Graduate school Travel Writing

The end of the Universe

I’m sitting in a coffeeshop in downtown Santa Cruz, waiting out the day until my evening flight back to Austin after attending the Dickens Universe on the Santa Cruz campus. My university sends two students every year, and the professor who accompanied us has been going for more than twenty years. This year’s books were Hard Times and Gaskell’s Mary Barton. The grad-student Dickens experience involves three lectures a day, a seminar for grad students, and some sort of other work — a pedagogy workshop, a writing workshop, presentation training, or co-teaching Elderhostel/undergrad/local students. I co-taught — it was wonderful. We had a small class of involved, well-read, interested students, and even after five days of discussing the same novels, they were still talking after our last class session ended on Friday.

Yesterday afternoon a group of the remaining grad students took the bus down to Natural Bridges State Park and sat on the beach. We left behind a sand-castle version of Coketown, which really looked more like a castle than a mill; but it was a really good castle. I wasn’t a castle-builder. My biggest accomplishment yesterday was not getting sunburned.

I’ve also been trying to think about new fiction-writing projects, probably in reaction to having spent the last month writing dissertation prospectus material just about every day. I found a nice little idea while I was looking through microfilm reels of the NY Journal American for a patron’s order at work last week. I really hate microfilm because it makes me feel so seasick and headachey — I wish I could skim through the JA archive in my brain somehow, because it’s so full of strange, vivid, violent stories. Death all over the pages, but interesting early c20 deaths, reported in the lurid house style: “Woman Shot by Woman,” that kind of thing. We’ll see if or when I have time to write this one. It still needs to grow.

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