Do Over

“So apparently Anthony Lane, who I’d always pictured as being, like, 65–”
“And gay–” I chimed in.
“And gay, and British,” my boyfriend went on, “Get this. Apparently he’s 38, and–“
“Get. The fuck. Out,” I exhaled.
“I KNOW! He’s this British wunderkind who, like, went to Oxford or whatever, and he’s 38!”
“Ugh, Oxford,” I said. “I’m doing my childhood over, I’m going to Oxford.”

Speaking of the New Yorker, there is a story this week (beautifully titled “Prairie Fire,” I’d insert a link here if I knew how to do that) about a genius child who committed suicide at 14 last year. “Profoundly gifted” was the phrase used by the psychologists in the article, who also claimed to be psychics; they were convinced he was an angel. So was his father: “Oh, Martin’s very spiritually aligned,” they said.

C was talking to me tonight about light years and the width of the Milky Way (one hundred thousand light years, which are six trillion years long), and my brain started to go all fuzzy. “That’s how I know I’m not profoundly gifted,” I tell him.
“That’s how you know? Like otherwise you weren’t sure?” he says.

I wonder, if my mom hadn’t smoked pot while she was pregnant with me, maybe I would have been a genius. If I’d gone to Montessori school instead of California’s public schools, which the state renders less fiscally important than prisons, maybe I’d be better at tapping into as-yet-unfathomed intellectual depths, or at least not procrastinate so much. Maybe if I’d gone to Columbia instead of Hampshire and had a more bracing exposure to the canon, my brain wouldn’t go fuzzy so quickly. But if I wanted to go to Columbia, maybe I shouldn’t have handwritten my personal essay in tiny letters right on the application, or spent my junior year writing poetry about eucalyptus trees and blowing off AP U.S. History.

Anyway, J says the Ivy League is overrated. “They care about their image, their bottom line, and keeping you and me out,” she says witheringly, less than halfway through a program in education and mathematics at, ahem, Columbia.

Life is what, 80, 100 years long, and I’m wasting time wishing I’d gone to Oxford?

Thinking about the trillions of light years and stars makes C feel small in comparison, and he’s relieved. Like Joan Didion says, quoting the Episcopal litany: as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, “which I interpreted as a literal description of the constant changing of the earth, the unending erosion of the shores and mountains, the inexorable shifting of the geological structures that could throw up mountains and islands and could just as reliably take them away” (The Year of Magical Thinking, 189-90).


Mountains and earthquakes are bigger than where you went to college, bigger than–let’s just say the phrase “where you went to college” disintegrates when you consider mountains and earthquakes, like flowers pressed between pages of old books disintegrate when you try to handle them.

Most nights before bed, I try to shake the gripping fear that I’m ruining the education of forty-four ninth graders five days a week, mainly by remembering the smallness. Everything else–earthquakes, time, millions of humans, gravity, God, regret–are so big that my towering worry and I are rendered, thankfully, tiny as a dash of salt.

Patient with spring’s slow trip north, I remain,
Ms. Magnolia Avenue


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