I arrived here at Bennington yesterday, which proceeded to turn from steamy high 60s into a rainbath, and quite chilly. It poured all last night. But today the sun is peeking through and even though there's more rain on the horizon, next week is supposed to be hot, which I am really looking forward to.
When I first came to school, two years ago, I was a bit awestruck by the writers here whose work I had read, and whose names still had that tiny charge of celebrity for me. Whether it was Jill McCorkle, with whom I first worked, or Sven Birkerts, Amy Bloom or Robert Bly, I quivered with shy awe as I passed by them, could hardly focus as we brushed hands reaching for grilled cheese sandwiches or sat awkwardly across from one another over computers in the library. I made up excuses to talk to those I would not be liable to work with, made dumb jokes and blurted out foolish statements just to be able to have made contact with these people I admired. I had wanted this; not just to be a star-gazer, but to be in a community with real, working, established writers, apprenticing myself.
And of course, soon enough, their bodies became familiar in the pub, strolling the commons or passing in and out of the bathrooms. I caught them doing all the human, sometimes vulgar and irritating things that people do, drinking and making fools of themselves just like students, making inappropriate jokes, having a good time...and now, now they're no more or less people to me than anyone else. I don't feel the need to brush up against them, to know that for one moment in time they knew my name.
So just when I had finally become normalized in the world of writers, my buddy phil makes an appearance. Phil is one of my favorite actors of all time. I have seen just about every movie he has ever been in. The first time I saw him, in Boogie Nights
, I knew he was going to be a lasting star, the kind of actor who makes smart choices, who melts into his characters, who compels you with his very gaze. There's an theater group here of, I guess, actors, directors, writers, and my buddy Philip Seymour Hoffman. No, he's not really my buddy. Yes, I can hardly strip my gaze from his cute, portly back as he loads the same paltry cafeteria food on his plate, as he leans so far into the ice cream bin that he nearly falls in. I admit it, I am once again star-struck. I have an uncanny ability to be in the same spot as he is in the cafeteria, looking slightly like a zealous fan.
And yes, I introduced myself to him yesterday and forced him to make small talk with a fan. He was kind, though reserved, and now I can continue to rise into ecstatic moments of geekness, thinking of his scenes in Magnolia
, or one of my favorites, State and Main
. I can look at the boyish, pale handsome face of his as it was all gussied up as a gay man in drag trying to put some fun into Robert Deniro's nasty stroke-victim in Flawless
, or cringe, thinking of his brilliant turn as a gambling addict, with Minnie Driver, who wears the best bad glasses you ever saw, in a little independent film that will break your heart, Owning Mahowny
. Or even his funny, scary or odd turns in the likes of Cold Mountain, 25th Hour
or Punch Drunk Love.
So...that's just the way it is. Right now, Phil amazes me. I go all geek around him. I'll have to get used to the fact that he too, like the writers I've become inured to, is as messy, strange and human as the rest of us.
But I won't be here long enough for that to happen.
Anyhow, I give my reading tomorrow at 5:10 Eastern time. The serious hustle bustle of graduate lectures and readings begins tomorrow, and I'll keep you posted. Alice Mattison gave a brilliant reading last night. I loved her story, and am doubly grateful that she advised on this novel-in-progress. Donald Hall read and discussed sad times of his final years with Jane Kenyon, which left me feeling really down.
I slept hard.