Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Another Homecoming

Well and so! Another August--my second one back here in Bloomington--draws to a close. Other than a few brutally hot days, it's been unusually mild and dry, and while I'm no expert when it comes to leaf science (is that a thing?), I wonder if this weather has anything to do with the red and orange pops of color that are already here in the trees.

With the end of August comes the inevitable return of the students. And here is a rather unexpected development--the students are not the only ones returning to Indiana University. I am, too.

Two weeks ago, I stood before a class of library science students. Eleven and twelve and thirteen years ago, I had been one of those students, sitting in that same classroom, prepared to absorb the information my instructors were about to impart. Now, I am one of those instructors, teaching Collection Development. Strange to think that I'm now a little bit of an expert, at least in terms of having over a decade of professional, practical public library experience, which is apparently a marketable commodity.

So. It seems I've come home, in every sense of the word.

The basement halls and lockers around which  I and my friends and fellow students hung around now echo--other students cluster around them, of course, but all of my people--even the most of the professors I knew--have shuffled on to other things--other jobs, retirement, even death. Now, down these halls I walk, an almost middle-aged woman, missing those who populated my youth.  I try to hold myself rather accountable--"I'm not chasing some lost youth or fanciful second chance, am I?"  But still, I'm simply grateful to be here once more. It's another way to be useful and occupied and to try and lead a life of significance, if not success.

And I now have a solid reason to spend time on this beautiful campus, observing the lively, hopeful students, being challenged intellectually and professionally, roaming the stacks of the Wells Library.

Here, at least, things have not changed. These books, also my friends, have not left. They greet me, as they greet all, with a studied, passive indifference, but they accept me. They are steady, and change only as much as the people who read them (or revise them) change and project their own thoughts and interpretations onto the texts.

Most comforting of all: the campus, while now boasting of old buildings with sometimes-new names, and a few new buildings and cosmetic features, hasn't changed much either. It's still lush and green and a little bit abandoned in high summer, a little bit burnt-brown and a lot crowded in the late summer, but the land endures. The thoughts and personalities and hopes and sadnesses and worries and insouciant joys of thousands of students seep their way into the trees, the paths, the soil, becoming part of the story of our university, becoming the stories that nobody hears, but that endure nonetheless. A dozen years ago, I was one of those students, and my story became part of the university. Now I'm back to write another chapter.  

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Here it is, in early August. 2017 marches onward, slowly and reluctantly relinquishing its grasp. It's been rather obnoxiously hot outside, but that's the nature of summer, and now, during my second summer Back Home, I still don't feel depressed and angry and frustrated the way I did in the deserts. Here, summer is a thing that happens to us, that blesses us for our endurance of the winter, that stays for the proper amount of time and then cedes its position of authority to Fleeting Fall. It's all very right and proper feeling.

The fireflies seem to have faded away (possibly?) but the crickets and the cicadas and the frogs are racheting up their song, and it's impossible to feel lonely in the night, as I sit out on the balcony and listen to their chorus. The wildflowers (or are they weeds?) are blossoming in every bit of uncultivated land, and although I can only identify one, Queen Anne's Lace, I still admire the yellows, oranges, purples, and whites of the other anonymous flora. One of these days, I'll acquire a book on Indiana wildflowers and learn a thing or two about a thing or two, but for now, I am content to simply enjoy the fact that I live in a place where flowers bloom without the intervention of man.

July was a good month. I was quite prepared to love it because I viewed it as something of a "new year"...or new "half year", really. And July, despite being as hot as balls, obliged, and I managed to get through the month more or less unscathed.

Possibly because I spent a good part of the month holed up in my bedroom, reading. Back in June, I re-discovered a historical fiction series that I rather love, and because I work at an incredibly awesome library that carries all approximately 245,631 books in the series, I hunkered down in my bed, drew the blinds, and spent many an evening ignoring any adult obligations in pursuit of the oblivion that comes when reading engrossing, highly-detailed novels set in 1400s-1900s England, in which the compelling characters indulge in mercifully little bodice ripping.

Because bodice-ripping? At this point in my life?

Other than reading, and working, and hiding out from the sunlight, I did manage to get out a little bit. Middle Sister and her husband drove out to see me (this is now the ninth time I've seen them in the 16 months since I've been home!) and we took a lovely jaunt over to Cincinnati. It's rather absurd to me that I was born there, and yet I hardly ever manage to get over there. It was only in 2015--30 years after I had left--that I managed to make make my way back. Fortunately, Middle Sister loves it there, and it's becoming something of a tradition for us to make a pilgrimage there--to eat Cincinnati Skyline Chili Cheese Coneys...
(and fortunately not suffer from cheese-coney-induced death)

To visit our childhood homes...

(One of which now appears to be the site of a fairy garden on meth) 

To eat more food that is slightly more classy than Cheese Coneys...

And to just enjoy this remarkable, beautiful city which feels so strange to us, and yet, if our lives had gone somewhat differently, which could have still been home. Would have never felt alien, would never have looked foreign, because it would have been familiar. Instead, it's a foreign-feeling place (although I think that has to do at least somewhat with the many German and Irish influences in the architecture and food) that bewitches and intrigues us, perhaps mostly for roads not taken. 

It's odd to think of this city being our birthplace. It's odd to think that our family spent a significant period of time here, and yet their mark--if ever there was one--has been erased. The voices of the people who raised us, who saw and knew us at our most young and vulnerable, have been silenced by time and and rejection and death brought on by hard living or just living too damned long.  The only thing that remains are echoes of memories that are fuzzy even to my sisters and myself. The restaurants and stores we remember shuttered their doors years ago. The hospital where I was born closed, even. The elementary school that my sisters attended has changed names, and judging by the exterior, it might not even be the same damned structure. The houses we grew up in have been gutted at best and turned into a fairy-garden meth-lab, at worst. 

Ah well. The past is a foreign country...they speak a different language there, etc. etc. Although, some nights, I feel like the present is a foreign country to me, too, and that I am speaking a language that, hell, is based on an entirely unknown alphabet that only I know. But that's a different thing to ponder, on a different night. 

Thank you, July, for not kicking my ass. Thank you for the good books and the good family and the good food and the warm nights and the days that, while hot, were still not something that would kill me. Thank you, July, for being a quietly, peacefully solid start to the second half of this year, which so fat is going far better than the first half.