Wednesday, September 30, 2015


When I was very young, my mom used to let us sit on the edge of the kitchen and arrange blocks on the tile. Our wooden blocks had a curve to them and they weren't easy to balance on the carpet. We could use the tile in those in between times, when she was cooking or washing dishes and we'd be visible and sort of out of the way. Sometimes, Mom would sit down and play with us--she'd arrange her blocks into the outlines of rooms and houses and talk about the way she'd design a house. My imitation houses were simple and sloppy and often fell victim to angry weather when a wall refused to remain upright.

I found those fallen rooms returning to my imagination when Pandora decided to go on a 90's music kick and it occured to me that I could have been listening to those songs in their first radio run while I was at UH. Study music pouncing out of my iPad and ambushing my afternoon. Must be this sunny afternoon. There were plenty of those in the dorms and our desks were just below the one window. But it wasn't the sun or the basic dorm design that brought back the blocks. Instead, it was the memory of the library.

The UH library had a crimson entryway lit by smoked glass: it was the entrance to a low-ceilinged netherworld of computers and books in which I only felt comfortable when I started climbing the narrow stairwells (with plain glass windows) and entered the upper floors with plain white walls, linoleum floors, and copy machines. Here was were I would chip paragraphs out of books to add to my own essays, producing drafts not unlike the collapsing rooms of those early house outlines. It didn't occur to me then to consider the writers, to think about them pushing themselves to finish drafts, caring so much about the life around them that they wanted to set it down so that we could know it when we encountered it years later.

Themes seemed to come from the syllabus, not a soul.

And I was an English major. Not a good one, not one with any clue as to why I was there other than to tick off the box: Get a Degree.

I remember the sweet wooden smell of the blocks, the way you had to be gentle with them to get them to balance. I remember Mom dreaming about the shape and form of rooms. And I remember pages of photocopied books, notebooks full of identifying information about the books from which the pages were copied. What I don't remember, with a few exceptions, are the classes. I sometimes wonder why no one ever grabbed my shoulders and shook me awake.

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