Does anyone have a theory as to why we remember certain things at other times? A snowy afternoon west of Boston and I was flooded with a memory of an autumn thirty years ago–but why? Is the poem the memory or both places together? Does this happen to other people?
such a long time ago
on the backsteps
at the MacDowell dining hall
big moon rise
over the October fields
a woman, about the age
I am now
stopped and asked me
“Are you working?”
and I hadn’t known
that I was
But I began to perk up as I got to know people, particularly at the reliable and lavish dinners each night. What amazed me was the variety, and resilience, particularly among the women. Old, middle-aged, young…they had between them vast stores of experience–husbands, lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends, solitude, children, political exile, success, books, shows, failures, breakdowns, divorces–and none of this seemed to have slowed down their productivity as painters or writers. I began to take heart about my own situation.
Among the well known writers who were there at the time was Audrey Lorde. Her coming was heralded with excitement–after all, she was the famous West Indian/American/lesbian/feminist/poet/writer! But although the grapevine announced she had arrived, she never appeared at dinner. instead, during her week’s stay, she elected for supper on a tray, so as not to disturb her writing.
I personally was writing about 15 minutes a day, and otherwise napping, reading, partying, walking, and going to CRAZY TEEPEE: 29 rooms of junk or driving around southern New Hamphshire in search of the perfect diner BLT. I could not imagine what she was doing.
I recently had a student give a book report on Audre Lorde. It brought me back to the time when I once met this venerable writer, for all of five minutes, and what it meant to me then and what it means to me now.
When I was twenty-five, my life was in complete disarray. I had dropped out of graduate school, and been dumped by the man I then considered the love of my life. I had no job, and I hated Boston where I was living alone and trying to be a writer in a melancholy fashion. But I still had some good letters of recommendation on file, and I managed to get myself into the MacDowell Colony for three months. Really it was there that my life changed–and that I acquired an adult sense of myself as an artist. I had a cabin in the woods to myself (although I soon smuggled in my cat) and a bedroom in an old house. Lunch was delivered to the cabin, with the requested number of sandwiches! It was beyond idyllic, although I remained somewhat miserable in the manner of the young.