turning points

I have just consumed my one annual meal from McDonalds. I have not eaten well — or enough — in the past 24 hours, and suddenly I craved fat and red meat. I tend to listen to my body’s cravings (except for its almost daily need for ice cream) and so I walked a few blocks out of my way to my local McDonalds before heading to my apartment this afternoon. When you are really craving a burger, a burger tastes pretty darn good, that’s all I have to say.

I had my last class of the week today — Writing the Nonfiction Book. There are 10 students, and everyone has really interesting projects they are working on. There are several travel writers, and I actually knew just about everyone in the class. That’s a first since I’ve been in this program, and a nice change. I hate having each class feel like I am starting school all over again. It’s always motivating to me to hear other people discuss what they are working on, too.

We had an in-class writing exercise, to write about a turning point. Usually in-class writing makes me self-conscious, and I have trouble turning out anything of substance. When I read my results out loud, as D, our professor, asks us to do when he assigns exercises, I get short of breath and wince at all of the bad sentences. But this time I produced a quick and not-half-bad piece about Korea. After I read it out loud to the class I realized that what I wrote about is a jumping off point for the next section of my book. It’s funny how our brains know what to do next, they just don’t always let us in on it.
I came away from class feeling inspired and ready to get to work, for the first time this week.

It turned out that I rather enjoyed my first literary party last night, and I knew a lot more people there than I thought I would.  There were so many people there you could barely walk around, and the heat and humidity were awful. I was sweating buckets. All of these literary minded people wandered around drinking red wine, which I couldn’t even think of drinking because it was so hot. I downed a water and eventually got a beer, because it seemed cold and that seemed good. A number of classmates were there, mostly people from my year. W, the woman who I went with, knew a couple of people there too, and we chatted with them for a while. One, a freelancer, took my email address and promised to forward article requests she gets from one of my favorite travel magazines, which I am quite excited about. The chance to write for a real magazine… sigh.

Last night was a bit of a turning point in its own way. I chatted with a few people from my program, several women with whom I have had some classes and generally like, but who are younger and seemingly more ‘with it’ than me, in terms of wearing cool clothes and going to all the parties, knowing everyone in the program, etc. etc. In the past I have been concerned with whether they liked me or thought I was stodgy or whatever — in short, I have been concerned with their opinions and bothered when they didn’t ask me to join them on the weekends.

One in particular I have been…I guess jealous of. She seemed always to be one step ahead of me in terms of getting internships, TAships, classes, etc. She would tell me about all the cool things she did over the weekend, but despite knowing (because I told her) I wanted to be included, she never invited me to join her.

Well, last night I felt … comfortable. She clearly was nervous and even clung by my side for a while, despite the fact that our conversation waned. But — and I don’t mean this to sound like bragging, it was just that for once, the tables were turned — I was the one who introduced her to one of the editors of a lit mag. And I wasn’t as well-dressed or as hip, but I was the one who had gotten a cool freelance tip. And it felt good.

Then later, I stood talking with a group of these female classmates. One of them, who had asked me to submit one of my essays she had read in our class to the graduate literary journal (where she is a nonfiction editor) haltingly explained that she was sorry she never got back to me. She then told me an odd story about someone else’s submission. I read into it all and realized she was trying to tell me, nicely, that the journal had rejected my piece. I said, “No worries, I had no expectations.” Which I honestly hadn’t. For some reason it seemed kind of funny, having her struggle to tell me that I had been rejected. It was nice of her, really, she didn’t have to tell me at all. For some reason, I even felt relieved that it was not accepted.

The group later — after we had moved closer to the bar — began talking about a party tonight that I wasn’t invited to but have heard about. But while one woman (whose birthday fest it was) talked about some drama related to people who planned to come or didn’t want to due to some offense — she didn’t ask me to join, despite the fact that I was standing right there, obviously listening to the conversation. In the past, I would have been hurt and angered by this. For some reason, last night, I thought it was funny. I thought they were all funny; so wrapped up in themselves.

And so I ignored them and began talking to the woman who had given me the freelance tip again. She had just met Susan Orlean, who was standing a few feet from us, surrounded by people. The freelancer had just walked up to her and given her a copy of a lit mag a friend of hers ran, and Susan Orlean was gracious and very nice. She even came over to us and thanked the freelance woman again. Though I didn’t meet her myself, it occurred to me that had I been standing with my classmates still, I would have missed the whole Susan Orlean exchange in favor of grad school drama and talk of parties, which was not at all why I came to the gathering in the first place. And for the first time I didn’t worry about whether they thought I dressed well or whether they wanted me to come to their parties or not. I was doing just fine without them. W, the freelancer and I left soon after to go to a (mercifully cool) bar, and I waved goodbye to my classmates, who were still sweating in the hot room, consuming as much of the free wine as they could.

Susan Orlean, by the way, was both older-looking and more petite than I expected. (It’s hard not to think of Meryl Streep when you think of her, after watching “Adaptation.”) She must have been dying of the heat… she was wearing a tweedy looking suit jacket of some kind.

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