screams. My brother is more at home in trees than I am now. And I mourn my loss. He is 13 and runs track. He is the wind.
His hair is my home and I smell it and know. He still uses Johnson’s Baby Magic shampoo of his own free will; it squeaks him clean and naïve in the shower, no exponential young man odor. His short stubbly head is a blond hedgehog that weaves and dodges away from hugs and arms. This doesn’t mean it isn’t mutual, and we both know this. It is mutually understood that he is a teenager, that he does not touch family or female sisters with affection.
We are mischievous at each other with each weave of our limbs, our eyes making electric charged electrodes out across the airwaves — we are on the same frequency.
He isn’t old enough to know what I know, but he is wiser than I am in his own secret way. We both know it. He has patience and I don’t. He has 13-year-old style and grace, married with an awkward body and mind. It is beautiful, and this is why I try to hug him.
Examining living human beings with my eyes, I tie strings from my heart to theirs. When they tug on my foundation it hurts. But isn’t this the only way to be home?
The gap between home as a location and a feeling grows more and more numerous with the passing of time and age. My foundation is mobile, has wheels, needs gasoline and oil changes from time to time. I don’t build my home to stay put, and neither do the people I care about. We build it around each other.
April 29th, 2010 §
by Laura Grafham
What the writing life is
is a tree
a deciduous tree.
It is me.
It is college kids with holes
in their closet and clothes.
Dillard says mangrove tough roots
make my pencil into love patterns
on the page,
lovely ink interpretations
of Missus Dee or
All the writers I know
have good hair,
messy, with separate lives
lived out in follicle forests,
conducting orchestras around them
from each scalp possessed.
The difficulty nowadays is not “having enough time to read.” It is having enough time to read without the voices of essays, themes, motifs, and literary technique breathing down my neck.
I read so I can write about my reading later. How can I keep words fresh, something crisp like produce at Pike Place when I do it everyday? If I could stick words into my fridge and keep them all rounded, not self-imploding, till I wanted them, what a wonderful world we’d live in.
These are not our circumstances. We — all of us, don’t lie — bitch about the seemingly menial task of peeling back our scalp skin, pounding keys, pounding our brain for literature’s worldly significance to this sheltered college life. Please tell me that I won’t stay in ivory towers; the street is where the life is at. And my hair’s not long enough to be a rope ladder fire escape.
The eloquent Annie Dillard sheds some light: “You write it all, discovering it at the end of the line of words. The line of words is a fiber optic, flexible as wire; it illumines the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm.” (The Writing Life, 7)
What is The Writing Life actually? Hell if I know. I do know in order to get past the two-buck chuck writing I’ve written (and sometimes, often, continue to write) I’ve got to keep writing, delicately balancing on the tightrope wire between earth and insanity.
Join me, won’t you?
April 29th, 2010 §
By Laura Grafham
“This is one of those literature class moments,” gestures Dr. Doug Thorpe, before pressing play on the boom box waiting with jazz music from the 1910s and ’20s.
The notes dig out deep meanings hidden in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. The classroom, 40 students full, listened, catching sideways glances out the window at the gray afternoon.
For example, does the “I am…” at the beginning of the prologue draw upon the Judeo-Christian Yahweh? Perhaps. But more than that, the voice is confident about his identity. Are we?
“I am an invisible man,” Ellison’s character states, leaving us, the questioning students, left to find out where this invisibility stems from.
He surrounds himself with lights — 1,369 to be exact — wired up from floor to ceiling, surrounding himself by light bulbs underneath the ground in a hole-home he created for himself. He explains to the reader, “without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s form is to live a death.”
Family, friends and strangers often ask me what I plan to do with my English major. This happens with me all the time. My uncle last Thanksgiving asked me this very question, and when I told him I had many plans, he asked if one of those plans included asking “would you like fries with that?” Very funny.
Without giving form to the formlessness, as Ellison’s character tries to do, we’d become lost. I’d become lost. Words perform the same task that the light bulbs do by shedding understanding into dark corners of the world.
I can never fully understand where other people are coming from. It’s frustrating. Words, books, are a feeble but necessary attempt to bridge this enormous gap that can never be fully closed. As long as I can find a really excellent Mandarin or Hindi translator to work with me, all I want to do is add my voice to the literary melting pot.
My roommate, a global development studies major, is plagued with feeling like she can never do anything of great enough consequence that will help people, with inadequacy toward “what needs to be done”. There need to be people like her out there.
The Protestant upbringing in me, the Baptist guilt, tells me much of the same thing, whispers in my ear that I’m being frivolous. You’re reading books? You’re writing? the voices whisper.
Yes, I am. What of it?