Coming full spiral...
It’s the last day of March. I’m sitting in the lecture hall at Sarah Lawrence College, staring at the green curtain, and the image I can’t get out of my head is of my friends, seated besides me now, minutes before this, whispering through the bathroom stalls.
The professor at the podium is reading an excerpt from her memoir. I’m here in SLC’s visual arts building for the admitted students evening, and my friends came with me for the faculty reading. At the reception, I introduce them both to the program staff as “my Brooklyn home bases,” to which they respond that it’s helpful to have people you know here before moving. I smile and nod, knowing how lucky I am to call these girls home.
In front of the green curtain, the professor on stage is now reading a story about her mother. It’s a story about love, mothering, loss, grief. Slowly, over the course of this chapter, as she depicts her mother’s memory loss, she paints California and reveals the Bay Area and then San Francisco. We sit there, the three of us, thinking of our own mothers and of each others. The story concludes with a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. We sit there, the three of us, thinking of all the times we've driven across that bridge, with our own mothers, with each others mothers, together.
And as I’m sitting there, listening to this professor, it’s not the image of my favorite bridge that I can’t get out of my head. Instead, it’s the image of my two best friends, seated besides me now, moments before we took our seats, whispering through the bathroom stalls. Whispering, these high school friends of mine, as if we were back in our own visual arts building, which I realize as I write this has a very similar layout to this one. How did we get here?
I have been saying since I got here that everything is coming full circle.
Last time I was in town, we’d gotten Greenberg Bagels as my final breakfast, and I’d nearly cried on my way out of El’s apartment, not wanting to leave after such a good trip. This time, El and I get them as my first breakfast, and they’re just as good the second time. Last time, we'd gotten pizza from Speedy Romeo as our last dinner, and this time, as Juliette and I pick up our order for our first dinner, I tell her these full circles. We walk out the door, pizza boxes now in hand, and I add: “And here’s the most full circle, big biggest full circle: Remember how last time, when we drove from D.C. into N.Y.C, I was reading you my story ‘After the fires’? And you told me to look up at the city skyline as we crossed int Manhattan? Well, that’s the story I submitted with my app and that got me in to Sarah Lawrence. That’s the story that brought me here this time.” How’s that for full circle?
And earlier that day, between breakfast and dinner, El and I went to the Cooper Hewitt where we stared at a spiral illustration of migration patterns. And then we went to a lecture (featuring Gloria Steinem!) where one of the speakers talked about the spiral of history. “I think history is like a spiral,” she said, mouth half buried in her turtle neck. “It looks like we’re returning to the same point as the past, it looks like we’re back somewhere we’ve been before, but really, we're on the next level of the spiral. It feels similar to the last time we were at this same point in the spiral, but it's different. We’re moving circularly, but we’re moving towards progress. I believe, at least, I choose to believe that it’s towards progress.” How's that for symbolism?
Yes, I am looking for signs and pulling disparate things together into my spiral, calling it a full circle, but what else do we do? How else do we make sense of our circular movement if not by referencing the landmarks we’ve seen here before, but now view differently? What else is writing if not an assemblage of signs and signifiers (words) into a spiral (meaning), moving slowly towards a circle (clarity)? I even consider pulling in the spiral of the Guggenheim Museum into this extended metaphor of mine, but we only walked past it on our way to the lecture. (This spiral is creating its own gravitational pull.)
I had been saying, before I got here, that if I did an MFA in S.F., nothing in my life would change, and that if I did an MFA in N.Y. everything it my life would change. But neither are quite true, I see now. If I start an MFA in S.F., the details of my daily life would change drastically. If I start an MFA in N.Y., the core of my life would remain the same. It’s the same spiral, just a different level.
When we walk out of the visual arts building, after the final faculty reader, one of my friends asks me quietly: “So… are you going here?” I shrug and nod and it feels easy to say yes. It feels comfortable, it feels right. “Yes.”
We cross the street then, all holding hands, and comment on the stories we just heard. Juliette says: “And what was most trippy about that first story is that I feel like I saw you on stage. In the professor. When it got to the end and was set in S.F., I feel like I saw you up there. I can’t explain it.” And she doesn’t have to, because I know what she means. How's that for a sign?
And then, as we pull out of the parking lot, she adds, laughing: “How did we get here? The three of us, in a car, on this college campus in New York State, two of you grad school bound. Look at us!” How's that for a spiral?
If I hadn’t been decided before this, if the campus visit with my parents hadn’t made up my mind, or the warm welcome from the program staff, or the reception and the reading, or really, the moving introductions from students of professors, this does it. Of course this does. There’s no dramatic moment, no clear flash of insight, nothing like that. That's not what I came here looking for. This decision has been solidifying all month, and now it’s on solid ground. Look at us, us three, how did we get here?
We drive off in the dark, then, to the sound of the new boygenius record. We’ve been waiting all day for this moment to listen. As we sign along to one of the songs we already know and love, I forget, temporarily, where I am. I forget that I am somewhere I do not know, I forget I am somewhere unfamiliar, I forget that I am not, in fact, on a bridge we’ve driven over countless times before, together.
We cross over another bridge now, and it’s not gold but silver, and besides us is not sea but city, and again, I feel that I’m coming full spiral, I’m coming full circle, I’m coming home.
And then the next song comes on and over the speakers the three of them sing “come home, come home,” and we drive on.