17 February 2004
little miss trainwreck
last monday, when i still felt raw and bloody and pretty torn up, i went out to eat with one of my (former) professors: a man i have admired for as long as i've known him. it wasn't planned this way, really, the whole break up thing wasn't really planned outside the day it happened. even as i called up John i wasn't sure if i would have the balls to do it. but this entry isn't about that.
to provide a backstory: mid-December, i went over to my (former) professor's studio; he and his wife were having an open house, as they did every year at this time. i went on Friday night, which was a sort of preview night for all the VIPs, i guess, but it was the only night i could go, so he said that it was fine. their studio is a renovated townhouse right across the street from the Eastern State Penitentiary. it's always been one of my favorite parts of the city.
it was crowded inside, i could barely move, barely got to talk to him. i felt conspicuously out of place. i looked at the work, picked out the cups i would've bought if i weren't seriously broke, ate some food, accidently dropped some bruschetta on the floor and then made my exit hastily.
i decided to try to take the expressway home, and this was a big mistake because i promptly got lost in the not so gentrified section of Northern Liberties. i finally found the highway, and as i drove home i cried. i always seem to end up crying when i'm driving out of the city on the expressway.
this man, my former professor. he is a truly good person. you can't say that about many people. not a malicious bone in his body; no ego, no hubris, just a spirit of giving and generosity that takes my breath away. when he was in his studio, surrounded by friends and colleagues, his work displayed around him, he just seemed genuinely happy. he has a wife who is a potter as well, who he shares every aspect of his personal and professional life with. he teaches and touches so many lives. he isn't rich, his life isn't perfect, but all of his dreams have come true. i guess i was crying because i'm not used to seeing happiness like that in a person. and i was crying because i feel like i will never, ever have that.
so last Monday we went out to eat to this Chinese place just around the corner from Tyler. the whole idea was for him to take a last look at my materials and slides for Arrowmont, and to finally tell me what he thought of my thesis show. the latter we never got around to, and still haven't, which i regret. the entire dinner was, in fact, a bit awkward because i didn't know exactly how to act around him. we hadn't quite crossed the bridge from the teacher-student relationship to friends yet. it was also awkward because every time i looked him in the eyes, i got the feeling that he really, genuinely liked me. for some reason i couldn't handle this, and i felt my eyes roving around, avoiding him. i felt like an ass.
and then the inevitable slipped out. i mentioned the break-up, and his brow knitted immediately into sympathy. i hadn't intended to do this, to turn our dinner into some pyschotherapy session.
"i'm so sorry." he paused. "well, whoever he is, he's a fool."
"well, actually i broke up with him."
there was a pause.
"i guess that makes me the fool." i said half under my breath.
it felt like an awkward first date. when i'm nervous i can't eat the way i normally do. i'm afraid of committing a social faux paus (even at a second-rate Chinese restaurant), i'm hyper aware of exactly where my elbows are and i eat carefully and nervously, swallowing almost as much air as food. the whole situation was weird and unexpected, because we talk so easily otherwise. i felt like my brain was atrophying, and i searched the air above him for something to say.
yesterday i was unloading a kiln. it was during his class, and he happened to walk in as i was attempting to liberate a lid from a teapot. i held it up and commanded him to critique it. they were my first functional teapots and i really wasn't pleased. he gently pointed out the flaws and made suggestions, and then turned over one of the teapots to inspect the bottom.
he pointed to the stamp i had pressed into the clay. "what does this say? heh-jeer-rah?"
"what does that mean?"
"well, literally it means 'leaving the dream, no blame'. it's Arabic. but it's a Joni Mitchell album, too."
"you like Joni Mitchell? i love Joni Mitchell." he said, beaming. i wondered how this had not come up before. and then we talked about Joni for a while. it was very casual and easy. how had i managed to become so tongue-tied the week before? i was angry at myself for squandering an opportunity, and pissed for letting him see me like that. i used to think wearing my heart on my sleeve was the way to cope, but now i think i just want to go somewhere alone and deal with this on my own, and not let anyone else see it.
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