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The beating of a raptor’s wings

I had to drive out to the University to have them put in paperwork to send my transcripts to various writing programs. Apparently, one of the program’s deadlines is this Friday, which completely sneaked up on me, despite my very organized method of applying to these schools and a separate page for each in my planner.

Because of their crazy bureaucratic hours, I had to leave work in the middle of the day and drive to the University, which is exactly kitty-corner on the map from where I work. Basically, I did a circle tour of Green Bay to get there, all the while sweating over the flood of emails and voice mails that were undoubtedly filling my various receptacles. Luckily, I remembered the sneaky little temporary parking places so I tooled into the area behind the Union and parked there, using the tunnels to get to Student Services.

My Alma Mater was constructed like a rabbit warren’ buildings connected by a series of underground tunnels, some of them neatly exposed little terrariums in coves where songbirds bang heartily into the reflective glass and fall like deflated plums nearby. It makes perfect sense for a school sitting on a hill at the base of the Bay, a place that sees frigid temperatures and winds that seem to have taken the expressway straight down the St. Lawrence Seaway from the North Pole. Whenever I think of my years at college, in my mind, it is freezing cold and the sleet is biting into your skin, red and rough and hardened. Whatever you were wearing, it was never enough. I had a long black wool trench coat that saved my life on more than one occasion. I didn’t know how the people with the short butt length coats handled it. Some days I gladly accepted an $8 parking ticket rather than succumb to some remote parking spot and a death defying walk over parking lot ice four inches thick.

I had almost called Steven and had him delivery my signature and addresses to the Records office, but I was glad I didn’t. He gets lost in the tunnels. He’s only got a limited grasp of direction and I believe he relies on the position of the sun and stars. What is more, I would have told him to look for an office with a row of windows but when I turned corner after corner through the maze, searching for my transcript chunk of cheese, I found that the windows had been removed and I was allowed to actually enter the Records office. That was unnerving. I expected the Records Gestapo to swoop down upon me at any moment and demand a $5 fee, as nothing but nothing gets done with any University without a $5 fee.

Twenty-six dollars and six small forms later, I had the transcript of my junior and senior years in college. It is $5 per official copy at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. I have similar requests sent to other of my colleges. It’s $4 a copy at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. It’s $3 a copy at the University of Wisconsin Fox Valley, which is a small UW-Center I attended when enrollment was at its peak and I was surfing off the slacker track I had been on at UWSP, placing me low on the totem of prospective students. And it is $6 a copy at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, where I need a transcript for one lowly little grade for a Graduate Fiction workshop I attended in 1998. I think the cost of sending just that transcript to various graduate programs (some of them demanding two official copies!) is greater than the actual cost of tuition for that course. If I hadn’t gotten a nice shiny A, I probably wouldn’t bother including it.
It was strange walking through those halls again. I don’t think I’ve been to Student Services since I was a student and I felt my eyebrows perpetually perk as I expected to see someone I knew around each and every turn. In some ways, the summer of 1997 was a complete upheaval for me. I graduated college, spent a huge amount of time in England, and then came back and was employed by my current employer. The world changed. I went from having no money to complete financial security, complete control over my fluctuating schedule to walking into the office at the same time every day and leaving at the same time every day, without fail. From overnighters to a bedtime. From being a word architect to being a coding bricklayer. And more and more and more of that.

Steven has mentioned that I am infinitely happier when I am in school. I usually tend to disagree with him, but I think he’s right. I love the insulated little communities. I love the possibilities’ the constant change, the lunar tide of productivity and rest. Every semester is a mental binge. It shouldn’t make me happy but it does.

Then I got back in my car and felt somewhat accomplished, swooping around the arboretum in my car, staring up at the battleship landscape and the winter-bitten trees. There isn’t any snow yet, but the Bay was covered with ice, like the waxy layer atop a homemade boysenberry jam. And I had a sudden urge to turn back around and park in my secret library parking spot and take the elevator up into the thin library, up to the sixth floor where I had a favorite reading spot–a deep 1978 Rust Orange armchair that sat in front of a floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the entire Bay and was positioned directly under the heating vent, so you could read facing this stark frozen landscape but be softly fluffed by hot air until you were driven to the drinking fountain by a parched throat and chapped lips. Once when I was reading some musty study on Gender Role Development in that orange chair, I happened to look up out the window at the precise moment a large Peregrine falcon swooped up and hovered at eye level on the air currents, regarded me for a moment with his cold raptor eyes and then dropped just as suddenly below view. It was one of those magical moments that just takes your breath away. I was ruined on science for the rest of the day and could only reread Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood and dream of Virgin Mary apparitions in the form of winged predators.

I sent an email to my old adviser Denise Sweet with a reminder about recommendations to the programs. She wrote back, asking if I had anything I wanted particularly highlighted in the letter other than my ‘brilliance and keen fashion sense.’ Heee! That even still makes me smile. She also asked if I’d be interested in an informal writing workshop this spring at her house, which I’m jumping upon. One summer, I did an independent study for credit with two of my Creative Writing English program pals and a few other stragglers. It was a fabulous summer because I was working with these three guys and writing all of this poetry every week for these workshops we’d have in our apartments and coffeehouses.

When school resumed, we organized a large poetry reading, which I, in general, SUCK at. I hate reading my own poetry. It feels awkward and pretentious and I hate the sound of my voice because I think it detracts from the words and I have a Midwestern white girl’s sense of rhythm. I always feel apologetic for my poetry, which is why I’m an accidental poet. For me, it’s like slipping on ice. It’s not something I try to do but it just happens and turns the world upside down, if not only for a little while. And when it’s over, you can only look back and wonder “Now how did THAT happen?” Even so, the reading was one of those wonderful things, something we created from nothing during the summer that turned into a full house of wide eyes and wistful faces. I’d like to think we brought poetry off little white squares on the refrigerator and into their brains, but I know that’s almost too much to hope for.

So as I was driving back to work, happy in the sense of school and the feeling of once more striving for something that answers a very basic need (uhoh… Wendy’s getting all metaphysical and new age– everyone make sure their life vests are securely fastened), and I passed my high school. It’s all changed now, with a huge addition replacing the heritage oaks that wrapped around the auditorium. It was well after school had let out but in the premature darkness of winter solstice, I could see high school age kids somehow overcoming the dorky connotations and practicing some kind of group dance. It was like some medieval thing, with linked arms and spins and twirls and hops. And I flashed back for a moment to a game I used to have. I think it was called Trouble. The pieces were little cones reminded me of Bugle corn chips and you could stick them on your fingers and have vampire claws. The dice for the game were encased in a little clear plastic bubble. To roll the dice, you’d press on the bubble and it would make a crisp packlePUMP! sound and the dice would pop up and over into some sanitary hands free roll. And that’s what those jumping kids looked like. As though someone was pressing down on their plastic bubble making them jump.

And it was a wonderful thing, that packlePUMP . It made me ready to press the dice and see what comes up.