Columbia, Closed

After gently (or not so gently) poking fun at the idea of “postcard” spots; cities one collects like souvenirs, I will be headed next week for London and Amsterdam with my friend Jay. The upcoming move to NYC has distracted me from most other concerns, but I’m just now beginning to get excited. I haven’t been out of the country since I turned 18, though I saw many places before then: Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Leningrad (when it was Leningrad) and a few dozen of the States. My old passport (age fifteen, flock-of-seagulls hair style, 50 pounds lighter) has finally been replaced by my more current mug. I’ve been reading Monica Ali’s Brick Lane for a decidedly less romantic view of London, and have Dickens waiting (I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read any of his novels). Maybe I should get Zadie Smith’s White Teeth to stay current. Also watching Helen Mirren in all of the Prime Suspect movies. Man they are good.

I am very conscious of the fact that I will be an American abroad. Not so much in the sense of terrorism; after all, San Francisco would be just as likely a target as London. But just conscious of how isolated our country has become from others, and the consequences of our foreign policy since Bush took office. Maybe it won’t even be an issue, but it’ll be on my mind.

I continue to hit the coffee shop several times a week to read and write, almost like it’s a part-time job, but one I actually enjoy. I suppose it’s my way of trying to ease into the life that I imagine awaits me once I start school, a way of bringing that life a little closer while I’m still here. Trying to be patient and enjoy the summer. Starved for information from Columbia; each day I check the mailbox hoping something new will arrive, something to make it seem real to me. I had to laugh at myself last week; I was having trouble connecting to their School of the Arts website. I could connect to Columbia’s main site, but the Arts site never loaded. Naturally I thought oh my God they closed the School of the Arts, and I won’t get to move to NYC. They’ve run out of money and I’m shit out of luck. This comes from needing to see something before I will believe it, I guess. I’m as neurotic as ever.

I’ve begun to send some writing out to various literary magazines; mainly contests with nice cash prizes. Have received a couple of flat-out rejections, par for the course. Then today I got an actual letter from an editor at one journal that starts out: “I wanted to let you know that your essay wasn’t ‘just’ a finalist in our contest, but was read and reread and worried over and seriously considered and debated right down to the wire – and that I came close to saying ‘Yes, let’s publish it,’ but in the end I had some fairly serious reservations about it…” Turns out I was one of three finalists for this $1000 prize. So close yet. But I’m honored to get such feedback, it’s so rare to actually get a personal letter from an editor, who encouraged me to send a revision or other work. I’m also becoming more and more aware of the subjective nature of writing; the same essay didn’t even make the first cut at another journal. And a device that I used in the essay was judged obvious and successful by Phillip Lopate when I worked with him last summer, but this particular editor thought it failed. In the end I will always have to return to myself and my convictions and somehow stay true to them while remaining teachable. There’s still so much to learn.

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