I've mentioned before how scenes that surface in my reading, whatever my reading, sometimes trigger unexpected moments in memory, often rising from some deep catacomb in my mind. In the past, when I was more professorial—some blog entries may suggest academic tendencies—I would have tracked down literary or psychological references about it and quote other people's examples. But lately I'm less inclined to pontificate publicly about such theories and more internally prompted to learn how such moments happen to me.
Take, for example, how moments in Michele Morano's essay "All the Power This Charm Doth Owe" ignited moments in my own memory. I admired her earlier book, Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain, and I was moved and thoroughly engaged with Like Love, her most recent work. Throughout intimate, artful, and absorbing essays, she explores the complications and ambiguities of relationships. Readers living through them with her risk reviving complications and ambiguities in their own pasts. That could be a good thing—I recommend it; certainly, it set me to reviewing memories of my own that I haven't consulted for a very long time.
That particular essay startled me with references to Iowa City. Morano and I both graduated from the University of Iowa, many years apart. The experimental nonfiction courses I studied in eventually became her MFA program. As graduate assistants we both taught courses for undergraduates. She mentions teaching an "Introduction to Literature class that included Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream"; I taught Interpretation of Literature, as well as courses other GAs avoided: Drama (including a Shakespeare play), Medieval & Renaissance Literature, and Ancient & Biblical Literature (the course that eventually got me a college teaching job and a career).
In her essay, Morano refers to familiar locations. She recalls having "looked out on the English-Philosophy building where I taught and took classes, and on the massive library where I'd spent so many hours . . ." Reading that sentence I immediately visualize those buildings and navigating sidewalks between them, their entrances, staircases, hallways. I stop reading to tour memories of the EPB: the office I shared with another GA, classrooms I learned or taught in, offices where I met teachers and advisors. I remember searching shelves in the library, checking out or returning books, sitting at tables near windows with a view of the Iowa River, eventually earning a study carrel.
"The heart of Iowa City is a leafy, T-shaped pedestrian mall," she tells us, and recalls sitting on a bench there with a companion, "ice cream in hand, the music from a live salsa band down the block rocking our feet and shoulders. Small children marched past, followed by their parents, and the occasional grad student waved hello." What comes back to me is climbing up to the Old Capitol Building from the riverside, crossing to the university bookstore, circling the block to Prairie Lights Bookstore where so many literary readings were held, walking to a bar where some graduate poets and grad students worked, sitting alone at a movie theater matinee. Much more of the city winks from memory's shadows. I lived there six and a half years, through four years of teaching and a post-doctoral year. Being a grad student and hanging out on campus were things I was good at.
Michele Morano ponders aspects of love in her Iowa City life; I lived a different life from hers in my time there. My wife and I lived in a sprawling graduate student apartment complex where, in time, my son and my daughter were born, where my interactions with student families were social and energetic, especially when we gathered for volleyball, and possibly where that first marriage began to unravel. Morano's essay didn't remind me of any of that, some of which I've written about elsewhere, but it's only now, writing this, that I start thinking again about those aspects of my Iowa City life.
It's not that I'd forgotten them by any means but reading Morano's essay didn't immediately call them to mind. The reading turned on a light in a darkened room and reminded me of having been in it. I remembered the room and some more superficial aspects of it. To really remember living in it myself I would need to step fully out of that author's life and let the light further illuminate other spaces to reveal more of my life there to me. The illuminating happens the more I write about being there, the way writing tends to do. For now, I'll settle for recalling the spaces in Iowa City that, decades apart, Michele Morano and I both wandered through.
Notes: Morano, Michele. "All the Power This Charm Doth Owe," Like Love. Columbus, OH: Mad Creek Books, 2020: 153-191. Michele's website: www.michelemorano.com