Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Upon returning to my old college campus

The title sounds like something out of 19th century romantic poetry. A paean to bygone days, to a younger self, and a place that remains the same even though it's changed.

But it was like that.

I hadn't been back to Augustana College since 13 months after I graduated, but I returned there yesterday, on a Spring Preview Day for college-bound high school juniors. I am the mother of a high school junior who is bound for a liberal arts college. It's his spring break, so we went.

I admit I was looking forward to going, but that's because I seldom go anywhere. Who would have thought I could get so excited about driving past Old Main? About crossing Seventh Avenue on foot, stopping traffic, and trudging uphill towards the Union and the dorms? It felt like I had just climbed the stairs from the practice rooms in Bergendorf, after an hour and a half of wrestling with Beethoven and Bach, or just finished up my work in my theater office, the one with the space heater that glowed very hot and the IBM Selectric type-like typewriter that took me months to master.

I feel so much younger today. Which is odd, because I'm a long way from twenty.

What didn't I know back then? I knew about music and dramatic theory and literature and how to unravel the meaning buried in the writer's work. I didn't know much about the doing of these things, the making of art, or that even the most subtle and vivid piece of writing or composition is a long way from both the banality of real life and its glory.

What else didn't I know? I knew that I could pretty much get an A in anything I wanted to (as well as in classes I didn't care about). I did know there was a downside to being the smartest one in the room. I didn't know that I'd cease to care about that (though I would learn something about when to shut up).

I didn't know that I would reckon the years passing in my life by the losses and the ongoing challenges, not by the accomplishments.

I didn't know that I would be as lonely in middle age as I was during my junior year.

I didn't know that one day I'd sit on a bench by the slough with my daughter and talk nonsense about a duck. I didn't know how much that would lessen the loneliness.

I knew a lot about Brecht, whom I liked, and Tennessee Williams, whom I don't. The years have not changed those opinions. I didn't know then, though teachers tried to tell me, that I could trust my musical instincts--they were better than most people's.

My wardrobe isn't all that different from what it was in college, but my shoes and my bags are more comfortable. I tried knitting while reading for the first time while I was in college, because that theater history textbook was so dull. I've since discovered that knitting at the same time also helps me read complex material.

Back in college, I was an optimist, though an optimist with a cynical streak. Yesterday I felt that was still true, though the cynicism is less deep. It's been replaced by doubt and worry.

All the things I was then, what I worried about, what I thought about, what I obsessed about--those all happened in real places, and I saw those places yesterday, and it's almost as if I didn't know how things turned out for that girl.

I may have to visit some other places.

1 comment:

Jeff Abernathy said...

Glad to have you back at Augie this week, Gwen. I enjoyed reading your reflections on these years since you were an undergraduate. When I had encountered your blog earlier, I didn't realize you were an alumna.

Good luck as your daughter continues her college search, and let me know if I can help in any way.

Blessings to you and yours this holiday. -- Jeff Abernathy, Dean of the College