When Bright Hill Press invited me to read in Treadwell, NY, the invitation sent me reeling to days of slippery uphill walks to class, fuzzy wool socks, wearing coats upon coats, frozen snot (it’s a real thing), and gray skies for days. SUNY Oneonta, fifteen minutes from Treadwell, was my home for a few years during my undergrad days. I knew the drive there would come as second nature, as much as second nature could be for a gal who gets lost in parking lots. Not even a slight hesitation. I said yes yes yes, packed up some books and some outfits, and off I went towards the mountains of upstate New York.
Upstate New Yorkers, would probably frown upon my description of the Oswego area as upstate. For me, a life-long Long Islander, anything above the Bronx is upstate. However, those on the Canadian-US border are kind of more upstate than where I was headed. I was really going to Central New York. Unless this territory-debate has changed over the years. You can see it’s kind of ingrained in me.
Anyway, at three and a half to four hours depending on traffic, I set out for a day or two of hilly mountain driving. I stopped in Sloatsberg for a quick bite. I stopped in Roscoe because you have to stop in Roscoe. The Roscoe Diner is there. It’s like a law or something. I didn’t eat at the diner. I visited the parking lot and moved on.
Then came the part of the trip where I veered away from the Oneonta route and headed to Treadwell instead. There were huge trucks that sometimes drove behind me on one-lane roads. My car was doing really well on the vertical roads, but I still panicked every time one appeared because I didn’t want them to think I was going too slow. I didn’t feel like I was going slow until cars passed me. I kept telling myself that slow and steady wins the race. Then I would counter my own self with we’re not in a race.
Then I passed a milkery and knew that I was very much in the country. What’s a milkery? It’s a very large factory where milk is made that appears out of nowhere on the side of a mountain. Many of the large trucks were coming and going from here. I figured this is where a lot of the cows I saw were sending their milk. That’s how it works, right? Right.
Rounding a bend after hours of clutching the wheel, I came upon a sign at the end of a major road that had four arrows at the top. This was not a street sign. Instead, the arrows indicated: Franklin, Oneonta, Delhi, and Walton (I think these were the four). Ahh, I was in the area. Then I followed my GPS turn by turn and then the last turn came and I missed it.
No big deal. This is the reason I have a GPS. It’s not so much for directions to get to places. It’s for directions for when I screw up. So I waited for the recalculation, and it didn’t come. I took a quick glance. There was a wide blank space on the map and a blue dot hovering in the center. I’d lost GPS. I’d lost all phone signal. There would be no phone calls. There would be no artificial intelligence. There would be only me and my brains.
No big deal. I’d pull over and turn around. Ummmm, nope. When you’re on a mountain, there’s nowhere to do that. If you miss a turn and have no GPS, you really have no idea how long you have to keep driving until you can turn around. It could be a few minutes. It could be an hour.
And that’s when I did what any self-respecting adult would do. I started drive-crying. Crying at the GPS. Crying that I was lost. Crying that I just wanted to get out of the friggin car. This is me and my brains working it out.
I found a road, finally, and turned around. I found the turn on the way back. Then I found that I was too early. What’s a gal to do? No cell service to call or message. No nothing. No one around. No place to ask anyone in person. So I headed back over to that four-arrow sign and decided to drive in the direction of Oneonta.
The road. To Oneonta. Was closed. I shit you not.
So I did some more drive-crying, only this time, it was more of sit-in-the-motionless-car-crying. Then I chose the next best arrow. Delhi. I had no idea how long it would take me to get there. I just drove and drove, passing cows, passing farms. Drove and drove until I heard a bunch of dinging, which mean I had emails arriving, which meant my service was back on. I kept driving until I saw the sign for Delhi and then cried because I’d found Delhi. I parked on the main street in Delhi and walked around a bit. Then I saw the time and decided I needed to eat and change and get ready for my reading. From Delhi, the road to Oneonta was open, so I headed towards the Southside Mall.
Up and down and twisting around, the GPS stayed on the whole way. I rounded a mountain bend and saw a sign and started drive-crying again, this time because I was all nostalgic because this was the turn to Oneonta. Oneonta has a Panera. Oneonta has wi-fi. Oneonta is technologically advanced, at least more than Treadwell.
I ate. I changed. I messaged. I called. I charted out my way back. I realized that the way back from Oneonta was the street where I’d turned around when I missed my turn, which means that only one road to Oneonta was closed.
The reading was fabulous. I read with Tom Clausen, a poet who writes what he calls “little poems.” They are haiku and haiku-adjacent. The poems are very lovely; a lot of them read like tiny meditations. I read about space and sci-fi and vacations. I gave away astronaut ice cream and stickers because that’s my schtick. I crashed at Bright Hill because they have a room for crashing. Tom drove back home which would take about an hour, which is not long when you live up there. I perused their library. I wrote and read. I hooked up to their wi-fi. Life was good.
For breakfast, they left for me a bagel and a banana and some other breakfasty stuff, which was such a nice gesture. I wasn’t a bagel snob. I ate the bagel, and it was good. I headed out shortly after breakfast. The morning was sunny but chilly–probably not chilly for up there but it was for me.
I. Did not. Get lost. In the mountains!
Instead, I got lost in the Bronx.
But then I found my way home. Which is always my favorite part of traveling.
In April, I went to Split This Rock. I’d never been to this festival before. I wanted to change things up from the previous AWP conferences I’ve attended. This one was in DC. It was driveable. Also, it was a way to get my mom to go away because when I told my mom about it, she said, “I love DC.” So away we went.
Here’s the rundown about some of the readings and panels I attended and participated in. Not only did I present and pick up some good info for work, but also, I got some good stuff to write about for Book Riot. I’m multidimensional.
Outside of conferencing–or, actually, since Split This Rock is a festival–Outside of festivaling, I took in some sights and sounds of the DC area. One of the first things I did was get caught up in one of the many roundabouts DC has to offer in DC traffic time. On the plus side, getting caught in the traffic and veering here and there allows for a lovely scenic tour of the city and places you can eventually go if you ever get to where you want to go in the first place.
We stayed at a Hampton Inn which meant we got free coffee and hot chocolate ’round the clock in addition to free breakfast. This was fantastic if we could only work the elevator to get to and from the lobby. If you haven’t been to a hotel lately, they’ve been installing fancy secure elevators that work only if you have a room key or that go to only specific floors of your own choosing. All I know is that we rode the elevators mostly with other people so we could make it move.
Outside of the hotel, I saw the White House. I’ve been to DC before, but somehow, accidentally seeing the White House made it a bit majestic. I’m not getting into politics here. I’m not really even talking about architecture. I’m simply talking about pretty things that make me excited. There were flowers. There was the sun. There was a large white building sparkling in the daylight. Then at night, there was the moon and some moonlight sparkle.
Additionally, I found a place called Wicked Waffle and I took my mom there to eat lunch and it was pretty much my favorite lunch in the world and I wanted to take them home with me. Not just the waffles but the entire place. Alas, they couldn’t fit into my suitcase.
After a long night of nothing followed by a morning of nothing, it was time to climb out of the bathtub, open the curtains, and start packing for home. The morning was sunny but chilly. Not that it mattered. My morning was to be spent answering emails and then heading to Shreveport. When I’d landed, I picked up a map of close-by things to see, so I figured I’d see some things before checking in.
Shreveport was pretty deserted on an early weekend morning. I wonder if it’s ever not deserted because it seemed more like a ghost town than a sleepy town. What made it more alive was the public art, which was really what I was there to see. I also became mesmerized by the passing trains. Once again, it was as if I’ve never seen a train before, never been on a train, and don’t have a train so close to my house that I can hear it sometimes pass by.
The art didn’t take all that long to see, so I headed to the airport. You know how they tell you to get to the airport two hours early? Yeah, that’s helpful if you go to an airport that has more than like 5 gates. Shreveport’s airport has like a one-lane road in and out that is wide open. I practically had a personal TSA agent going through security because I was the only person going through security. There were three gates where I was waiting, but really, it was only one gate. Only one door to the airplane with three different waiting areas for the one door.
Across the waiting area sat a group of men clearly going somewhere for a round of golf that day and most likely heading home later that day by plane. I waited a pretty long time since I was there so early, but that meant more reading time. Then I landed in ATL and read some more while avoiding all the people in the waiting area who thought putting bare feet on seats was an okay thing to do.
— Christina M Rau (@ChristinaMRau) April
— Jackie Weisman (@jmw3883) April
There was a second culprit with only one foot up. Still nasty.
— Christina M Rau (@ChristinaMRau) April
Who DOES that?! Garbage people. That’s who.
— Jackie Weisman (@jmw3883) April
(Singing sweetly but audibly) “it’s the end of the world as we know it”
— Scott Ash (@Scott66Ash) April
Then I flew home on a rather large plane where I realized I’d prefer an aisle seat rather than a window seat next time. You know, like next time I go to Texarkana and there’s no tornado and I actually get to read and talk to people about poetry. Some day, Texarkana, some day.
Morning broke with gray skies. I’d heard rumblings of rain on the way, so I headed out early to eat and take in the rest of what I wanted to see. I tried to go to a local diner that was supposedly open but was completely closed. I figured I’d take a tour of the town and come back and they’d be open. Nope. But my tour was fun.
I found the Joplin mural. Very jazzy. I found another mural. Very history-y. I found old timey buildings and a train. Very very.
Then, starving, I went to Cracker Barrel. The only drawback of going to Cracker Barrel is that I’ve had a few dollars left on a Cracker Barrel gift card for years and I don’t have it with me. I’m clearly never going to be able to use it. Hangry (I’d been yelling at the roads and the GPS and the fact that the diner wasn’t open), I inhaled my food, which was from a healthy section of the menu, which I didn’t know about and didn’t see right away and then I felt very happy with myself for finding it and not eating a pile of biscuits that I’d later regret.
When I got back to the hotel, I went to the business center to print out a few extra poems that I’d forgotten to print. I also did a lot of my normal get points for free stuff routine. Then I came to my room and began planning my workshop and reading.
Then a little before 1, I got a call from the front desk. Someone from the college was here to give me my check. Oh, okay, I’d be right down.
He greeted me with, Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
Well, that’s never a good start.
You know how when we get snow on Long Island, the weather people roll up their sleeves and scare the crap out of everyone and everything gets canceled and then we get a passing shower? So, like, I’d been hearing weather forecasts of thunderstorms that would bring about hail. Then hailstorms that would bring about golf ball sized hail. Then the possibility of a tornado or two. There’s a lake effect wind warning. There’s a severe storm warning. The entire weather map bleeds red. BUT I was like, oh it’s just some rain.
Nope, the college closed at 1 PM. The guy was apologetic. He got a call from someone back at campus asking if he’d brought books they bought for me to sign. No, he didn’t. I was going to offer to drive up to the campus to sign them, but campus was closing in less than five minutes. He took my cell number and gave me his card. Then he said he wasn’t sure if the professor who’d originally contacted me would want to do something otherwise, like gather a group on his own, but that was probably unlikely. I said I was wondering if the weather reports were anything to worry about, especially because it was warm and the sun had come out every now and then, but he said that they were thinking about liability. I said I wouldn’t want anyone driving and in danger. He said it could hail for five minutes and they’d be like, Why did we cancel!?!?, but then again, it could be worse than that. It’s so unpredictable.
Let’s take a moment to recap: Months ago, Texas A&M at Texarkana found little poetic me through some two year college list of presenters and invited me to read on campus. We set up a reading for April 13, 2018. Fast forward to April 12, 2018, I took two planes and a rental car to get here. And now instead of a workshop and reading with students and the community, I’m in my hotel room, having just eaten a very large salad, sipping on a very large unsweetened ice tea, watching the weather channel for tips on how to avoid becoming Dorothy.
Right now is about the time I’d be leaving for campus. It’s less than 15 minutes away. But I’m not going anywhere.
I did change into my poetry professor outfit so it wouldn’t go to waste. I might parade around the hotel in a bit, reading from my book to anyone who’ll listen. But first, I’m asking the front desk exactly what to do if sirens go off. I’m on the 2nd floor and I can hide in the bathtub, but since I’m not much of an expert, I’m going to get a second opinion.
I asked the front desk. Apparently, this happens all the time in Nebraska said the guy from Nebraska. I was like, I’m from New York where it doesn’t. I learned that they would set off the fire alarm if they got word that something was on the way. Then, they would get into their back hallway while I would close my curtains and then climb into my bathtub with some reading material. They told me not to stand near the window and try to take pictures. I said the bathtub seemed like a better idea.
Then it drizzled a little. I heard some thunder. Then nothing actually happened. As the guy from Nebraska predicted, we didn’t even get hail. There were tornadoes, but they were happening in what seemed to be north and east from where I was. Now I’m not great with directions, but usually I can see on a map up down side or side. On the maps on the tv, though, I couldn’t really tell. They had black backgrounds, white lines, and then swoops of green and red. I think these are tornado maps. Or Texarkana maps. Or special maps made to confuse me.
The tv showed skits of the do’s and dont’s’ of taking shelter. Then at least one of the weather guys kept using the acronym PDS. This stands for Particularly Dangerous Situation. Which is apparently a technical term for tornado forecasting. There were reports of storms touching down as reported through storm chasers. So like that movie with Helen Hunt is real. People go outside and follow the storms.
I stayed inside even though there was no storm. I gave a Facebook Live reading.
I would totally embed the video here, but WordPress doesn’t allow embedding with iframe html code. I sound like I know what I’m talking about. I don’t. I also don’t know how this text is highlighted. So there. Anyway, you can click above or click here to see the video.
Then I got into my jammies, had some baked Lays for dinner, and then wrote and watched tv into the wee hours.
Many months ago, an email arrived in my inbox from TAMUT. That’s Texas A&M University in Texarkana. In Texas. I clarify that because there’s also a Texarkana, Arkansas. Right across the border. Across that border is a post office, the only building in the U.S. that sits in two states. Already, just getting this email, I was in heaven. Because, you know, this kitsch is my jam.
They have a program called PLACE and its theme was Science and Technology, and the email was from the English department. Everything here describes the essence of my being. They invited me down there to read. I was like, Yes please.
On an early morning in April, I got into a van and got dropped off at JFK.
A lot of airport adventuring occurred. By adventuring, I mean waiting on lines. Bag drop line. Security line where I took off my shoes and then the TSA guy told me I could take them back but they were already in the bin. Also, the guy on the other side of the bin line was telling me how the bins needed to be stacked even though I was the only one stacking them, so I told him that and he said, oh no it’s okay. I think he felt bad because I used my “I’m a little girl” voice that I hate using but I really was the only person stacking them and I didn’t need to be lectured. Then there was the long slow walk to the farthest gate. I ate a bagel and then it was time to board. Boarding line. Line in the plane down the aisle. Sitting in the seat waiting. Waiting for take off.
The flight was great because I read a lot of the very large book I borrowed from the library (The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing by Mira Jacob–read it–it’s uh. may. ZING.). I failed to check the page count when I requested it to be sent from another library, so when I saw that it was almost 500 pages, I wanted to return it to read at a later date but felt bad about the energy used to get it sent to me. Carrying it around isn’t a fun time — it reminds me of that summer I read 1Q84 and took it on the train with me to hang out with S and then wound up carrying it around like — well, what’s that cliché about an albatross? You know that one? It was like that. This time it worked better because even though I had to carry it in my backpack and then after switching into my shoulder bag, a lot of the time I was able to sit with it.
I wound up carrying it around a lot when I got to ATL for my layover. ATL is a long airport. I could have taken its train between terminals, but I opted for walking since I’d be sitting to eat and then sitting on the flight and then sitting in a car. Between the book and a writing book and my folder of fun and my tablet, it was pretty heavy. Once I found the terminal, I circled it a few times, looking for a salad. Found one. Ate it. Walked back to my gate which again was the farthest gate, and sat and read. I like ATL’s airport because of its urgent messages about how not to spread germs. I like your style, ATL.
The flight was quick but I don’t know exactly how long because there was a time change where I gained an hour. I found my bag easily and then found the rental car place easily and they barely looked at my license before handing over the keys. I like Shreveport. Very easy.
The drive to Texarkana brought about all kinds of feelings. Terror at the 75 MPH speed limit. More terror at the idea of passing trucks at the 75 MPH speed limit. That awwww so cute! feeling upon seeing cows lolling about in the fields on the side of the road. As if I’ve never seen a cow. As if at home I can’t drive an hour and see a cow. Still, I exclaimed Aww Cows Awww! Excitement came about when I passed the Welcome To Arkansas sign followed by melancholy at not being able to take a photo of it. I realized later on that I’d probably see more of them since I’d be on the boarder of the state for the duration of my stay. Then I felt pure bliss as the waves of color blossomed on either side of the road for stretches at a time. Dark red flowers first. Then some white. More red. Then purple. Then yellow. If I knew flower names, I’d tell you what they were, but we’ll all have to settle for color.
Finally, I pulled into the hotel lot after driving in a very large and confusing circle–which I should have expected since the road it’s on is called Loop. Just as quickly as I checked in, I changed because it was 80+ degrees, and ventured out to do the one thing I wanted to do more than anything.
I headed to the State Line Post Office so I could stand in two states at once. Really, you can do that all along State Line Avenue, but if you don’t want to stand in the middle of traffic, standing at the post office is the way to go. They have signs and everything. One side Texas. One side Arkansas. Also, the post office is the only building in the U. S. to stand across a state border. So I was in heaven. The wind almost blew me away, but still, heaven.
Also heavenly: Mexican food. I pulled into Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and feasted to my heart’s content. My body did not have an adverse reaction, which is surprising since I usually eat along the lines of Whole 30. Soft chicken tacos, black beans, refried beans, and a huge chicken enchilada slathered in enchilada stuff is not exactly Whole 30 approved. What it is is delicious. Heaven keeps expanding, y’all.
It’s the last week of classes, and I was collecting piles of portfolios yesterday from my two creative writing classes. It’s been a long semester. I even took a mental health day a few weeks ago. I’ve never done that ever in my career, so you know it had to be a real need. What did I do that day? I graded and made sure all my grade books were up to date. That made me mentally healthy.
So yesterday I walked into the classroom and immediately I got the sweats. For those of you who know already, the sweats are really part of who I am. However, this time it wasn’t the Nervous Sweats or Sweats Of Great Jubilation or Swearing Through The Awkward. This time I started sweating because the classroom was 80 billion degrees, give or take a few. Because I teach in a building that’s a hundred years old—one of two that didn’t get closed down while the other one that didn’t seem worse but I suppose was actually did. Get closed down that is–the heat doesn’t regulate itself to adjust to the temperature outside. Now that it’s a typically cold season, the heater stays on no matter what’s happening outside, like the 50 degree weather. Unless of course you go to the bathroom, and in there it’s a balmy negative 2.
Side note: last year, one of the bathrooms stopped working in the building that did not get closed down this semester. It was the only lady’s room available unless you went to the third floor. Fact: I didn’t know there even was a third floor. One of my students came back to report it was creepy so the next time someone had to go, I yelled out, Bring a buddy! And they brought buddies, and I told them if they weren’t back in ten minutes, we’d all come up there looking for them, which back then was for their own safety, but right now I realize I could have caused extra distress for anyone having digestive afflictions. Thankfully they were back in under ten minutes and no one got murdered on the mysterious third floor. This is the building that remains open. This is also the building that currently has a gate and plywood and caution tape across a set of formerly automatic doors that led out to a ramp. There is now a makeshift ramp on the other side of the building, precariously build over dirt piles, blocking off any steps to the entrance, and not wide enough for a wheelchair to make a turn or for two people to cross paths. Again, this is the building that’s open.
I settled in to the 80 billion degree room as any adult would: by shouting Omigosh, you guys, it’s so friggin hot! Then I peeled away layers of outer wear and then a cardigan and then fanned myself down with brochures for the Writing Center that have been stacked on my podium all semester. At least this room has a podium, and at least the podium faces the class.
We got into greetings and salutations, and one of my students indicated a shiny red bag that I’d spotted sitting on my desk when I walked in. I rarely sit at that desk because of said podium. He was like, this is for you and you can open it now if you want.
And my reaction was, Really? Are you sure?
Once in my teaching career I’ve been given a gift. It was a journal and it was very sweet. Since then, I’ve mostly been given handshakes after which I Purell and the occasional awkward hug. I’ve also fended off both because germs don’t understand affection. Still, I’ve been open to big hugs and handshakes for those who really truly genuinely react that way. FYI: I never instigate the touching, even though sometimes in my mind, my normal reaction says to me, I’d give this person a hug in a different situation. Sometimes I’ll say something like, this portfolio was so good that I want to shake you OR your writing was so fantastic that I want to punch the wall! They laugh because the ones I say that to understand what passion is.
So now here’s a gift bag with a gift in it, and it’s guaranteed that it’s mine. Hmm. Whenever I see a name on a roster for an upcoming class that I recognize as someone who has taken a different class with me previously, I always assume they don’t remember what went down and probably enrolled with me again by accident. I know I’m a good teacher, but that means I really challenge my students at a college level, and I’ve been known to be a bit too sarcastic, which I genuinely have tried to tone down over the years because a lot of young people don’t get it and think I’m serious and rude. I can be all three but still I’ve tried to convert my sarcasm into some sort of dad joke vibe. Basically I’m a closet stand-up act, and I have a captive audience. This is the power that professors yield.
Back to the gift. I was like that’s so sweet! I’ll open it after we go over a few things to ensure you don’t want to take it back.
See? I’m funny.
We went over a few things, and he didn’t take it back, so I opened it, and it was a mug, and I said thank you about 8 billion times as we all sweated together, and I noted how I could drink my tea from it. There was a card, but I kept that for after everyone else had gone. Then he asked to take a picture with me, and because I’m now high off of being the recipient of a gift, I think I’m a pretty big deal, so I say yes to the picture, making sure he acknowledges that we will both look sweaty and gross, and I sit on the radiator that’s 80 billion degrees, and he leans back against the radiator next to me so that we’re the same height, which shows how he’s really the sweetest young man ever and his friend counts down the photo and then counts down a second, and I’ll point out again that I’m clearly a pretty big deal.
It’s probably one of the highlights of my teaching career not because of the gift itself but because lately I’ve come pretty close to giving up faith in everything about teaching and my overall institution.
Then in That’s About Right fashion, I walked into my next class bogged down with my rolly bag filled with portfolios, an armful of outerwear, my water, and the gift bag, sweat evaporating from my head and face. I plopped everything down and sat at the desk I haven’t really sat at a lot because the computer in this room is in a small metal box in the other corner, facing away from the class, and that’s where I conducted most of the lessons, but this was the last day, so I kept the desk where it was and sat on the other side of the room, which felt weird because I was facing them for once instead of twisting my body around.
One of my students was like, Is that a gift for me?
And I was like, someone gave that to me.
And they were all like, a student?
And I was like, yeah.
And they were like, Really?
And I was like, I know.
And they were like, Really?
And I was like, I was as confused as you.
Clearly I was not the only one. Several of them were convinced it was to get a higher grade but the gift-giver is super smart and doesn’t need bribery. There were two more students who came into my second class late, saw the gift, and then asked if they could go buy me something. I was like, I’ll take whatever you give me, but it won’t make your grade higher, and they responded with, never mind that’s cool I’m sure I’m fine.
And they’re all fine for the most part. This profession is fine for the most part. Sometimes, however, a little pick-me-up goes a long way to really change a perspective that’s been drowning in the part that hasn’t been so fine.