• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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A Saxophone Someplace Far Off Played

I’m going to speak on a panel tonight at NYU. I went to school there and I can’t set foot in Washington Square Park without hearing almost any song from Blood on the Tracks, remembering where I met my first boyfriend,  the classrooms that overlooked the park, the teacher droning on about Them by Joyce Carol Oates, the the skies that went from white to green, and the back of the neck of a young man I fancied, pebbled and red. I remember filling notebooks I would never read again. Eating sunflower seeds. Making love or dreaming about it in the library carrel while I wound my way through the Canterbury Tales and nursed a crush on a man named Rasam. Once, I read Group Portrait with Lady instead of Portrait of  a Lady. Ha ha ha! And I still passed the test.  I was so lonely in college.  I spent a lot of time alone. I wrote a million poem fragments in appreciation of my pain.

What did you write in college?

55 Responses

  1. “I remember filling notebooks I would never read again.” I just packed away, this week, all of my college and grad school notebooks and syllabi and papers on Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Steinbeck and poets I still don’t fully understand. I came across a 30 page paper where I argued that Ishmael is not the hero of Moby-Dick. What an idiot. An idiot now in hiding in plastic Wal-mart boxes in the garage. Now you’ve got me wondering: what’s in all those notebooks?

  2. Hey, that’s my subway stop! Great seeing you tonight, Betsy. I didn’t write much in college–I acted, but I did write an animated screenplay, The Electrical Wheelchair. It contained my entire philosophy of life at the time. Ah, those NYU days. Living here still keeps me young.

  3. Entering Carnegie-Mellon at 15 (as an English Major), my early attempts at writing are best left unmentioned – especially since all evidence was lost in H. Katrina. But the experience of starting college so early was a wonderful gift; the campus environment a sanctuary from all the angst of high school.

  4. Well, I had no idea until last week. And then, in honor of a significant birthday, my husband sweetly and furtively requested that my long-standing friends and family members write mini tributes to me!

    At dinner the night of my birthday he presented me with a photobook with all these missives. It was a little like I had died, actually. A bit elegiac. But so moving and it left me verklempt and wistful. Until I got to the one my little sister wrote.

    She’d found a bunch of letters I’d written her in college and, verbatim, emailed the contents to my husband for the lifetime achievement book. Here’s a sample: I’d been captivated with microbiology class and felt the need to report that I had learned of the wonders of fecal boluses and the powerful nature of scabs.

    Betsy, I’d take your poetic fragments over my disgusting reportage any day.

  5. I wrote physics and microbiology lab reports, journal entries on the sly. I was divorced from everything creative until I took an English class as an elective. Then I almost cried because I “had” to read fiction for a credit. Looking back, it was a sign…

  6. While my soul withered and died because my father made me major in accounting, I wrote a historical romance about Natasha and Nicholas. Girls on my hall would pop in every night to catch the latest juicy bits. I was 17, still a virgin, so I doubt they were very juicy. I’d give my eye teeth if I still had that manuscript, typed on a Smith Corona I bought with babysitting money.

    I was lonely in a crowd of sorority sisters and accounting nerds, which is when I started drinking too much. I skidded along the road of inebriation at inappropriate times until I turned 40, after which I never had another drink.

    Probs just as well I don’t still have Natasha and Nicholas stored in an old envelope box in the attic – I’d likely go back to vodka.

  7. I wrote mostly screenplays because I was at Tisch, go figure 🙂

    But I also wrote some poetry, especially around 9/11, and haven’t written any poetry since.

    I hated “Them”.

  8. I wrote bad raunchy poetry, and raunchy pop songs, the sole copy of one of which I handed to the producer (a friend of my best friend’s boyfriend) of ’80s girl band Exposé (before they hit the big time), who took it and recorded it and never sent me a dime, because I didn’t find out until a decade later, when he came to the club where I worked with some friends of mine from another band who managed to get a record deal but faded from view after their second album, and who I left the club with (the producer, not the band, but I wouldn’t have put it past me back then) in the middle of my shift to do some coke, and then tried to bonk in his car but couldn’t because he’d done too much coke, so I started beating him up in frustration, not only because of thwarted coke-up lust, but because he’d stolen my song and made all that money, while I was stuck shaking it for ten bucks per table dance at some mediocre club in south Miami. Only God could have taken away the resultant bitter taste of failure from my mouth, so immense and permeating it was, and though it took a few years, He did.

  9. Twenty page letters twice a week to an Ivy League Reaganite dork I met in Paris who told me I would never leave Australia. Or write.

  10. I didn’t write anything in college. I read Spoon River Anthology a million times and painted. I was going to be a famous artist. That didn’t happen. I’m kind of like Alexander Throckmorton.

    • Perhaps you should stop using an ultra-fine sieve to define ‘artist’. Creative expression employs many mediums – paint, clay, words, duck fat. You may have started with paint, but found something better.

      (ps: I highly recommend sauteing vegetables in duck fat – a real indulgence)

      • I never used duck fat as a medium, but for a time I found I had things to say in broken glass, barbed wire, nails, and my own blood and semen. Too bad they were all unintelligible. Not to mention unmarketable. And often non-archival.

  11. My college was the streets and underground dance clubs of Kings Cross in Sydney. When I was lonely I wrote odes to various forgettable boys who I thought would be the only one(s) I’d ever love, and snippets of ambitious fantasy novels that went nowhere. It took until my late twenties to be able to write anything worth me reading, let alone anyone else!

  12. I wrote a precious and earnest piece my freshman year (actually, a revision of something I had whipped up in high school) that got me into the *serious* literary journal and onto its review board. For the next issue, I submitted a long-winded (but clever!) prose poem based on my fascination with modern U.S. history and its anti-heroes. During the board review, I was the first person who was asked – based solely on where I was sitting – to choose five pieces for the next round. I hesitated, feeling the fight between ego and self-sacrifice, then added mine to the short-list. It was good, okay, but when I saw it in print, I felt ashamed and exposed. I am still living that down somewhere inside.

    • In your defense, you probably did believe it was good. It’s hard to be objective now, nevermind the college years. Phew.

  13. I didn’t write much in college. i was too busy playing.

    Sorry but I can’t think of NYU without thinking of my 60 yr old neighbor, the one with the permanent crutches, who was threatened with immediate evacuation so the big purple flagged institution could take over his building. MacDougal Street banded and told big business to take a hike, but still, me no like bullies. Did you know they also wanted to raze Louisa May Alcott’s home, right there across from Cafe Reggio? Thousands of bright eyed new students come and sit on those steps while munching on Mamoun’s falafel and don’t have any clue just how lucky they are. Heck, if it weren’t for a cluster of advocates, they’d have to stand while chewing and we all know that’s not good for digestion. I agree with you about the park, though. A thousand memories, flooding forth.

  14. I wrote bad science fiction and imitation Steinbeck. I gave up on the imitation Steinbeck but kept writing bad science fiction. Joyce Carol Oates plays into my story, as well. I read “Them” by JCO and it didn’t impress me. However, years later, I would read “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” by JCO and my life was changed. I was amazed that a writer could so effectively render an imagined life full of detail and suspense in a story and that she could do so placing her character in the real world instead of some alien world in a fantasy universe. I decided that I wanted to write like that and have been doing so ever since.

  15. i wrote two poems, one titled, “A poem written for Comp 201, while waiting for my use to get back from the bathroom” and another one that I wish like hell I could find again. But it’s probably better to remember it as the shining piece of brilliance it most likely wasn’t.

    I also wrote an estimated twenty-seven essays on The Scarlet Letter, because some well-meaning nitwit in the English Ed Department screwed up the lit focus rotation so instead of learning how to teach four or five different classics as we progressed over the course, my fellow future teachers and I learned about Hester and original sin, over and over and over. Thank God for electives.

    Then again, it could have been Moby Dick,.

    • The title of the poem should be, “A poem written for Comp 201, while waiting for my muse to get back from the bathroom.”

      it’s clear that my proofreading skills haven’t improved much.

  16. Angst-y diary entries and articles for the student newspaper. One, called “Joey Gives Away Again” (about a book giveaway by the former premier of Nfld, Joey Smallwood) resulted in a phone call from his grandson threatening me with libel. Them were the days.

    Oh, I also covered women’s sport under the byline Petra Puck. (you have to be Canadian to get that one.)

  17. I wrote the first two novels I got published, so I don’t think that was too bad. 🙂 And a lot of other crappy stuff that never got published, thank heaven. I also learned I could write flash humor, and that if the campus paper had a news hole, they would publish it.

  18. I was a bartender daylighting as a philosophy student (both full-time) while also smoking and drinking and fucking around as much as possible, Ah, to be young again. I wrote my first half-dozen short stories, possibly some poetry, the customary college papers, and some love letters, all long since thrown away. I somehow managed to ace an essay test on “Madame Bovary” without actually reading the book. And I just remembered, I also wrote music reviews for the school paper, and humor pieces for the honors newsletter. Copies of those might still be around here somewhere, but I’m certainly not about to go looking for them.

  19. Unfortunately, most of what I wrote in college was term papers. I was an English major, and being creative was not the point. Appreciating other’s creativity was.

    However, in one of the classes I took, the topic was detective fiction, and that class led me to write the book I’ve been offered a contract for, so maybe college wasn’t a complete waste. Maybe.

  20. I wish we’d met back then.

    I wrote papers on ANNA KARENINA–up the 7th Ave. IRT at Barnard. I was out walking in the rain in a hand-stitched, floor-length skirt made from an India print bedspread. Once the hem got wet, the street dirt climbed my legs like no Midwestern dirt I had ever met. I had to scrub it off with a brush in a bathtub that leaked into the apartment below. My suite mate was a crazy old lady, grandfathered into this condemned building when Columbia Teachers’ College bought it to use for student housing, who stirred her wash in a pot on the stove and pulled a paring knife on me for baking too many potatoes at once. Then she brought me oranges when I caught a cold, and I didn’t know who was craziest.

  21. I like your wistful look back at college. I was an adult according to age, but scared and lonely in this new world, like an artist who had her colors taken away or a bird who lost his song, eventually learning to draw and hear all new tunes in my head.

    I wrote all the time in college and was published often in the school paper. I was the editor. By default. Some things I wrote were good, others could have used a little work. My writing was honest and unafraid, a bit frantic and unrelenting; first drafts only, no rewrites allowed. Raw. I was on my way and had no idea what I was getting myself into.

  22. I wrote paper after paper about light and dark/ God and the devil for comp lit classes. How I hated having to deconstruct something in such a juvenile manner, yet I hadn’t the tools to do any better. The worst part about any kind of writing isn’t writing badly, it’s knowing you are writing badly.

  23. I wrote music. Humorous C & W and Barbershop and “classical”. . . sorta. [My Blast Away march was a big hit, and I even got to direct it as the Band played it.] Like Sabatini, my hope is to have been born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad. It’s worked so far.

  24. I was a mile uptown from NYU, at the School of Visual Arts, and I wrote a lot of descriptive artsy-young-folk-in-the-grubby-early-80s-East-Village narrative. Because I knew it couldn’t last, and I wanted to save snapshots of the place I came of age… although I’m not sure I had any idea of the scope of just how doomed it was. Ah, if I could find all those notebooks now, I could piece together a heartwarming little bildungsroman — burgeoning friendships in tenement squats, hardcore shows, guerrilla galleries, spending the night with men who didn’t have bathrooms in their illegal lofts.

    I remember writing something humorous set in the future, where I was sitting with my imagined son in what had been at the time Leshko’s, an unglamorous formica all-night Ukrainian diner. In my story it had been gentrified into an upscale restaurant called One One One (the address — 111 Avenue A). That’s pretty much all I remember about it, that and telling my theoretical son that he was very tall — and I recall it generated a good deal of hilarity in our grungy diner-patronizing circle (we all showed our scribblings and art to each other like good little communal punk rock bohemians), because how implausible was that?

    Almost thirty years later and it’s some Latin fusion place called the Yuca Bar — hey, my name was better — and my son is indeed very tall. I’m pretty sure all those notebooks still exist, and it would probably behoove my nostalgic soul to find them.

  25. I was a “mature” student – but I’m still waiting to own that word. I remember re-writing more than writing– and to be irreverent or maybe stay half sane, I had fun doing parody in margins of note books e.g. The Love Song of Lucy Lament.

    In the singles bars
    The men come and go
    With dreams of being
    A gigolo

    In the washroom
    Women spritz their hair
    And re-arrange
    Their underwear

    In the suburbs
    Couples fight
    Then make up
    Make love all night ..

    and on it goes …..oh yes, on and on but you get the drift —- I like to think it was practice …and if TS Eliot or my professors would not approve maybe Dorothy Parker would have …

  26. I wrote receipts for the knives I sold at a knife store, short story narratives about the people who bought those knives and tales of a long distance love affair in my diary. I wish I still had the notebook with the knife buying character sketches, but no. I saved the diary.

  27. Betsy, In college I wrote about my family as you said in your book, where all young writers start!

  28. I was already writing for national magazines and newspapers by the end of sophomore year. When I tried to get my stuffy, boring, pretentious English department (U of Toronto) to give me class credit for all my paid journalism work (why get a B when I could make a living at my writing already?) they sniffed in horror and told me “This is not a technical school!”

    Yeah, whatever.

  29. Poetry, (wonderful), fake book reports, notes in margins, and one love letter on a gum wrapper that my husband still has.

  30. I wrote the pure, pure acid/psyillocybin truth… that was all around us, man! I’d write it in purple felt markers and stubby eyebrow pencils and Rapidograph pens filled with peacock blue ink.

    The next day I’d find nothing but unreadable drivel, scrawled in kindergarten colors on crumpled blue notebooks on the floor next to my muddy shoes.

  31. Two novels. The first in the wake of my first major heartbreak and the second after a semester in France. I actually went back and re-tooled the later this past year.

  32. Off topic: am I the only one that sees the occasional dot matrix smiley showing up in the gray margin?

  33. I wrote about anarchists I met in the Bowery. Later I wrote about my job at the bathing suit factory on Prince St. & Bdway (Gelfo). I was accounts receivable. The bathing suits had inflatable bras. In the sales brochures it showed a booted foot trying to crush the inflatable bra. (Mad magazine sort of image) Joyce Brothers once came to the window to buy a wholesale suit. Five bucks got you a wholesale suit. What a cheapskate.

  34. I wrote a hundred articles easily for the daily newspaper in the course of my time there, including a column every week.

    I spilled ink like a frightened octopus, writing on a dot matrix typewriter, writing on an early Macintosh where you plugged the keyboard and mouse into the same tower that included the screen, writing on an early laptop, writing on scraps of paper that I still find now when I open my old books Goodbye Columbus, the Mute Stones Speak, and Kant’s Perpetual Peace. My mind recorded everything in a narrative, the unfortunate part down the back of a head, the way two people sat together on the quad like tiny sea birds, my teacher pausing mid-lecture to stare out the window distracted, my love oh my endless love for certain boys who were indifferent to me, my love and anxiety filled pages of imagined scenarios some close to real life and some so far away that they flew over me, like airplanes so small I didn’t hear them at all.

  35. More and more of the same imagining that a broken heart was something new and that no one anywhere had every felt what I was feeling before. Also ate bran muffins and drank wine for a coffee mug.

  36. Must be an East Coast thing. I wore ribbons in my hair and plaid pleated skirts. I knew someone that worked at the post office in downtown Chicago and he said some of the people smoked MARIJUANA!!!

  37. Dystopian haiku and copycat plays heavy on overlapping dialog–filled dozens of Wide Rule Big Chiefs with passive aggressive longing.

  38. Poetry. Bad poetry. I just blogged about it here: http://lindapepstein.wordpress.com/ Thanks a lot for reminding me about that.

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