When I got back home from O'Hare that afternoon I felt a combination of exhaustion, and also spellbound. June in South Africa is one of their cooler times of year, whereas back in the states, the humidity and heat of the summer was in full-effect. It felt good to be home and under the hot and warm sun again.
Not just home, in America, but home –––– in Indianapolis, sleeping in the same bed where I had slept since I was in sixth grade. My uncle, the same uncle who lived in New York, and who I would sit with in front of Vesuvio playground six months later was in Indianapolis as well ––– for a fashion show. He's a fashion designer, and my dad, who is from Harlem and works as a doctor by trade, year-by-year with my uncle has continued designing and sewing clothes.
After I walked in the door with my mom, my uncle gave me a heavy hug (he does not hug lightly) and asked me how I was. I can't remember what I said. I only remember sitting on the couch in our living room and being told how sleepy and tired I looked. Maybe I looked that way on the outside, but on the inside I was more alive, excited, and ready for the world than I had ever been before.
At twenty-three, my life was beginning to take shape. I was getting the first tastes of what I might be able to achieve, and although I had to fly across the Atlantic and spend time in South Africa to get that feeling; now I understand that once that feeling is locked in, it's never lost. So much was happening over those next three-to-five days that I would spend in Indianapolis, before heading back to Des Moines, where I’d begin working at the Iowa Civil Rights Commission again.
Not only was my uncle in town for the fashion show that he was working on with my dad, but my brother was also graduating from high school, and his graduation ceremony and open house were both somewhere within those few days as well. And the World Cup was starting. And I had a paper to write from my trip, about the constitution of South Africa, post-Apartheid, and I had to hone in on a thesis, and I was training for a marathon, and running anywhere from four to twelve miles each day. And I was writing poetry, really diving into the art and craft of how poems are created and constructed, in many ways, for the very first time.
I remember I subscribed to the New Yorker during my second year of law school, in 2009. One of the first things that I did after I got back home that June afternoon was to run down our driveway and check the mail. Thankfully, there was a copy of the New Yorker waiting there for me. I didn’t wait to get back inside ––– I started flipping trough the magazine right away. There's a story that's printed in the Fiction Issue (June 7th, 2010) that caught my attention: Jeffrey Eugenides "Extreme Solitude," The story begins:
"It was debatable whether or not Madeline had fallen in love with Leonard the first moment she'd seen him. She hadn't even known him then, and so what she'd felt was only sexual attraction, not love. Even after they'd gone out for coffee, she couldn't say what she was feeling was anything more than infatuation."
As Eugenides story continues, the protagonist, Madeline, discovers Roland Barthes' book, A Lover's Discourse, from 1977.
"And so now it was Friday night, her roommates had gone out to a party, and Madeline had stayed in "to study." She was reading "A Lover's Discourse" and marveling at its relevance to her life:
attente / waiting
Tumult of anxiety provoked by waiting for the loved
being, subject to trivial delays (rendezvous, letters,
telephone calls, returns) . . .
Waiting is an enchantment: I have received orders not to
move. Waiting for a telephone call is thereby woven out
of tiny, unavowable interdictions to infinity: I forbid
myself to leave the room, to go to the toilet, even to
telephone (to keep the line from being busy).
I had no idea how much these lines would weave their way into and out of and into and out of my life again over the next seven years, but I knew that I was drawn-in, hooked, enraptured, not just by Eugenides story ––– which is stellar and strong in its own right, but also, and more importantly: by the power and possibility of strong writing, and short stories.
I was an English Major in college, but I did not find a meaningful interest in poetry and creative writing until the fall semester of my senior year ––– when I was already on my way to law school. I spent my first five semesters of college at the University of Tampa, a school I chose for the strength of its men’s soccer team. Though I did not know it in the spring of 2004, when I committed to Tampa ––– who could have, that the coach who recruited me to play at Tampa, Tom Fitzgerald, who had coached UCLA to national championship the year before, and who had coached the Columbus Crew from 1996 to 2001, and who shared the same birthday as my father, March 14th, passed away in a motorcycle accident in December of my first semester at Tampa, a few weeks after our season.
The coach who replaced him didn't have the same plans for me as coach Fitzgerald, and although I remained on the team, after four more semesters, I knew and felt that it was time for a change. That change was Butler University, back in Indianapolis, where I'd be able to still finish in eight semesters, and also continue playing soccer.
Butler was exactly what I needed, and not because I did not love Tampa –––- there was plenty to experience and love in Tampa, and still I miss that city –––– there’s a timeless joy that’s forever tied with driving out to Clearwater beach on a sunny Saturday morning, but Butler became the right place more so because, in time, I'd meet the professor, Dan Barden, who would first introduce me to who I am at my core ––– a poet, a writer, a man with an endless curiosity about human nature and the world.
This was within me the whole time, but the beauty and power of those college years, those formative years, is that at last this curiosity had the chance to be unleashed, heightened, let out of its cage, and to come alive. In August of 2007, I was beginning my senior year of college. At some point I set my schedule, and selected a creative writing class with Professor Barden. Our only assignment was to write for thirty minutes each day, which changed my life.
I still can't believe how young I was, and how ready ––– hungry ––– I was for creative writing, for a deeper and more honest and beautiful and inspiring way of not just being in the world, but also moving through it.
With the hindsight of thirteen years, that three year gap ––– the jump from August 2007, when I first started getting a sense of the power and possibility of poetry ––– from June 2010, when I had just returned from South Africa, and was standing in front of my parents' house and reading "Extreme Solitude" for the first time, that span of thirty-six months seems so small, so short. Though now I know, over those three years, slowly, steadily, ––– the very first foundations for Curlew Quarterly were being built, even if I had no idea at the time.