Graduate school in Bellingham was a completely transformative time for me. I lived in a funky old hospital that had been converted into apartments. The town is old, and I lived in an old part, traipsing over wet sidewalks, over perpetually drowning earthworms, and slugs steadily on their way to eat whatever was left to rot in the garden.
In the rain and humidity, my hair turned into a giant mane of curls and frizz. I felt pale and soft and beautiful the entire time I lived here. I was heartbroken when I arrived and began teaching warily, badly, and writing, and reading, and saying something in class, and getting criticized, and being too brash, and being too quiet.
There were parties and there were coffee shops. There was the discovery of so many books and movies. A new world opened up to me. There were long walks along the bay. There were murdered bodies lapping up against the shoreline. I made my best friend there.
In school, there was a grand sense that we were doing something important with our work. In fact, I would say that an unusually high percentage of the people from that group continue to write. Continue to publish.
During my next graduate experience, the one that was not about art, the one that was more about getting a job, I met a new masters student who was strange and wonderful, possessing just the kind of smarts and weird that creates something new entirely. She was generous and reached out to me and others in small and unique says. Once, as an unexpected gift, she gave me a small wooden set of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of Oregon, my home state. To this day, I keep them in my office at work to remember. She reminded me of me and of Bellingham and of the creativity and energy that we created there. She reminded me of art and ideas in ways that I had forgotten.
Yesterday, I found out that she is dead. I cannot say that I am surprised, because she sometimes seemed too great for all of this, but I am saddened by what the world is now lacking.