Monday, January 12, 2009

One Ring to Rule Them

I’m in a plane, zooming from Maine, where I just had my second, ten-day MFA residency, to Seattle to spend a few days with Z before the semester starts. The residency this time was in a Hilton instead of a dorm-room, which improved my disposition from last summer markedly. Not only were there the fresh, travel-size toiletries each day (which, in the end, cost me money because I had to check an extra bag and Northwest has ludicrous baggage charges) but every evening when we would get “home” there would be fresh cookies waiting on us. The peanut butter cookies were my favorite. Also, every night you could go downstairs with your friends and have supper or a cocktail and charge it right to your room, so it was almost like free.

(Regional note of interest, I suggested to a friend that we have “supper” and she laughed her head off. Apparently “supper” is quaint and I should have asked if she wanted “dinner.”)

The ten days were so packed full of information and activities (and drinks after the hard work of the day), that they are all a blur in my mind. We workshopped. We went to presentations. We went to readings. We trudged through the Maine snow. At night, we staggered down the Hilton hallways, looking for booze-soaked camaraderie in the rooms of friends, where we would dissect the day’s events, talk about our writing, and essentially behave like irreverent college students though more than a few of us haven’t been in college for over a decade.

I had been meaning to apply to this program the year before I actually did, and as if the universe needed to make a point of how I must never question my initial gut instincts, it turns out the people I click with and care about the most in this program graduated during this residency—when I would have graduated if I had not hemmed and hawed and put the application back in a drawer for a year. So it was also an emotional week. I found myself getting teary-eyed at readings and full-out weepy at the graduation ceremony, and it was no easier yesterday saying goodbye as each person lugged their suitcases out of the hotel’s automatic doors until the residency dwindled down to nothing but a memory (and a suitcase full of travel-size soap). If I were younger, I’d think it was just the beginning and we’ll always be friends and isn’t the future exciting, but I know the likelihood is that in a few year’s time we’ll just be names on our friends list on Facebook and we won’t REALLY know each other anymore. Hopefully not.

Instead of worrying about the future, I’ll focus on this residency and how thankful I am that I didn’t leave that application in a drawer for another year, missing the chance to know these people at all. On Tuesday, I went to the “Commune” where they all gathered—adjoining rooms—and they leapt out with silly string and balloons and shouted “Happy Birthday” and put a tiara (another tiara!) on my head and fed me cake (and homemade booze). Later, one of them forced the faculty and students to sing happy birthday to me.

Semester Two begins and the writing should have commenced about four hours ago. Next residency: Dingle, Ireland in July.

And so now I am in Seattle where I am supposed to pick out stones for my engagement ring, but decision-making has never been something I excel at. I’ve created a ring journal with sketches of my favorite rings and I’ve created a weblog at Greenlake Jewelry in Seattle (a wonderful place with big leather couches and designers in blue jeans who make me feel I’m in good hands) with images of rings I like, and still, I can’t make up my mind. This should be the most fun thing I’ve ever done—I love rings! I love Z!—but instead, I’m turning it into a torturefest. What if I get the “wrong” ring, hate it two days after slipping it on my finger, and then have to look at it for the rest of my life and hide the grimace? What if I get white gold and then realize gold is the only metal I really like (or vice versa)? What if get a colored stone instead of a diamond and then everyone else starts shunning diamonds so it seems like a trendy choice instead of a thoughtful one? What if I get a natural stone and am suddenly awash in guilt that someone had to climb down into a miserable hole to dig up a rock for me to wear? What if I get a “created” stone and one day look at it and think, “fake”? It goes on and on and on.

The residency was like an engagement-ring orgy and ice-breaker. I’d walk up to women I’d never spoken to before and demand to see their rings and then have ten minute discussions on how they made their choices (if they made their choices) and what they now wish was different. Initially, I’d vowed that I would not talk about rings or weddings because I have friends both at the residency and in my “real” life who aren’t afforded the right in this country to marry and it seems the equivalent of telling an African American in the 1954 how good the view is from the front of the bus, and also, because talking about rings and weddings makes a person seem, maybe, too shallow to be taken seriously as a writer. But I am like a magpie and so I’d see someone’s ring sparkle in the light and without even thinking about the political or professional ramifications, I would scoop the woman's left hand up in my right one, and examine yet another ring from every angle. I was like a woman possessed. Sadly, all that hard work did not pay off as I’m still no closer to a decision now than I was in November when Z and I got engaged. I must try to remember to go with my first and strongest gut instinct, though unfortunately my first and best instinct over Thanksgiving was huge and $16,000. Perhaps my first, smaller and appropriate, instinct would be best.