Friendly Green Conference is always held on a college campus rather than in a big, urban hotel. That means that lodging – dorm rooms – is cheap so that starving grad students can come, with all their energy and enthusiasm, and we get all kinds of independent scholars and freelance writers who don't have institutions to fund them. This year, we even offered a camping option, and some Friendly Green Folk set up tents on the grass near the fraternity houses.
I love returning, for a week, to the life of a college student.
Campus living has vastly improved since I was in school. The campus apartment I stayed in with three friends last week included a big living space with hardwood floors, a full kitchen, and a front porch full of white rocking chairs. I came to the conference early to attend a day-long planning session, and when I moved my stuff into the suite, it seemed wonderful but rather empty. That night, I returned to my room to find that the first of my roommates, EcoWoman had arrived. Some of you will recall that EcoWoman was the first woman to ever pose nude for my blog. When I saw her again now, a year and a half later, she was creeping about the building in the dark, picking flowers from bushes and putting them into a brightly coloured paper cup she had stolen from somewhere.
"The place is too bare," she said. "We need to spruce it up."
We stayed up past midnight decorating for the roommates who would be arriving the next day, talking and laughing in the manner of two women who have not gotten enough sleep and are functioning on mere adrenaline. I hung red t-shirts from the curtain rods, pulled a rocking chair in from the porch, dragged a chest of drawers out of one of the bedrooms, and draped bright clothing over chairs. EcoWoman had a glossy magazine she'd read on the plane, and we ripped it apart to hang the pictures everywhere we could. As the week went on, we added little touches: a pile of bright yellow magnolia leaves on the counter, a bunch of red apples, some branches of green leaves tied to the curtain strings, more cups full of flowers. And a few items I don't dare mention because they may have been illegally obtained. We kept inviting friends to come to visit and see the place, which was looking quite cheerful and homey. I suspect that the refrigerator that our upstairs neighbor, Woman With Lovely Voice, had stocked with beer was the real reason they came.
Well, that and our sparkling personalities.
"It's like walking into a cloud of estrogen," Artist Friend said when he walked into the room of chatting, giggling women. I think that was when EcoWoman and I were discussing the aesthetic advantages of draping bras over the curtain rods. I am sure Artist Friend and Philadelphia Friend were just jealous – the room they were sharing in a different dorm was clearly leftover from the seventies – and they stubbornly refused to lend us the chair from their room.
What I especially love about college campuses is that they are designed for conversation: grassy lawns where a group can sit and talk, benches near ponds and fountains for more private conversations, stone steps for gathering in the sun and analyzing the last speaker. This small southern college featured white rocking chairs everywhere, on the porches of our campus apartments and in the pavilion where the musicians gathered at night. The hammock in front of my building, strung between two big trees, was big enough to hold three or four people.
The first day, Warm Bearded Writer showed me the cool place he takes his students. He led me to what looked like a huge hedge of thick glossy green leaves. "Go inside," he said. Ducking under the branches, I walk inside to see the wide, old trunk of a magnolia tree that was growing all around us. Although it was a hot summer day, the cave-like area was shady and cool. And the flowers were in bloom. "I bring my classes here," Warm Bearded Writer said. I could just imagine my own students sitting on the piles of glossy magnolia leaves, fighting over who would get to sit in the tree.
There were only two disadvantages to last week's return to college life. One is that I can no longer handle sleep deprivation as well as I used to. I woke up early every morning to be at breakfast at 7 am, ready for a day of sessions and speakers that began at 8 am and continued into the evening, with a plenary speaker one night who did not begin speaking until after 9:30 pm, and a meeting one night that ended at about 10:30 pm. Then of course, I'd hang out with friends, listening to music, walking downtown for food, finding a bench for a long confidential chat, or even making time for an impromptu reiki session. I kept saying, "I am going to go to bed before midnight one of these nights," but that never happened. My roommates, EcoWoman, Rana, and Activist Woman, were no help at all. Oh, they would tell me to go to bed, and then they'd start talking about something interesting. By the end of the week, I was exhausted and spent the afternoon just lying in the hammock with some friends, talking to each other and anyone who meandered by.
The other problem with campus living was that I am not used to having to carry a key. I never lock anything at home, but the campus apartment had a door that locked automatically. I came out one afternoon to sit on the porch with Artist Friend – and realized as soon as the door shut that I could not get back in. Luckily, Philadelphia Guy came to my rescue by finding my roommate Rana, who had a key.
That experience saved me the next morning. My roommates left for breakfast and I stayed back to take a shower, hoping to look presentable, or at least awake, for the reading I was doing later that day. I stepped outside in my towel, or rather in two ridiculously tiny towels that they had issued me. Apparently the guests at the college must normally be small children because no one else could possible find these towels valuable. Anyhow, that is my routine in the summer: go outside and see what the weather is like before deciding what to wear. So I stepped outside, thinking, "Oh, it's warm here, nice and sunny, I'll wear the skirt – oh FUCK!"
As the door swung shut, I reached and grabbed it just in time. Of course, my friends would have just LOVED it if I had had to go running over to the dining hall wearing nothing but two white hand towels – especially a certain blogging friend who carries her camera at all times, always ready to take a sneaky shot. I think Artist Friend would have teased me about it for the next ten conferences. Knowing my friends, they would probably have refused to lend me keys or clothing, and let me go to my reading naked.
Pseudonymous blogging friend (coughRANAcough)on the steps of the main building on campus, where we would sit in the sun after listening to plenary speakers.