During February, Pittsburgh was more or less buried in two feet of snow. My house was encased in ice, which melted and dripped down the side of the house where it refreezes and creates rather beautiful and intense stalactite-like icicles. But it also drips into the house. It drips through the walls and into the ceiling and plops down into the giant white bucket we set up in the master bedroom to catch it. From what we could tell, that’s all it did. Just dripped in through the ceiling and through the window panes on the second and third floor.
But we were wrong. Last night we found out water had been seeping into the third floor library room, half of which sits above the gutter (currently frozen solid). Okay, no problem, right? So what, the floor’s wet. Well, so is everything that was sitting on the floor there. Like my books. Like my signed, personalized copy of Michele Morano‘s Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain. The copy she signed after flying in to Pittsburgh from Chicago to sit on my thesis defense committee on pretty much the biggest day of my academic career so far. The copy she signed “To Kelly, with admiration.” With admiration.
When D.J., my fiance, came down and told me that a few of my books had gotten wet, but that none of them looked irreplaceable, I thought, oh, bugger, that sucks. As I climbed the two flights of stairs to the third floor, though, I felt a growing sense of dread. And then I looked down and saw the yellow cover of Grammar Lessons. “No, no, no,” I said. I picked it up. I turned it over, and over again. “Goddammit,” I said. I felt helpless, but I carried the book downstairs and soaked up what water I could with a paper towel, then left it out to dry once I’d stopped crying and regained my composure.
It’s not ruined, but now the pages have those wrinkles to them paper gets when it’s been wet and then dried, and the back of the dust jacket has a brown stain at the top left-hand corner. Okay, no big deal right? The book’s not ruined, I can still read it, and more importantly, the page with Michele’s signature didn’t get wet. Perhaps it’s silly of me to let myself get so emotional over a little water stain, but that book is important to me.
I worked for about a year and a half on my own travel memoir on Spain, and having Michele fly out to Pittsburgh, read my work and truly enjoy it has been one of the most important moments in my writing life. It will always be important to me. The day that I presented and defended my manuscript will help define my writing and who I become as a writer, because it opened my eyes and my mind to new options and ideas. Being forced to think about writing in a strict academic context is not something a lot of writers have the opportunity to do, and I’m very grateful that I had that chance.
And the fact that another travel writer, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s MFA program no less, who also wrote about Spain, was there to be a part of that transformation (because transformation it was) floors me. When I think about how lucky I am to have gotten this kind of intense feedback on my manuscript, I know I have to work as hard as I can to become the best writer that I can be–because it’s important, because I want my writing to change people for the better, because there are people out there who already, in my new, new career as a writer, believe in me and want to see me succeed.
So, silly it may be, but that particular copy of that particular book is the best physical representation I have of all those feelings, all those hopes, and all the encouragement my entire defense committee gave me–which kept me going, and still keeps me going, through my darkest moments. “With admiration” may only be two words, but they are the two most important words anyone has said to me about my writing.