(Title of this post stolen shamelessly from a Frank O'Hara poem, in case you're wondering. He got an MFA here in between sojourns in New York.)
So here I am in Ann Arbor for day 1 of the conference I'm attending; the papers are all being delivered tomorrow and Sunday morning, so today was mostly about meeting the conference organizers and some of my fellow presenters. We had a lively dinner and happy hour, and now I'm contemplating getting out my paper and going over it again. But first, blogging.
In some ways it's very strange to be here, because the University of Michigan was where I went for my literature Ph.D., and I haven't been back since I left in 2004. In fact, my very first visit to Ann Arbor took place more or less exactly eleven years ago — which made me feel positively ancient when I realized how long it had been. When I got into town, I squeezed in a couple of hours of visits with people from the English department before I had to run off.
I found myself thinking the kinds of thoughts that everyone probably thinks on revisiting places where they once lived: first, detached amusement at how little has changed (a reshuffling of a few shops and restaurants, and most of the people I knew have moved on, but the town itself is much as I remember it). Then, a wave of nostalgia (expressed by uncontrollable babbling to fellow conferees: "And I used to walk this way every morning! And this is the street I used to live on! And this place sells fantastic scones!*"). Then, a strange sense of every place being overlaid with seven years' worth of memory and associations, like geological strata, to the point where I half expected to run into my younger self rounding every corner.**
I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes miss the person I used to be when I lived here — or, more accurately, the people I knew and hung out with when I used to live here. But all three of the old friends and mentors I saw again today said the same thing: "You look good. You look happy." And they're right. The person I used to be is still in there, but grown calmer and more confident and much less melancholy, and leaving the old life here had a lot to do with that. I suspect that this weekend is going to make me think a lot about how to find the through-lines from then to now. Getting back in touch with a lot of people I've lost touch with, for a start.
All right, enough navel-gazing for one night. (That was a lot of navel-gazing, I realize. I could blame it on having just come from happy hour, but really, it's the nostalgia talking.) Tomorrow, actual conference-related posting.
* And fantastic bread, and cheese, and brownies. If I have any time at all on Sunday, some of that bread is going home to Philadelphia with me. Too bad their delicious sherry olives wouldn't survive the plane trip without leaking.
** That overlay of associations on places is something I want to write about, someday. Not sure how yet, but it ties into other spatially-themed obsessions of mine. Perhaps it'll end up as research with some sort of poem cycle or memoir-thingy on the side.