Health update: Feeling great. Still sore from time to time, still can’t lift more than 20 lbs (doctor’s orders), still need regular naps. But closer to normal every day. And doing tons of walking — this is a foot town, not a car town.
Well, I went a few weeks without writing and couldn’t hardly stand myself. So here we go with a new blog. If you’re reading this you probably know that I write a column for the Charlotte Observer but have temporarily landed at Harvard on a Nieman Fellowship. Somewhere in the middle of that I had open heart surgery, which is why there’s a health update at the top. I’m taking my pills, Mama, I promise.
We’ve been here two weeks and all I can think of is this Far Side cartoon — my brain is full as a tick. We’re getting to know 28 other fellows (plus spouses and kids), plus we’re meeting 2-4 hours every day to learn about Harvard life, plus plus we’re figuring our way around Cambridge (haven’t even tried Boston yet), plus plus plus Alix and I are trying to pick three or four classes each from, by my rough estimate, 17,482 classes being offered at Harvard this fall.
We have also discovered that Fred the neurotic dog is scared of elevators. It turns out that treats help. Which is pretty much the case for any situation involving Fred.
In general, people don’t say hey to you on the street here — maybe two times out of 10. But when you end up talking to somebody they’re as friendly as anywhere else. There was an incredibly nice woman at the returns counter at Target this morning. Nice normally gets you fired at the returns counter. Maybe it was some sort of trial program.
We’re doing our best to live like broke college students. Our computer table cost 5 bucks at a Habitat for Humanity sale last weekend. Our cupboard features pinto beans and rice. We sat on folding chairs until we got butt cramps — then we broke down and got a couch at Ikea. (We tried the secondhand places but the couches smelled funky in ways we sometimes couldn’t identify. We do have our limits.)
But all the best stuff here is free.
Walking the dog through the little park catty-cornered from our apartment. Lounging in the Lippmann House (headquarters for the fellowship), reading magazines and making new friends. Strolling through Harvard Yard, where students in search of themselves have strolled for nearly 400 years.
The other day we took a tour of the stupendous Widener Library, where I could happily spend the rest of my life as long as somebody delivered pizza there. At the end of the tour we wound up in the magazine stacks and I stumbled across Fantasy & Science Fiction, a magazine I’d never seen before. It had a new short story by Stephen King. So I found a carrel on the far wall, looking out over a little courtyard, and I read King’s gem of a story about a widow who gets a call from her husband.
Outside it was a cloudless late-summer day and inside there were millions of books and magazines waiting to be read.
One day when I was a senior in high school, my dad sat me down for a talk. He and my mom had tried hard to make the numbers work, but they didn’t have enough money to send me to the University of Georgia, where I had been accepted. He said maybe I could go to the junior college in town or maybe I could work awhile and come up with the money on my own. I know it just about killed him to say it.
He didn’t know about these amazing things called Pell Grants. I told him that with a Pell Grant and the little bit of scholarship money that I had, I thought that would be enough. He looked like I had lifted a sack of rocks off his shoulders. That’s good, he said. That’s good.
That was 26 years ago and he’s been gone 18. I thought about him as I sat there and read a story in my little corner of the greatest university in the world. Sometimes our lives outstrip our dreams.