Revisiting the frozen north, and thesis seminar presentations

Or “I named the MS Word file ‘edinboro_nostalgia’ because I couldn’t think of a better title, as evidenced by the title of this post.”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I think this bit of writing speaks well enough for itself. Also, it’s been an atrocious day and I’m feeling lazy (so sue me). Unrelated aside: The Bloggess followed me on Twitter today, which makes today the starstruck equivalent of Christmas.

Moving along…

There’s a small, perpetually cold town in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania, just off of exit 166 on I-79. More often than not, regardless of the season, there is snow on the ground. Otherwise, it’s probably raining. There’s a semi-permanent stink of goose and horse shit in the air, except for during the winter months when no one can smell anything anyway because temperatures reach the point where nostrils freeze shut.

I’m talking about Edinboro, Pennsylvania, home of Edinboro University. It’s a place I called home for five years, which is a damn long time considering how that amounts to one-fifth of my life so far.

As a former student of the Edinboro University’s Writing concentration, and as a friend who was asked to attend, I felt like I should make the trip to see this year’s Thesis presentations. The Thesis Seminar in Writing demands students do work on par with, if not more work than, a graduate level course. It’s a long, Hellish experience, and I’m fairly certain it improved my writing skills, my ability to create absurd amounts of material in a short period of time, and my capacity for critiquing lengthy Word documents with fast-approaching deadlines.

I’ve never made the drive to Edinboro before, because I lacked a driver’s license and a car while I was still a student. However, that didn’t stop me, as a rather time-consuming whim-decision, from making the three-and-a-half hour trip. I had what I assume is a very real fear I would get lost, and subsequently murdered and cannibalized by deranged hillbillies. There’s a short list of ways I’m willing to die, and that’s certainly not one of them.

I left as soon as I could after work, my phone switched to its GPS navigator and hooked up with my new, bought-specifically-for-this-trip car charger, an investment I should have made a while ago in light of my actual GPS’s tendency to slide off of the dashboard. The bulk of the trip was pretty boring. I refused to listen to music during the shorter stretches of the journey, as I was afraid I would miss critical directions. My phone takes on a particularly condescending tone when it’s recalculating, and I didn’t feel like dealing with its sass.

Once I’d made it to I-79, I shut off the GPS feature on my phone. It’s such familiar territory, and there’s a number of landmarks along the way that bring back fond and not-so-fond memories I won’t bother going into for the sake of not turning this into a novella. The closer I got to exit 166, the more I felt like I was getting closer to home and familiarity. To the Fake Lake, the Empty Keg, Edinboro University’s campus, and so many memories (both good and bad, of course). Now, I’ll admit I’d be the first to point and laugh at the sort of person who feels the need to cling to their old college (or high school). I’ve known plenty such people. However, by the same token, I’m willing to admit I’d gladly pack up and live in Edinboro because it’s a nice, little town.

I stopped at Perkins with a little over an hour to kill, a rather impressive headache, and a need to get some food. My standard Perkins meal was a reuben melt and a root beer, and I was rather disappointed they no longer make their fantastic reuben melts. I finished eating just in time to head towards campus for the thesis presentations, which was just as well because I didn’t feel like wandering around in the rain.

Reeder Hall’s basement was, much to my complete lack of surprise, just as creepy as I remembered it. The standard food trays were out, featuring cookies, cheese, veggies, and fruit. No Thesis Presentation would be complete without the fancy, disposable black plastic cups that are made to look like much nicer, less disposable mugs instead. Professor Repp greeted me with a look of surprise, which makes sense since I graduated and should be off doing great things with the degree I earned instead of whatever it is I’m actually doing (being snide, writing, working on getting published, working a day job, and sometimes getting a touch inebriated). I meandered into the auditorium, where I got a chance to say hello to Dr. Solberg (one of my other favorite professors, though I had a fondness for most of the English professors) before sitting down.

The presentations were spectacular. I remembered, somewhat fondly, when I had to stand in front of that room and present my thesis. Thankfully, given how many practice runs I’d done on it and my previous public speaking experiences, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Not nearly as bad as, I fear, some of the critique sessions had gone, but that’s a topic I won’t delve into here for the sake of pretending I’m a semi-decent person and not a complete jackass. The people who survive and continue to work on their thesis projects are far more disciplined writers than I am.

During the intermission between the first two presenters and the second two, Dr. Solberg took a moment to tell me the extended nonfiction piece on modern sword collectors is still discussed during his Advanced Nonfiction class. That will never stop being a large point of pride in my life.

Before I go any further: the people who presented should be very proud of how well they did. Each presenter was engaging and entertaining, and their works showed evidence of all the hours of effort that had gone into them. Thesis writing calls not only for a tremendous time commitment, but it’s emotionally taxing; those papers were, very likely, stained with the very blood, sweat, and tears of their writers (with some possible coffee or liquor marks as well). If paper could absorb spoken expletives, those pages would curse like sailors. The important point is the presenters were absolutely fantastic.

I had every intention of driving home after the Thesis Presentations. I really should have. However, I could only handle being asked to spend time at different places with people whose company, and I hesitate to admit this for fear of damaging my image as a terrible monster, I genuinely enjoy. As I walked past Centennial Hall, I briefly weighed the pros and cons of breaking and entering to spend some quality time in the second floor lounge, surrounded by the English professors’ offices. The possible legal ramifications didn’t deter me so much as my overwhelming fear Centennial Hall is haunted. I’ve seen that place with the lights out, and it’s something out of a horror movie.

Once I parked my car at Fat Willie’s, I walked over to Dairy Supreme. I was still weighing staying the night and working a later shift the next day versus just going home, and I decided spending time with people I’ve not seen in far too long had won out. Thankfully, I had an offer for a place to crash for the night, and so I moved my car and walked back to Fat Willie’s. The rest of the night was, of course, spent in good company, and I eventually ended up at my usual haunt. The bouncer at The Empty Keg still does not card me, and I’m only somewhat embarrassed by that. Maybe terribly embarrassed, actually. Moving on.

Drinks were had, stories were shared, and there was plenty of catching up (and yet, not enough since there’s so little time in visits like this one). As is standard with Edinboro visits, I met even more spectacular people, and had some pretty entertaining conversations (some of which while not entirely sober, I suppose I should admit).

I had to wake early, fuel up, and make the trip back the next morning. It was bittersweet, of course. Two years ago, I graduated and finished my time in Edinboro, and I was quite certain I wanted nothing more to do with that damn place for the rest of my life. I visited a couple times since then, and I miss Edinboro more than I thought I would. Perhaps not Edinboro University so much, but I do miss the professors, and I certainly miss the people I’ve met (though I hesitate to admit so much to them because I’d never, ever get to live it down). Maybe it’s a touch of wishful thinking, but I like to believe I’ve become a better person thanks to the lessons I’ve learned and the people I met in Edinboro.

When I consider how there will be a day not that long from now, in fact, when I won’t have a place to crash overnight during my trips to the frozen north of Pennsylvania, I can’t help but feel sad. It’s turned into a permanent home away from home, even if it is a frozen Hellscape good two thirds of the year, and I’ll probably make a pilgrimage every year to see the Thesis presentations and show support for the writing program that endured my tenure for five long, sarcastic years. Even after all of those wonderful friends are off in other cities, wherever their lives may end up taking them.

Maybe I’ll just have to break into Centennial and crash with the other ghosts from Edinboro’s graduated classes past. I’m sure they’ve got plenty of good stories to tell, too.

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