Echoes of Grad School, and a random ten

A friend of ours from grad school visited last week; it was really great to see him, and we had a lot of fun, running around, eating bar food, playing pool, and BSing -- I'd say "reliving grad school" but frankly we still live this way. It had been about four years since I'd seen Steve, though, so it was definitely a special event.

He came down mainly to see his brother, who is an animal surgeon down in Hollywood, but he made time to see us a few times. On his last day in town, we and Steve went out for BBQ, hit Hollywood beach, and then went to Jaxson's for ice cream (if you live in SoFla, and you haven't been to Jaxson's, GO!) -- while were were delighting in our towering and scrumptious mountains of fresh ice cream and fruit, Steve said the oddest thing to me: "are you always this happy?"

Since Steve suffers from waves of genuine depression, I wasn't sure if he was going for something existential or what. "I'm frequently much happier than this," I said, which was true: while I was having a great day, it's not like he caught me at some moment of absurd happiness or something -- and I do have those, all the time.

I was still kind of confused as to what he meant, though. So he clarified: "I mean here, in Florida, with your life."

"Oh -- oh, yes! I mean, I love my job -- my students are great. My family's all down here. The weather's just how I like it. We have lots of great friends. We work with fun people..." blah, blah, blah, I went on. All true stuff.

"Because when my brother met you, he commented that he thought you were a really happy person, and that struck me as strange. I would never have described you that way back in Fayetteville. I would have described you as... bitter."

And so Steve's words have echoed in my ears ever since he left. I'd pretty much forgotten those misery-years, had gotten to the point where, while I would never live in Fayettehell again, I thought back almost fondly on the place. But the truth is, it was the single most unfriendly not to mention sexist environment I have ever had the misfortune to find myself powerless in. (And the perpetrators of that sexism, incidentally, were women as much as men.) My first year there, I had hopes for a fantastic four years. By the time Steve met me (my third year), I was just bitter, made happy only by the thought of leaving.

Four years is a long time, especially when you're miserable. One comes up with all kinds of rationalizations about being tested by fire, about the experience making you stronger, about how the experience of having to try 10 times as hard to get one 10th the recognition just makes you a harder worker, and so on, but all of that is bullshit. Artists succeed when they are nurtured, and confidence breeds success.

The point of all this is that it is far more important to live in a place where you are happy, surrounded by people who are generous and kind -- not to mention fun! -- than anything else. When we left Fayetteville and moved to San Francisco, we wound up working in a brewery, surrounded by kind-hearted, fun, intelligent, talented, artistic, mostly-non-sexist people, and have done the same in Florida, perhaps even more so! (Although I miss the free beer!)

Grad school was just a traumatic experience. My writing has really been nurtured, and I've really grown as an artist, since then. Because I never got much in the way of helpful feedback in Arkansas (comments included things like, "I don't think cats really kill lizards" and, "why would a redneck kid just stop his truck and shoot the deer?"), I've had to find ways to do things on my own, with my own resources.

I can't say I would have preferred this to the chance to have actually been a student in an MFA program where the people weren't awful, but you take what you're dealt, and you deal.

Still, it hadn't occurred to me that people who knew me back then will probably always (and rightly) think of me as this bitter loser who everyone hates. And I wish I could change that. But we do not control the legends we leave: that is quite outside of us. (Anyway, as I've said before, my life is bigger on the inside...)

Random Ten:

1. Kingdom of Lies -- The Folk Implosion
2. Dumb -- Nirvana
3. Show Me What You Got -- Limp Bizkit
4. Stones in my Passway -- John Mellencamp
5. Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam -- Nirvana
6. I Need You -- The Beatles
7. Rehab -- Amy Winehouse
8. Some Unholy War -- Amy Winehouse
9. Where Did You Sleep Last Night -- Nirvana
10. Atlanta Strut -- Blind Willie McTell

Three Nirvanas and a pair of Winehouse -- Full House, beeeatch!

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