Several weeks ago, I was standing around at an outdoor get-together
(picnic-like, the scene). A small gathering with people I know at a small
distance. They were mostly associates of D.’s. But I got into a
conversation with someone I’d met before, partner of another colleague.
Whatever. These details are less important than what he said. "The
-algia in nostalgia is a kind of illness." It wasn’t out of the
blue, this comment. And there was more to it than this. An interest
in words, recollection: a passing moment in college when someone was gushing
nostalgic but insisting that nostalgia was good, good for its embrace of memory.
Nost-. To return home. Algos. To feel pain or sickness.
The return home can be temporal or spatial, home to moment or home to place.
And the nostalgia I’ve been weighed down by this afternoon is a little bit of
both–a chronotopic noodle-bowl, returning me to a time almost exactly nine
years ago when I was in the first year of my M.A. program. What was
different about my M.A. program–different from any program I was in before it
or after–was that I didn’t belong to a cohort. I entered the program
singularly, at mid-year, called upon at the last minute when another TA slipped
their obligation (an early applicant, I hadn’t intended to enroll until the
fall; ten days later I was teaching and taking courses). A few
years before as an undergrad, there were others in my class with whom I shared a
major. They were my cohort. There were two of them (three of us in
all). In my current grad program, my cohort is also three. But the
M.A. was different. In terms of cohorts, I was odd-out, in-between, an
isolate. And so I folded in with those who came to UMKC later, in the fall
One of them emailed me today to report that another member of the cohort–the
’98 M.A. group–was killed tragically over the weekend, murdered, in fact.
The local news has carried a few
Rick’s name, I found that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
posted a note about
it, too. He was, as you might expect from the SFFWA reference, a sci-fi creative
writer. Today I learned that he wrote a short story titled "The Gas Man" that
was a hit in 1988 (contest-winning, anthologized, etc.).
Anyway, this is all just to say that I’ve been thinking a lot this afternoon
about this awful, tragic event and also by some association about UMKC, about
the second-floor open office we all shared (a large room, 20′ vaulted ceiling,
full-height windows, six desks, a couple of couches, file cabinets, and
bookcases; also multiple copies of Writing Without Teachers on the
shelves). Shared by ten or twelve TAs–two to a desk. My nostalgia is for
that space, a space long since re-claimed for other uses, I imagine, and also a
time when I can remember Rick very much alive and working feverishly on a short
story (desk closest to the door), conferencing animatedly with a student (his
conferences were some of the best, every exchange worth eaves-dropping), or
kicking back and whiling away an hour talking pedagogy–those were some of the
best conversations about teaching. Nostalgia. It was a good time to be at
UMKC, a good time to be an M.A. student in that particular program, good as much
for those reasons as for being in the company of Rick and others.