For the last few weeks, my high school friend Gwynne and I have been sending messages back and forth through Facebook. Actually, Gwynne and I didn't hang out together in high school, though we had at least one close friend in common. It's been great to compare notes about so many people we haven't seen in decades, people who have become more or less vessels of meaning and feeling, represented by a single encounter in memory. I especially like thinking about the kids who behaved brutally, routinely, only to become accomplished, generous citizens. One has made at least one important discovery related to a cure for Parkinson's Disease. Another, toward a cancer treatment. This fascinates me. It argues against everything we're supposed to believe about cause and effect, coherence of character. Not that that should be news.
Anyway, Gwynne was looking through my Facebook photo album last night and said that she couldn't connect the shy, geeky boy I was to the adult I'd become. She meant that in a good way. And I couldn't help but connect that observation to the stuff of our conversations. Arbitrariness, randomness, fate: what would I have become if I hadn't taken that undergraduate workshop where the teacher followed me down the hall after class to say that my Jane Bowles imitations--not that she called them that--were wonderful? I thought she might not have been a well woman, even though I found a way to let her encouragement in, finally, over the course of some weeks.
That teacher's been on my mind because one of my students came in to see me during office hours on Monday. He's a tremendous writer. He'd already applied to Harvard Law, Yale Law--the top ten law schools. We were just talking away, everything from semicolons (which he finds pretentious) to the water quality of Lake Erie, which he swims in every summer, even though he's seen the occasional hypodermic needle on the sand. It came up casually that he wanted to delay law school for an MFA in writing. I tried to remain calm, but inwardly I slapped the ceiling of my office in joy. We talked about a few programs. Then compared notes about the Shoot the Freak attraction on the Coney Island boardwalk.