The last place I looked

Visible Seams

Visible Seams photo by Erica Bondarev

It happened.

Grad school happened.

Just like that.

If, of course, by “just like that” you mean like pushing a huge boulder up a monstrous mountain by leaning against it and trudging up the trail backwards so that you can never really see where you’re going and are never quite sure if and when you’ll reach the top.

You had no idea how much you needed everything that came before and you have no idea what will come next.

Or like dozens of tiny fires erupting all around you as you scurry about frantically trying to figure out which one to put out first while simultaneously tending to the small, smoldering pile of embers at your feet that represents your creative force and that you try desperately to resuscitate by huffing and puffing in an attempt to breath life into it from every angle.

Or maybe it’s more like having three years of your life paid for by a reputable state institution so that you can read big books and have big ideas and make dances and experiment, explore, and play and then talk about all of it with a world class group of people whom you deeply respect and admire.

Yeah, it was like that.

And now it’s over. Done. Finito. Complete.

During my last few weeks on campus I made several discoveries that left me wishing I had more time there.

What?! There’s a graduate student lounge in the student union and they have free coffee?!

What?! There’s a dairy on campus and they make their own ice cream?! (I recommend the toasted almond.)

What?! There’s a Collaboratory in the Art and Sociology Building?! (Wait… what’s a “collaboratory”? I’m still not entirely sure, but it looks like they do cool stuff there and I wish I had known about my not knowing about it sooner so I could have figured it out.)

I met these discoveries with the same exasperation often expressed when one has been searching for something, finds it, and then exclaims in frustration, “Oh! Of course! It’s in the last place I looked!” This is a funny expression. If you’d found the thing in the first place you looked you would have stopped looking thereby making the first place you looked also the last place. So what you are seeking is always in the last place you look, right? But I do understand the sentiment behind it. It’s an “if only” feeling. If only I’d looked here first. If only I’d known about this before. Why did I have to go through all that when it was right here the whole time?

The last few weeks of school had this same “if only” feeling. But I think these moments and revelations only seemed so poignant and profound because they were right before the end. In reality they were not much different from the countless discoveries I did manage to make over my three years – the bubble tea place, the farmers market, the meditation sessions at the health center, the way the grand, ancient oaks that line the pathways along the Mall at the heart of campus look, feel, and smell after a soaking rain. These discoveries saved me time and again but because they were at the beginning and middle, they did not carry the same rarified weight as those events that immediately preceded the end.

So what’s the big deal about the end? And why do we always try to soften it by talking about how it’s just another beginning? That is true (insert Commencement speech here), but it’s also the end. I think the big deal is that the end is the convergence of the accumulation of everything that came before and the uncertainty of everything that will come after. When we meet these ends, especially when we see them coming from a little ways off, we prepare by boosting our memory drives and heightening our awareness. We want to be ready for that one last look because we know that very soon it will never be the same.

Speaking of meeting our ends, I just read a book on dissecting human cadavers. Perhaps that seems a strange choice to kick off my lighthearted, post-grad, summer reading, but there you have it. It is called Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross (thank you, ck). Montross writes a detailed reflection on the mental and emotional journey of dissecting a cadaver during her first year of medical school, gives a graphic account of human anatomy, and explores attitudes and practices across cultures and time pertaining to the life of the human body after life as we know it has left it. It is informative, personal, and tender. It is also brutal, violent, and one of the most difficult things I have ever read. It made me cringe and ache from the inside out and every page I turned I was sure would be the last I could stomach. But the next night I would find my fingers flipping through the pages to where I had left off so I could begin again. Maybe I just wanted to prove that I could get through it. Or maybe it was because even though it was uncomfortable, my curiosity was piqued and there was some information in it that I felt compelled to follow without really knowing why. So I read and grappled and read and questioned and read and squirmed and put it down and picked it back up and read… until I got to the last few lines.

They   took   my   breath   away.

They’re just words, not so different from all the words that came before. But they have been shaped and ushered into being and meaning by all of those words. There is a flurry, torrent, and outpouring of prose and then these last few words. Followed by…




They land and you sit there together quietly, just you and the words. For a brief moment they are the last thing you read, the last thing you thought, the last place you looked. If only I had looked here first! Why did I have to go through all that when it was right here the whole time?! But of course that’s not how it works and besides, you weren’t ready. They wouldn’t have been these last few words if you had looked at them first. You had to push boulders and put out fires and breath on embers and now you’re here. The end. You had no idea how much you needed everything that came before and you have no idea what will come next.

At the risk of over-analogizing (but then that’s never stopped me before) it’s just like grad school!

If by “ just like” you mean…

Okay, okay you get the idea.

The point is, it happened.

Just like that.

And I am ever so grateful that it did.

After completing artistic residencies in Oulchy-le-Chataeu, France and at Dance Omi in Ghent, NY, Erin Crawley-Woods will start at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA as a Visiting Professor of Dance.