Lost in the Words – or – This is Why My Desk Looks Like Kandinsky’s COMPOSITION VII

I love the Oberlin College alumni magazine.  I love the artwork, the articles, reminiscing about places I walked and people I knew.  I read the class notes and giggle that some (crazy) folks in my year still feel young enough to have babies.  Long live ovulation!  Maybe it’s morbid, but I scan the deaths in reverse chronological order.  Sometimes I take a trip to the attic, haul out my Oberlin yearbooks, and connect a face I recognize to a soul no longer earthly bound.

Alumni magazines contribute in large part to the cluttered state of my desk.  I spot an article on permaculture that I’d like to keep for future reference or a photo of Tappan Square in the fog that triggers a specific memory and suddenly of course it just makes sense to tuck the whole thing back into a pile of similar periodicals.

I’m trying to get better.  Over the weekend, I spent three days away from my messy desk. I enjoyed the blank slate of a bare expanse of wood, no dust, no visual chaos.  To remedy my desk malady, I’d have to grab all the magazines by their spines, not even glance at the covers lest I be drawn back between the pages.  Into the recycle!  I feel a sense of loss at the idea.  Ridiculous, really.

I can’t even tell you the name of the alumni magazine.  It’s Oberlin so it must be something clever and relevant.  Now I’m curious.  I vault the dog barricade, climb over my purse, shuffle past a couple bags containing library books and paper flotsam from a breastfeeding conference.  My Eventual Perusal pile sits to the left, with an approximate height of nine inches.  Everything in this pile already survived the initial cut.

Under a high-res version of Pocket Jamie and a depressing Kaiser Health News article (“15-Minute Visits Take a Toll on the Doctor-Patient Relationship”) I find her: Lena Dunham.  Specifically, “The Likeable, Lovable Lena Dunham page 20”, gracing the cover of the Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Spring 2014, aptly titled Oberlin.  What?  That’s it?  Oberlin?

I confess, until a couple months ago, I’d never heard of Lena Dunham (Oberlin College class of 2008 and creator of Girls on HBO.)  Suffice it to say, LD was likely toddling about NYC in an adorable organic hemp onesie the day I matriculated at Oberlin.  Mind the Generation Gap.  In this cover photo she looks innocent, dressed in a long-sleeve white eyelit situation.  Her jewelry puzzles me: sterling silver box chain with what appears to be a microcassette tape sitting atop the Coco Chanel logo.  Oberlin irony?  Pop culture reference of which I’m blissfully ignorant?  On further inspection, Dunham looks like she’s ready to spring out of the page into your face.

The magazine distracts me.  The pages feel good, rough and recycled, soothing to my conscience.  I can’t believe I ever considered tossing this volume, with its gorgeous graphic, “Major to Career Pathways for Oberlin BA Recipients, 1970-2009”, on pages 10-11.  Reminds me of SpinArt at the State Fair.  And clearly, I must read the piece about novelist Gary Shteyngart.  I can almost feel his stubbly salt and pepper beard.

Before I finish with Lena and Gary, I’m tossed into Class Notes.  Men marrying women and men and formerly-women-now-men.  Novels written, films directed, babies birthed.

Now back to the Losses section.  The youngest dead person graduated in 1982.  My eyes scan back through time.  Hiram Titus.  My heart stutters.  Oberlin class of 1969.  I corresponded with him several years ago on email, asking for sheet music for his lovely composition that I heard on public radio.  He replied that he hadn’t written it down – yet. Where is the email?  Where are his words?  Can I find a recording on YouTube?

I’m tired.  It’s 10:10.  A steady time, balanced.  A good time to return Lena, Gary, and Hiram to the Eventual Perusal pile.  Goodnight Lena.  Goodnight Gary.  Goodnight Hiram.  Your yet has flown but your music lives on in my memory.  Bon voyage.

Musical Moment (not the piece I seek, unfortunately)


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