OpinionsTempest in a CoffeemugOne Autumn With Writers

One Autumn With Writers


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It’s the last Sunday of October. I have been feeling rather down today — perhaps I am just tired from the previous night’s frenzied partying — that not even a splendid hay ride in a beautiful Iowan farmhouse can mitigate it, and everything to me now seems to run with forbidding shadows. Some things are even hateful in varying degrees. The full capacity of this cafe, for example, when on ordinary days I delighted in seeing the constant traffic of interesting faces. And the fact that it’s cold outside. There’s also my use of the word “mitigate,” which I find utterly pretentious, and I hate it. So is my use of the word “utterly.” It seems that in this down time, I have learned how to perfectly cannibalize myself with little irritations.

I use a lot of excuses, don’t I.

The real reason is the fact that there is something inevitable that stares me at me now: going home. How do you go home after Iowa? After the International Writing Program? But I am, all of us are. We are leaving in barely three weeks, and I don’t think I’m ready to go back to my old life just yet. And yet, there are already missives from and of home that are like reminders of this inevitability: emails from family and friends, announcements from work, and the constant moans by O Thiam Chin every single day that this is his “last Friday in Iowa City,” his “last Saturday in Iowa City,” his “last Sunday in Iowa City.” I keep mum, always in that posture of denial, but in my head I tell him: “I am counting out my last days, too, and I am sad.”

Amilcar is already gone So is Najwan. You can see how sad most of us are. We try to hide this silly sentimentality, of course, with smiles and small talk and good cheer and drunken parties — and sometimes, for some of our men here in the IWP, with a slinky black dress or women’s lingerie for a Halloween night’s excuse to let our hair down. Last night, at the ghoulish gathering at the Merinos’, you could feel that pull for camaraderie among many of the writers in the IWP. There was an acknowledgment in the air that we were indeed counting out our days, that we were saying our drawn out goodbyes in whatever form we want them to take, that we were probably not going to see each other again but that we were glad that, for more than two months, we were blessed with their friendships, their capacity for taking us into their lives and making us part of them.

I will miss Ghada’s smile, for example, and her constant protests about her cheerfulness. I will miss Pola’s wildfire presence, the way she comes into every room and commands everybody’s attention. I will miss Touche’s playful gravity, and his conviction that he is always the most beautiful person in the room. I will miss Andrea’s sudden bouts of laughter, and his mission to photograph himself in every single spot in the United States. I will miss Mr. Kim’s quiet and calming presence — and his totally terrifying Jigsaw Halloween mask. I will miss Edgar and the way he walks around with the security blanket that is his bag. I will miss Coco’s quiet air, the way she talks to you like you are the only person in the room. I will miss Solvi’s tallness — and his wig and lingerie. I will miss Christopher’s anecdotes, and the animated way he tells them. I will miss Chandrahas’ impeccable sartorial sense and his capacity for elegantly working the room. I will miss Milosz’s secret rock star wish and his electric guitar. I will miss being a visitor in Marjia’s universe, and the way she can belt out every single song in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I will miss Laura’s delightful accent, and her Gabriel. I will miss Turusbek’s dancing, and his booming voice. I will miss Billy’s hand gestures when he talks passionately about something. I will miss Farhad’s Cambridge accent, and the whiplashing wit he carries around with him like a weapon of mass distraction. I will miss Michael’s giggles and his mission to see birds, of all sorts. I will miss Thiam Chin’s hyper nature and his pickiness. I will miss Phoenix’s gushing about film. I will miss H.M.’s swagger, and his allergy to the afternoon sun. (Or just the sun, period.) I will miss Amilcar’s silence, the way his smile seems to just say everything. I will miss Hinemoana’s quirkiness and deep soul and Halloweena costume. I will certainly not miss Ismail’s milkshake addiction, and his obsessive fascination for Twinkies and bookstores. I will miss Albana’s groundedness, the way she makes you feel at ease around her instantly. I will miss everything about David, that darling man.

There are the other writers, of course, all thirty-eight of us, each with a piece of memory of each other. Truth to tell, we only have these scant impressions of each other to work with, because two and a half months are never really enough to know anybody. But it is enough to say that given the little time that we’ve had, we gave the world to each other — and made Iowa City in the beautiful autumn of 2010 an impossible place and time to forget in all our lifetimes.

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