Thursday, January 25, 2007

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED #6: New England, a New Beginning

SO, WHEN I ASKED MY MOTHER AND FATHER IF THEY were coming up for my graduation in January, this was the answer I got from Moms:

"Well, I'm trying to convince your Daddy to go. He seems to think we're gonna get drowned in snow. He keeps asking me to check the weather."

That was October.

Now, how an October weather report would accurately predict a New England blizzard in January was beyond the both of us; in fact, it was beyond the realm of rational thought. But something about New England in winter made my father, King David Heath of Talbotton, Georgia, irrational. Yet something about this lack of ration was fitting because my mother and father would be coming to witness an event which was, by anybody's stretch, irrational: my graduation with a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from New England College.

If you've been following this blog, you know the convoluted path I took to get here. Rational thought said I should have gotten a bachelor's degree from Georgia Tech, gone on to graduate studies in electrical engineering at MIT, and followed a sequence of 0's and 1's until I was married with a wife named Angela, two children named Chelsea and Marvin, moving into our second house in some suburb of DC or Houston by this point, living a life of baseball practices and piano recitals and mutual funds.

Instead, here I was trying to convince my Pops to get on a plane to brave the possibility of a blizzard to see me, who shattered his dream of an electrical engineer, graduate with a Masters degree in Fine Arts - Poetry, no less:

SO, HERE ARE me and Pops just before the graduation ceremony. Incidentally, not only did it not snow, but the day before Moms and Pops arrived, the sky was blue, the groundskeeper was actually mowing the grass, and the temperature topped 70 degrees. How's that for New England in January?

Even beyond the weather, the entire residency
was surreal. First, I should mention that, for the first time since the inception of the New England College MFA in Creative Writing program, the winter residency was not being held at the campus in Henniker, NH, but rather at the Northfield Mount Hermon School for Young Ladies , a sprawling campus about 90 minutes south in Northfield, Massachusetts which could have passed for the set of A Separate Peace - in some ways.

In other ways, the campus was eerily reminiscent of The Shining. Perhaps, it was the still as of yet unexplained woman's voice we all heard 3 o'clock one morning screaming, Let me in! I'm locked outside! I'm locked outsiiiiiiiide!!!

Aside from causing good old-fashioned nightmares, the move to this campus could have created a logistical nightmare: flying into Hartford instead of Manchester, all of us being equally lost on a new campus - new students and old students alike. But it went rather smoothly considering.

An unintended consequence of this move to this location "even remoter than Henniker" was that we had no access to a convenience store. Instead, we had a makeshift comissary with very limited options. When I realized that I had forgotten to pack my electric razor, this led to me accomplishing one of my quirkier 101 in 1001 goals:

#86: Shave with a disposable razor.
The only ones they had were pink.


BUT THE HEIGHT OF SURREALNESS actually occurred on the first full-day of the residency when four of our graduating class of eight had to present our half of the panel, "Doing the Nasty: Writing in, Around, and Through Taboo." Each of us had fifteen minutes to present some craft-oriented mini-lecture. Some of my classmates' topics: Issa Lewis, "The Fallible Speaker: An Exploration of Anne Sexton's 'The Exorcists'"; Misha Cahnmann-Taylor, "White Lies, White Truths: White Writers on Race in Contemporary American Poetry."

My taboo topic? "Rethinking the P*ssy Poem: An Analysis of Tone in the Poetry of Nin Andrews." Yes, me, on a panel talking about p*ssy poems for fifteen minutes.


At the Hartford airport the previous day as we waited for our shuttle to campus, I practiced my p*ssy talk on my classmate, Issa Lewis. I had some reservations about being male and leading such a talk, so I made sure to incorporate a lot of audience participation into the talk. Issa was my guinea pig.

Naturally, the big taboo is the word, p*ssy - particularly, saying it aloud. So, imagine us, in an airport waiting area, surrounded by tables of people, trying to navigate this talk - using our "inside voices," but having to raise our volume periodically to outtalk the P.A. system - Would passenger Douglass J_nes please report to the U.S. Air counter? Passenger Douglass J_nes? - only to have the room suddenly go quiet just as Issa says the following line from "The P*ssy's Debut":

"P*ssy. Pretty, isn't it?"

Imagine the elderly man at the table next to us, raising his brow as he reads the Times. Imagine the woman two tables over, feeding her infant apple sauce, suddenly missing the baby's mouth.

After the practice run concluded, Issa said, "In all my years of living, I've never said the word, p*ssy, as many times as I have in the past fifteen minutes."

"But did you like it?" I asked.

She paused for a moment. Then she said devilishly, "Yesssss."

Parting is such sweet sorrow, it is said. And I'd have to concur. Even in a low-residency format, bonds are created which hurt to break. But where one road ends, there is a place to forge another. And standing here, today, it could not be any brighter.

To end this entry, which culminates an 11-year chapter in my life, which resulted in the completion of my first book-length poetry manuscript, Dreams in the Black Bazaar, (a fitting title for my last 11 years), which resulted in my completion of goal #6: Graduate with an MFA, and which finally allows me to lay Marvin Heath to rest, I'll share these photos of my two families who made it possible - my fellow NEC Class of Winter 2007 graduates: L-to-R: Benjamin Russell, Issa Lewis, Jim Kelleher, me, Michael Fisher, Misha Cahnmann-Taylor, Tara Betts, and Laurie Sewall (not shown) and Moms and Pops.

Here's to a new beginning:


Collin said...

Hooray! Congrats, Ayo. Hope to see you soon...somewhere.

Tara Betts said...

Hey Ayo,
missing you already, but trying to fit all the pieces together in the larger scheme of me in much the same way that you are.

take care,

Tara Betts said...

Hey Ayo,
missing you already, but trying to fit all the pieces together in the larger scheme of me in much the same way that you are.

take care,

Gary said...

No wonder you are in the Cedar Grove Hall of fame! Congrats man.

Issa said...

*wiping a tear from the eye* Gets me all verklempt just thinking about it!

I was so disappointed not to be able join you all in Hot-lanta for AWP (temps in Michigan: subzero. Inches of snow: approaching 2 feet in some areas of the lower peninsula; don't even ask about the UP), but we really couldn't swing the costs just yet. Soon. Soon.

Anyway, I have some good news, so I may give you a jingle here to let you in on it. And to catch up, because it seems you've had a lot on your plate that I would like to hear more about!


p.s. p*ssy. somehow it's just not right saying it without you around.