Sarah Lawrence is the only school I applied to and thank *goodness* for me, I got in early admission. My mother and I visited the campus after the Madeleine L'Engle workshop at the Omega Institute, the summer before my senior year of highschool and I though I did fall in love with it's storybook beauty, I'd already determined to go there because of my counselor from the UVA Young Writer's Workshop India Stanley. A Sarah Lawrence student, she was the coolest, wildest, weirdest woman I'd ever met.
During my interview at Sarah Lawrence, my mother was worried that the butch-lesbian friend she had brought with her into the lobby would create a bad impression, but as we were to learn, she couldn't have been more wrong. In any case, I was accepted and in the fall of 1993, my adventure into the world of black dresses, lesbians, heroin and radical everything-ism began. The first semester of my freshman year I had the good luck to meet the author Grace Paley. My friend Josh and I took a subway into the city to hear her read, we got lost, we kissed and I never went out with him again because he was too nice. Now, OF COURSE, he is still just as nice and the Senior Fiction Editor at Viking Penguin. Anyhoo, oddly and wonderfully, I was given the opportunity to meet Grace Paley yet again, that very same year. My 10 page collection of one page short stories won first place in the school fiction contest and Grace Paley, a one-time SLC professor, was chosen to present the award. Abracadabra! The fates smiled and cood. However, to show an accurate trajectory of my college career, the next year I won second place in the same contest and the following two years I didn't even enter! Instead, welcome: marlboro reds, endless heartache, drunkenness, confusion, sadness, despair, box-o-wine, Leonard Cohen, raves, 4 a.m.-- you know, the regular college fare. And I'm sure that the fact that I've dreamt of the campus in some variation or another at least once a week for the past 10 years is totally normal too!
Unlike with Madeleine L'Engle, my appreciation for Grace Paley only took off after my encounters with her. Her short stories are succinct and aching and perfect and it's helped me immensely to put some years behind my understanding. I've come to treasure my copy of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute- the title alone is worthy of a byline. Now, as I sit here to write, Grace Paley is gone, her death preceding Madeleine L'Engle's by only 3 weeks. But stranger to me than the passing of these two gorgeous old writers who lived well into their 80's, was the death of India Stanley. India died the same week that my son was born, towards the end of 2004. The reasons are still mysterious to me, I think it was an accident, I think it involved alcohol, I think she died alone. I know she had been well loved, I know she'd taken creative writing classes at the Virginia Museum with Susan Hankla, the same teacher I had. I know that our paths intersected here and there, and then diverged, suddenly and forever, without my say or any input from me.