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2004-12-12 3:53 PM
Me in the World
Once upon a Saturday, less than a year after the event that changed the world I wrote:
"It's been forty-two years, next month, since I first began schooling in this here college town.
“Fall, yet again. I know, it's only August 10th but 2002's what the calendar reads and you know what that means. It means that come September 11th it will have been one long full year since some suicide bombers hit the World Trade Center Towers. Need I say where. The oaks in East Lansing are rusting and the maples already'd like to bleed, their leaves are gone so crimson.
"That smell's in the air. Crisp and cool, purely rude notice that around this time of year we pick ourselves, grudgingly, up from the cooling earth, look around these quiet summering ends, and say odd stuff to ourselves.
“Summering ends like that I was wakened at near dawn by the sound of MSU's Marching Band drummers a couple-three hundred yards and a football field away (not really saying, at the time, to my early morning half-sleeping self but only thinking to it things, but murkily like '...hmm, restless youth in movement hereabouts...mmph...kids coming back to school...[ungh...half-moan of the brain}:] what about me? What about us big kids now..? Argh..!..!!)
"What about us? Here am I on the other, even opposite end of the developmental stage that those drummers are banging at. They are looking up, out and forward (if they aren't so stunned by the changes taking place around them since 9/ll that they stay drunker even than is usual for college kids, as drunk, in fact, as their heavier than ever personal consumptions will allow -- leaving their thinking processes in near constant half-muddle). Meanwhile I am in one of the latter and perhaps more final years of my own life.
"Developmental stages in a person's life are such that they etch a very specific singularity out of our human conglomerate; so that the cut stone of kids mixed in this cauldron of a community are so much like themselves that they are not individuals at all. They are but representative samplings of humanity's question: What now?
"Certain aging women if they are like me, are perhaps more than peculiar, odd enough, perhaps, even while we are not much more than particular specimens of our own stage locations asking: What then? What, for god's sake happened, what really, actually happened. Why ask such a thing, especially in such general terms? Well. For historical purposes for starters, I guess. Whose history. I was certainly not sure then and I am still not now.
"See. When I came to this town for the first time, it was June. The campus was alive with itself, the lush carpets of grass had not yet become turf to me, or to others either, really, no commercials, please. Not yet.
"I remember: Me coming down the steps of the Union Building onto the Michigan State Campus facing the Main Library. Then walking over the exact same spot where John Kennedy would later stand when giving a campaign speech to the students here just a few long months away.
"Me, in new white tennies and wearing on top a crisp, white, short-sleeved blouse with neatly pressed, sewn-in-place tiny vertical seams (tux-shirt like) from the collarless neckline to the shirt hem -- its bottom edge standing just out and away from; hovering around my middle and before the widish waist-band of a white, pleated skirt -- itself hemmed exactly at mid-knee, (a serious fashion risk at the time -- just about NO one dared wear pants on the street, few women wore slacks at all in the mid-west, the the word pant-suit was not yet even discussed like the controversial topic it became later, they were not even offered in catalogs around here -- never mind being findable in the midwestern stores, not even in Detroit or Dearborn, not in June of 1960.
"A new!-new! product on the market called Man-Tan gives my skin the look of a person just back from sunny climes. But, since it has a tendency to rub right off I find it is little more than darker make-up in a bigger bottle as it taints my clothes where they touch my applications and gives me to fret over yet another of my seeming countless flaws, my many lacks in personal perfection).
This was during the same time frame that an MSU English instructor named Glendon Swarthout wrote a book called "Where the Boys Are." It was then quickly filmed here and in Florida. The production interfered briefly with our access to certain classes in Berkey Hall on campus but its popularity went on to sweep across American media in song and cinema.
"There were government surplus Quonset Huts the other side of the Red Cedar River from town, located on what was then the rather near south campus. These were left over from the Korean War years (excuse me, years of the "Korean Conflict" which had taken place in the previous decade). There in the quonsets were housed temporary faculty offices and classrooms, too. Psychology and Freshman English classes were held there along with many sections of the required undergrad basic courses.
"Fraternity pledges were still wearing beanies during initiation rites. Guys often wore white, blue or pink button-down collared shirts, most with ties and blue or gray blazers,maybe a light weight v-necked sweater. Yarmulkas were not at all rare, sorority gals wore cashmere sweaters with long pleated wool skirts and knee stockings. All this very much recalled to me the uniforms we were required to wear during my early Catholic education. I was always glad to shed all that stuff for my Levi's and sweatshirts. As the years went by the jeans and levi casual wear became not only acceptable but another kind of uniform, the one still worn on about every American campus and has became so coveted internationally.
"My entering freshman class was one of the hugest in the history of the university, this was said and then said again to us by the Provost and the other dignitaries who led our introduction to "cow-college" intellectual life in 1960.
"Among them was Frederick Reeves who gave perhaps the most compelling lecture amidst those given to us before the formal dinner held in all of the banquet rooms at once on the fourth floor of the big MSU Union Building. His topic was "The Haves and the Have Nots." I was, I was to eventually realize, avante garde to the "Baby Boomer Generation" and the key-note speakers each regaled us with that happy fact. Celebrated it with us. It meant work for them and abundance for us ahead.
"Thus it was that we were told that we (me?!) were The Newest of the Haves."
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Later still, after my second son was born and my husband had decided not to return to college for a general lack of educational focus in mind plus a reluctance to take on the work of being a student since he could see no purpose to it. He wrote some poetry between off-work six-packs: "I die of thirst," he wrote, "beside the fountain." Having been born in and grown to adulthood in a college town all he could see crossing the main drag from the campus was what he called "a lotta selfish college clowns," he was loathe to join them.
This was ok with me, I wanted to finish my degrees, and I had found a major I could warm up to, very gladly.
My first attempt to investigate the art department at this cow college was a bust. All I could get among the courses offered was an Art History class. Then when I first entered the halls of Kresge Art Center it must have been either an off day or the fates had arranged things to send me off just about anywhere else but there, because it seemed as if the whole building held nothing but snobs. Noses in the air, not a shred of willingness to converse with a new person in the building. When I asked where room number 23 was all I got was vacant stares and an aura of self-delusion: "I am the great artist/art hostorian. And 'WHOooOO are you?'
I sat through one lecture and several way too quickly passing glimpses of Pre Columbian pottery and left the building feeling badly disappointed. I didn't pass GO, turned straight toward the ad building and dropped the class like a thing that smelled horrible. This was in maybe, Summer of 61, or so.
But, as a field trip for my son's cub scout pack, I took them to Kresge to see what we could see. What we saw that day was a laid back prints-maker whose speciality was the serigraph. Any image was laid onto a piece of silk that was stretched across a frame and taped into place so that there was total control of the ink as it was squeegeed onto paper in as many layers as it took to leave a finished work.
Wonderful. The artists instead of the historians. Now this was a different story entirely.
So, when I reentered college it was as an art major. "Lemme at them paints," and "Where's the clay?" were the unspoken phrases that lured me back on campus.
It was 1966. Vietnam was heating up, Kennedy was three years dead. Disaffection was bubbling beneath the surfaces of the student's youthful grins and alternating vacant stares.
The faculty was a mixed bunch but the grad students were heavily peppered with people who had come to school "...on the G. I. Bill." This meant that plenty of the instructors had not spent their lives, early or late, aiming toward residence in an ivory tower.
These people had seen the world on the government's dollar. Those coming back from Korea, Southeast Asia, and other places far-flung across the globe were not inclined toward theorizing so much as they were well aware of the human faces of internationalism.
The ground was being rapidly tilled for the "unrest of the 60s."
Myself, meanwhile: I was all done with my general college requirements so was at liberty to follow my dazzled vision of the Art Capitol of the World, the Gallery and Museum scenes of New York City as elaborately covered in the magazine subscriptions taken by the Kresge Art Library.
If I wasn't at home tending my family I had my two happy hands and one very focussed head alternately in a bucket of paint or a big barrell of clay, if my nose wasn't stuck in a book, reading everything I could find about contemporary art. If what I wanted to know about wasn't in the Art Libraries on campus it was in the gigantic State of Michigan Library downtown, Lansing. I was living in an artsy-fartsy paradise.
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