2016, Archives, September 2016, The MFA Years

Tafisha A. Edwards Introduction (Southern Illinois University Carbondale ’18)

 Is That All There Is?

Image: Veeresh Dandur

For reasons that still mystify me, I know at least half the words to Peggy Lee’s 1969 anthem for the disillusioned. What a melodic string of disappointments. The Peggy that sings the song survived inferno, circus, falling in love—and was consistently underwhelmed by each experience. Really, for all the fuss about property damage, plumed elephants, and flood hormones she is confronted by this: her imagination is much more interesting than life.

I don’t know what I thought would happen once I moved to Carbondale. Well, I do know; I expected to become a granola baking, marathon running, make-your-own-soap kind of person. I would grow herbs on my windowsill. I’d have a completed book! As soon as I unpacked it would all pour forth. Needless to say that isn’t what happened. I’m still anxiety ridden. I still have no energy to make granola, or a desire to really eat it. I only have a snake plant in my apartment because they are notoriously hard to kill (among its other wonderful properties).

This imagined life is what sustained me through 16 hours to took to drive across the country. I focused on it as I drove out of D.C. at 5 a.m., while I picked up C.D. (my partner in shenanigans) to make the drive with me, while we sped and laughed and hollered through West Virginia and Kentucky, and after we arrived in Louisville and promptly fell in love with the AirBnB I booked for the night. It prevented me from weeping and panicking when we parted ways and she left for Indianapolis, when I had to make the 3 hour to Carbondale alone, when I didn’t have any distractions or cell phone reception to accompany me.

But once I arrived in Carbondale I had to work with what I had. Which was nothing. I had no toilet paper. Or hand soap. Or, you know, internet access. So 3 runs to Wal-Mart and the dollar store became the dream. So did high speed internet. Some hours later, I looked around my empty, pine scented apartment (incense, not cleaner) and said, “This is it?” I’m not ashamed to say I was expecting a sign that I had DONE THE RIGHT THING.TM A fateful encounter, a clap of thunder would do.

I may or may not still be waiting for explicit confirmation.

If I was as prepared for my move as I was for my application process, I’m not sure I would have felt any more confident in my choice. And I overplanned. I haunted Carmen Maria Machado’s life saving application guide. Made and abandoned and completed dozens of lists. Created a spreadsheet so intricate it became a distraction to maintain it. Not to mention that during application season my little brother was in and out of the hospital, my mother was homeless for a large portion of, and I was just accepting to terms with the fact I had been assaulted a few months earlier. There were moments I contemplated applying for the 2017 cycle. There were moments I quit and told myself that I had too much baggage, not enough money, not enough time to study for the GRE. Ultimately, it was the support of my friends, my co-workers that kept me slogging through the process. It was my imagined life in Carbondale that sustained me.

So. I’ve lived past my initial “Is that all there is?” I have acquired some lovely antique (read: thrifted, most definitely thrifted) furniture. A rug. My snake plant (affectionately named Rei, in honor of Sailor Mars). I am writing. No city full of distractions to keep me from what hounds me. And I am hounded. By the world’s reaction to my Black woman body. By my depression and anxiety. By being told that I am insignificant, unloved, unworthy of protection. Unworthy of justice. Selfish for caring for myself, for craving tenderness. I am hounded by a peculiar loneliness. I suppose I’ve moved across the country to delve into these spaces. There IS nothing but myself out here. J, a friend of mine, wondered about what I would produce when I called him, fretful as usual. I have to time wonder about that as well.

I’ll find the poems. The poems will find me.

I doubt I’ll be underwhelmed.

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