Growing Up and Letting Go of Nostalgia

Me at Bowles PlazaThis is me back on campus at ol’Wash U. Thanks to Felicia Conway Korengal for the pic!

So, I mentioned on Tuesday that I was still processing my 25th College Reunion. People keep asking me if I had fun and if I’m glad I went and my usual answers have been “kind of” and “yes.” I think it’s good that I went and I don’t regret it, and there were many fun moments, but I didn’t really enjoy myself all that much.

I felt super emotional – lots of sadness – and I wasn’t sure why.

A few things played into this, I think. I’ve been back to campus and St. Louis many times over the last 25 years since graduation, but always with very specific plans. Sometimes I was there for work and arranged to see local friends. Once I arranged for a celebration of my favorite professor, who was dying of cancer. Many of his former students from over the years came together to talk about how much his teachings meant to us. That was an amazing, fulfilling experience.

This time, it was the random luck-of-the-draw, whoever turned-up-for-the-reunion thing. There were some people I knew – Felicia being one – and a whole lot of people I didn’t remember. Very few of them remembered me. I ended up walking around by myself a lot, which was fine because I’m good with that, and it also replicated how I was in college. Most of the time I went from place to place on my own, caught up in my own thoughts, following my own schedule. So that put me very much back where I was then.

And I became profoundly aware of how different I am now.

It was kind of wrenching to realize.

See, for a very long time, I regarded my college years as an ideal time in my life. And it was, in many, many ways. At Wash U, I found my tribe in a way I never had before. I blossomed – socially, intellectually and, dare I say, spiritually – and when I graduated and moved on, I deeply missed the community I’d had there. I grieved for it. I may have idealized it.

Because, walking around, visiting all my old places, memories came back to me that made me see how unhappy I’d been at times. Especially in the first couple of years. It was a time of great growth and change for me, which often means pain. To my surprise, instead of happy nostalgia, I re-experienced a lot of that old pain. An amazing sensation, 25 years later.

The extraordinary thing that hit me was, how much better my life is now.

It’s especially clear to me as I plan to go to the RT Booklovers Convention next week. My schedule is already full – meals and drinks and parties with friends, various writing and reading communities and publishers. There are so many people I’m excited to see and talk to.

They are my new tribe.

It’s an interesting experience, to realize you’re not the person you were. Almost like a little death. No wonder no one remembered me – I’m not at all who I was then. Which, I suppose, is how it should be.

I walked onto that campus at 19 and left four years later a transformed person. Of course that didn’t stop. One of the things I most value about the education I received at Washington University is the tools they gave me to continue a lifetime of learning and growing.

Learn and grow I have.

It will be interesting to see who I am in another 25 years.

Why I Don’t Care About Commas

BIQNbrsCIAEUWCUThe ceremony for my 25th college reunion was held in Graham Chapel, one of my favorite places on campus. I saw the Violent Femmes play here, back in the day. They put lights outside that enormous stained-glass window and made it part of the show. Amazing memory.

I thought I’d post about my reunion today, but it turns out I’m still processing what ended up being an unexpectedly emotional experience. On my way there, I was joking about writing a reunion book so I could deduct the trip and now I’m thinking what I have to say might end up being something like that. Perhaps this long-time set-aside-to-ferment narrative nonfiction book.

We’ll see.

Also  on the way there, and while I was there, and on the way back, I worked on my content revisions and line edits for Rogue’s Possession. This is my least favorite round of edits and most hated part of the whole writing gig. It’s painstaking and requires great attention to detail at the point when you’re completely Sick To Death of the story. You’ve been over stuff so many times that it all seems trite and dull.

With edits, too, there’s a constant struggle to determine what the right decision should be. My editor wants it one way. I want it another way. How can I please us both? More – it becomes this internal tug-of-war in sorting out whether I’m just resisting not having it MY WAY or if I have a solid foundation for fighting the alteration of my original text. This is exacerbated by the whole “art” thing, where a lot of times I can’t rationalize or articulate my reasons for sticking to my guns. I just FEEL it and there lies the boggy territory of sounding like a diva and being Difficult To Work With.

So, I do this rarely. But sometimes I feel I have to dig in my heels and say no. I want to keep this character. Or I like this line. The scientist in me hates not providing a logical defense, but the artist is happy. Believe me, Artist Me is much more difficult to placate than Scientist Me.

For this reason, I accept most edits. Especially punctuation and grammar.

You know those things people are always sending around Facebook, showing why commas are important? Never amuse me. Especially the ones championing the Oxford comma. For those who are not punctuation-obsessed, the Oxford comma is the one preceding an “and” in a series. It’s considered optional by most rational people these days. Thus it can be “apples, oranges, and bananas” or “apples, oranges and bananas.”

Yes, Mom, I know what the nuns told you. It’s optional now.

Personally, I like fewer commas. The Oxford comma is a waste of a keystroke in my world. Even other comma games, like those demonstrated in the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, leave me cold. The title is a kind of word play, thus the panda image. The comma placement supposedly differentiates between whether a panda “eats shoots and leaves” of plants or “eats, shoots and leaves,” suggesting it might dine on the plant, then shoot someone and take off for parts unknown. It’s a cute example, but this kind of this drives me crazy. Nobody would seriously believe in that context that the panda is shooting a gun. If they are that easily confused, then they likely have bigger problems. I’ve also got issues with a “zero tolerance approach” to pretty much anything at all.


I do understand that some people care about these things. I have an old friend who’s been a computer coder all his life and it makes him crazy if I fail to close my parentheses. Yes, it’s a careless mistake on my part. For him, that missing parenthesis could mean a week of work sorting through code to determine why a program won’t run. This is more than panda antics to him.

Really, this matches my approach to most things, such as housework: whoever cares the most is responsible for doing it. You want a clean kitchen all the time? Knock yourself out! I don’t mind a few dishes in the sink. You HAVE to have an Oxford comma? Fine, whatever. I will never fight a comma placement. I just don’t care enough.

I save my caring for the REALLY important stuff.

Like keeping “laughed” as a dialogue tag.

I don’t see why I can’t have that.

<end rant