This Is Harder Than It Looks

I leave Provo today.

Something profound and poignant is supposed to bubble up through my fingers and appear on the computer screen. It’s not quite coming that way. Maybe it’s because grades aren’t official or even up yet. Maybe it’s because I still need a serious heart-to-heart with this town. Maybe I don’t really need one but the formality of one would make me feel better.

This semester really humbled me. I didn’t start thinking I’d earn a 4.0. The ol’ rusty brain scattered a few moths as I tried knocking a few loose three months ago. Those Lepidopterans fluttered down to my stomach, where they stayed. They’re solely responsible for my ten-pound weight loss difference from this time last year. Anxiety dominated my life, and time kept going.

French class dazzled me: So many new and familiar words. All those rules that I latched on to. Cultural facts and food and cinema and conversations. Those classmates I observed and laughed with every day. Those exams every two weeks and quizzes and the instructor who graded hard and not on a curve and the butterflies using my stomach like a padded room, bouncing off of angled and opposite surfaces until the very end, when I became the curve which bumped everyone else’s grades up.

I probably wasn’t the only one, though.

Then there was the final, which I have no idea how I did.

But the class wasn’t about the grade, really. Bonne idée and “I suck moments.” Clubbing and parties and watching hilarious YouTube videos and breaking into other accents and showtunes and blurting slight irreverences and laughing everyday until the testing center beckoned us once again. Grading each other’s homework and correcting each other’s grammar and lying out in the sun after the final review quoting movies and turning somersaults and being under the influence of caffeine and sugar.

The class was about friends.

But I do have to wonder: Why would I add an –s to the je conjugation of an -er verb? Really, people.

Writing Literary Criticism class knew I how felt about it. The grade is going to reflect that. Classmates knew. Poor, unsuspecting friends knew. Sure, I enjoyed reading Jane Austen and Robert and E.B. Browning and Tom Stoppard, but for some reason, I couldn’t write for that class. My attitude could have been so much better. I snarked and resisted and I could tell the professor expected better from me. I got to know the two students who sat on either side of me; they were definitely serious enough, but they were also rather feisty and very becoming of Mormon women in (approaching) their 20s.

Fair enough that I got out of that class as much as I put into it.

American Literary History pretty much blew my mind. We read letters from Christopher Columbus to Ferdinand and Isabella. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Bryant, Emerson, Hemingway. I’ve raved about this class before, and the butterflies billowed my stomach especially because those Wednesday nights depended heavily on class discussion. Oh, man, the discussions got intense. The opinions were sometimes pointed. They rubbed and sparked and ignited, and the professor sometimes had to extinguish. I sat back and watched, amazed.

I got to know a few people in the class, those with whom I participated in small group discussions. The people in that class were so smart and far-thinking and articulate and aware. They inspired me to try to improve how I connect ideas and visualize concepts. They started me wondering what Thomas Jefferson would have thought about Herman Melville or Harriet Tubman or Frederick Jackson Turner. They stirred some thoughts on whether anything I might write will end up making a difference in future generations. My mind hasn’t opened up quite this way … since high school? Probably ever.

Fundamentals of Literary Interpretation helped me analyze the way I read. It broadened awareness, added dimension. I discovered just how much poetry rocks my world. We read Othello. We read The Age of Innocence. I wrote the way I wanted, and the instructor just went with it. She validated me and encouraged me to work toward publishing. I studied and worked and commented occasionally. Classmates seemed timid sometimes, but they were bright and insightful, and they love words as much as anybody could. Everyone is so different in reading and writing styles, and I appreciate how much the class opened my eyes. I would like to think we respect each other as peers and not just as teacher-student.

Socially, I’m pretty content. I’ve found a group of people who’ve taken me in and welcomed me and accepted all the crazy things about me. And yet, they also motivate me to become a better person. I like when we can laugh together or when they just let me laugh by myself (which is pretty often). I like when they plan food events I can attend. Jam sessions and bonfires and movies and pizza. They’re really comfortable. And so unabashedly cool.

Provo, I know sometimes it doesn’t seem I give you much of a chance. I’ve mocked you and tried so hard not to get too close…. You know what, though, you’re all right, with all these Mormons and this … culture, and especially your mountains. I can’t hate you for your mountains. The people I’ve met are pretty terrific, too.

Now, I’m waiting on a final load of laundry. I’ll go to an ATM to get a little cash, pack a few last-minute things, and head for the bus.

Heh, I thought the butterflies had left.

I’ll actually miss it here.

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