Wednesday, April 4, 2012

for the love of literature

You know those days when you get the mean reds?

-The mean reds, you mean like the blues? 

No. The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?


Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that'd make me feel like Tiffany's, then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name!

Today was a bad case of the mean reds. One of those hide-under-the-covers mornings, one of those day-after-the-day-which-collapsed-in-on-itself days.  So guess what I did.  I got up and taught a bunch of kids how to make a website.  Then I went to my office, where Sam was also mean-red-ing it.  As was Becca.  Man.  What a day.  So we watched videos about charming pastry shops and looked at Mondrian-esque cakes, and threw paperclips at our colleague Drew.  (All normal mean-red-day activities.)  Then I taught more kids about websites.  Then I said, "Peace, yo, I'm done" and went home and ate the hugest salad and bowl of spaghetti (homemade, thank goodness) you've ever seen.  I also ate a few cookies.  (Listen, in terms of curing the mean reds, I have no pastry shop nearby and no Tiffany's either, so spaghetti was the chosen alternative.  Don't judge.)

Then I went to the local library to "write my thesis."  I instead took quizzes over stress levels and heart rates, and subsequently learned (by experience) that taking quizzes over stress levels only raises heartrates.  Thank you WebMD for always diagnosing me as "high risk" for ebola/cardiac arrest/dengue/meningitis/every-other-disease-I-use-you-to-diagnose.

And then tonight happened, in which I went to the English Department Awards Banquet.  Oh boy.  Nothing like a tsunami of nostalgia to cure the mean reds and leave your heart bubbling over with joy.  (Although a word of caution: nostalgia is a drippy kind of joy. It tends to effulge and ooze and otherwise occasionally leave you crying about days long gone. Kinda like how you feel when you finish watching all the Lord of the Rings movies.)
A word on this Awards Banquet: it happens every year--everyone looks all fancy, we have fancy meal (yes I want more rolls and pats of butter please!), then there’s an impossibly inspirational address given by one of our professors.  The whole thing disgusts me it’s so beautiful.  And the sun is setting in the windows behind the harp player, and I’m sitting at a table with my MA friends, and around me are Phil and Delys who were the professors I went to London with; Rick whose mind and goodness and words I admire so deeply--Rick who first taught me to love Shakespeare, who first showed me the magic of those plays; Brett and Brian who have coached me through this whole graduate instructor “thing,” and oh so many others. And they’re all smiling on and giving me encouraging nods.  In short, it’s an evening to be surrounded by people you’ve grown to love and admire and depend on, and it’s a sad whisper that “this too shall pass” and you’ll soon be SHOVED out of the BYU-tiful nest into the dark and lonely world!  
That Banquet is the saddest, most beautiful night of the year.  It makes me want to be forever a student of literature, to learn to write and think like those professors who give such beautiful addresses, talking about how literature expands your mind, quoting Thoreau and Shakespeare and Wordsworth.  It makes me realize, for that one brief moment, that my study of literature has never been about finding a career or about making myself "marketable."  It has only been about love.  
It is about leaving an evening class in the deep blue sky of sunset with the lights golden all over campus, and walking home with the remnants of a discussion of Shakespeare, or Donne, or Hemingway still lingering in my thoughts.  It is about organizing reading groups, book clubs, culture nights, to read C.S. Lewis together and talk about it in the living room.  The “skill set” was never why I got into this racket (although for those of you who are currently English majors struggling to justify your studies, hear this: the skills I have developed as an English major have been surprisingly marketable! So don't despair. Keep reading, keep writing.).  I didn't get into The Study of Literature for any of those reasons. It was only for the joy of books upon books, of pages undiscovered and unexplored in library shelves I run my fingers across as I look for “PR 2839 .A2 P58x 2010.  It was only for the exuberance of writing a perfect conclusion, of having my mind BLOWN in British Lit 201, or Modernity, or Shakespeare and Film.  I study English for the dream I have of someday knowing all great stories ever told, and all great words ever written.
And this is why the Awards Banquet is the saddest, most beautiful night of the year: because it dredges up from my heart all the reasons I love being a student, all the reasons I love BYU, and worst of all, all the reasons I decided to study literature in the first place.  Graduating would be so much easier if they forced you to end in mid-March, when it’s cold outside and you’re in the middle of plucking your head bald for all the term papers you’re writing/grading.  But nooooo, they wait until the trees have blossomed, until the warm weather returns, bringing with it all the fondness of your years here.  And suddenly you remember all the beautiful reasons you are, in fact, MADLY IN LOVE WITH WHAT YOU'RE STUDYING.  Which tangentially is also the reason why graduating suddenly seems absolutely horrible.

Inevitably, as I walk from the Hinckley Center to the library to “work on my thesis,” the wind is blowing warm and bright, like the first nights in Heritage and the outdoor freshman dances, like the nightgames the summer of ‘08, like every memory with Brooke, like walking out of the HFAC after seeing some lovely play or performance that left me bubbling over with satisfaction, like the day Michael and I escaped studying to fly kites, like the walk home after evening classes, profoundly grateful for this thing we call “learning,” for professors with brilliant minds who believe in the beauty of art more than they believe in "marketability." Like every evening that that walk home has left me humming and dreaming and smiling.  And again and again, I am brought to the end of this book, or at least this chapter, in "the life of Carolyn." But they are pages I want to reread again and again.  They are pages I tear out and write all over and fold up and shove in my pocket. These pages are lovely pages to me.


  1. this is lovely to me. I love it so much.

  2. You're incredible. You make me wish I'd loved my time as a student more, and maybe that I'd studied more literature.

  3. thanks carolyn, made me rethink my time as a student here...this was really beautiful.

  4. oh too beautiful. oh too true.

  5. I printed this off and put it in my journal. You were able to describe something that I've always felt, but have always had a hard time describing. Thank you.

  6. I come read this post whenever I need to get jazzed about school again. It's one of the best reminders I've read about why we do what we do. Grassy us.