To Professor H.F. (first letter)

Dear H.,
I’ve been wondering about the sadness you seemed to carry around. Am I wrong about this? Some students inferred you were lonely. This always struck me as being way off the mark. I suspected sexual fantasies were to blame for those kinds of theorizations.
Anyone could be miserable at that university during the winter. They used the architectural plans of a campus designed for southern California. Do you remember the vicious wind tunnels? Full of ice particles and tracked dirt, they’d form between the buildings and pick people right up off the ground, smashing them into the poured concrete and pebble out-croppings of exterior walls. Underground tunnels were hastily orchestrated, but there were too many rapes. Within a couple of years they’d become another liability. You must’ve missed out on a lot of this stuff with your parking spot behind the studio building.
The place had a food court like the ones in shopping malls. I suppose this is not as odd to either of us now as it seemed to be then.
You called it a credential factory.
You can’t buy an education so they’ll sell you a job, and when they can’t manage that, they’ll sell you a lifestyle and debt.
That’s what you’d say.
You were always interested in talking about ideas. This was different from teachers who talked at you about their accomplishments and positions. You still had your mannerisms though — the pretensions of someone who thought of herself in the third person a lot (probably without acknowledging it consciously). Maybe it’s unavoidable for people past a certain point of professionalization. Despite this there was always an excitement emanating from you. I could feel your desire to learn and think (especially when we talked about post-painterly abstraction, or your favorite book, Camera Lucida).
This love of yours has always been transparently sincere and I know that’s embarrassing. You told me once that you had a lot of friends who were artists and in order to retain their friendship you had to stop talking to them about art. You embraced a romance with career suicide as a means of survival.
I hadn’t thought about you in a long time when I suddenly saw you again at a conference here. A colleague recognized you and told me he used to be your adviser during your doctoral thesis. He said your dissertation was terrible and that he let it go rather than confront you about it. He said it would have been a long and ugly battle of wills. For an instant I hated him.
I was then overwhelmed with the recognition of your body language and facial expressions (the ums and ahs of your vocalizations, the manifestation of those pretensions I’ve mentioned) and I felt a horrible pity towards you followed by intense self-loathing. How could I judge you like this? How could I ever judge you?