Saturday, February 26, 2005

Toni's Story: Andrea and Me (Part 1)

Queen of Cups

Andrea and I met in a Van Brock Poetry Seminar, January 1992. My divorce had been finalized in August, and this was my first semester in graduate school. I planned to major in Creative Writing, Fiction, but I’d always loved reading poetry so signed up for what I thought was a poetry discussion group. Imagine my surprise (and panic) when I discovered we were expected to write poetry.

What a group that was! Andrea, Donna Long, Helen Wallace, Michael Trammell and many other gifted writers. I was so over my head that I could barely breathe when it was time for class. My first efforts were so bad I still don’t know how the group managed to read them with straight faces. But read them they did, and how kindly they responded. If I had to describe my progress that semester, it would be something like “pulled gently forward,” and Andrea was one of the gentlest. To their credit, they “pulled” me far enough that I was able to report my first poetry acceptance before the semester’s end. The whole class shared my excitement.

Andrea always swore that she remembered what I wore the first night of class -- a bright red pullover sweater with matching nail polish (it was during the good old days of alimony when I could still afford professional manicures). I have no reason to doubt this, and I only wish I'd been as observant. I don't remember what she wore, but I must have noticed her beautiful smile, her slim-to-the-point-of-fragile frame, and her impossibly erect carriage. She always carried herself like a model and wore her clothes just as gracefully.

We hit it off right away. I don’t remember why we felt we could become friends, but we both acknowledged an immediate connection. One night after class, we went to Finale’s for a beer and ended up talking for hours. That was probably our beginning. Until then, we’d lived widely disparate lives, Andrea having experienced so much more than 22 years in a sheltered marriage had allowed me.

Andrea was scheduled to read at Finale’s a few weeks later, and she invited me to the reading. I’d never been to one, but it sounded so “writerly” I couldn’t pass it up. When I arrived, Andrea waved me over to a front table where she and Van were sitting. I remember feeling so important, sitting there with my professor and the star of the show.

Donna Long and Andrea were already acquainted at that time, and in addition to the poetry seminar, Donna and I were both in Karen Cunningham’s Theory course. We all also began participating in one of Van’s off-campus workshops, this one held in his apartment near Lake Ella.

Andrea, Donna and I spent many happy, late-night hours with Van over that spring and summer, drinking beer, playing dice poker, reading Tarot cards, listening to Bob Dylan’s No Mercy (I requested it so often that Van finally dubbed me a copy), and talking about writing, always about writing. It was the beginning of the creative journey I’d longed for, and these new friends were fated to be my guides and closest companions.


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