Tonight there was a celebration honoring the poet Adam Zagajewski and his 19 years as a visiting professor at the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He was my teacher there, so I went to the celebration at the Menil Collection.
As the evening of homages by Ed Hirsch, Jennifer Grotz and Sara Rothenberg progressed, I did not expect the flood of emotions I found myself swimming in; I could barely contain my feelings of sadness. I wasn't sad that Adam is leaving -- I haven't talked to him in years. Rather, my sadness grew out of the landscape that developed inside me, indicating the gulf between my life now and my life then, back when I was a young poet.
I was once a young poet. As a young poet, I was filled with so much feeling it nearly destroyed me. Ardor: I brimmed with it.
Tonight, I found myself drowning in memories that reduced me to near-pure ache. I missed my old self, as self-destructive and awful as that self might have been. As I listened to Sara Rothenberg play Chopin's Ballade #4 for Adam, tears poured down my cheeks. Moments I'd forgotten from so many years and so many years ago swelled up in my imagination. I missed my old arduous self, as passionate and sincere as that self might have been.
At the end of the night, an old friend named Pam Diamond introduced me to a young man named Jericho. "He's a young poet," she said.
"I used to be a young poet," I said.
"What are you now? A young fiction writer?"
"No," I said. "Now I'm a middle aged blogger." I laughed at myself, by myself.
Driving home, I thought about how poetry used to be everything to me, and about how teachers like Adam and Ed stoked the fire that burned in my soul. And for a few minutes as I drove home on West Alabama, after deciding not to go to the "reception" at Lillie Robertson's house, I weighed the life I had then with the life I have now. There is no comparison. They are two different lives, but I am the same soul.
And it dawns on me now that this is what our experience here on this earth, in these bodies, is: many, many different lives experienced by the same soul, who is changed by each life, but who remains, also, the same.