Tag Archives: haunted hartwell

Take It With You: Exploring Transition

hartwellScenario: You’re moving from the bell-towered historical building, Hartwell, which is haunted, and is named after the first president of the university you attended for six years and now teach at, to a shiny new building acronymed LAB, a term meant for scientists, but stands for Liberal Arts Building. You are an adjunct instructor of English and sometimes teach composition, and sometimes teach creative writing, and always become attached to students.

Do you pack your computer?

It’s not really yours, though you type this blog post from it as a farewell to the building you’ve become irrationally attached to, as you become irrationally attached to everything–a house you outgrew in just five years, the Steve Madden boots that trudged you through grad school, failed nuances of siblings and friend and exes (that can never quite achieve what reality did), or a coffee mug at a diner. Some people think you are crazy. You’ll pack it, a Dell, though you worry it might not boot up when you plug it in again. You spend the entire blog post wondering if there are instructions somewhere on how to pack a computer. Some items are scary to pack– you remember from when you moved last fall–like the antique lamp your mother gave you. You make a note to look, again, for the bronze lamp you fear you left behind.

Do you sneak something with you?

You’re not talking about something that’s specifically yours or specifically not yours, but that belongs to the building: a window pane, a brick, a light fixture (no: they were all replaced during a renovation in the 1990s, and are fluorescent and tick constantly and when you type for longer than ten minutes, because typing hardly registers any motion–your brain moves more than your body, the light turns off and it’s not the ghost, and you have to wave frantically to have light again).  You were instructed to pack the phone.  You pack the phone, and when you unplug it, wonder if anyone will call. You wish you could keep your key. You’ll pick up a small rock from the garden outside the building on your way out.

Do you cry?

No. Because that would be irrational, and you’ve considered turning over a new leaf, taking on the role of quiet neighbor and silent sister and wondering who you’ve become.  Last night, you read an article on your news feed, which is so full you feel like you could live for days on just water (you can’t even remember which publication the article was from), but it mentions the five regrets people have on their deathbeds, and one regret of the dying was that they wish they’d stood up more, spoken out more, and lived their lives the way they wanted without regard to money or other people’s emotions (what’s wrong with stirring emotions?), and you know you are on a good track because you have stacks of student loans and degrees and are a part-time faculty member at a school you are irrationally attached to, and you have or will upset more than a few people in the next few days.  You swear you just now heard a knock at the door to the office, and when you back up, you hit a huge empty box that you have been told is a good size for your computer, and when you manage to crane your neck to see who’s there, there is no one at the door.

Do you remember?

Bringing your nieces in for a tour of the building, telling them ghost stories about how there once was a pool, and people still sometimes heard splashing, and how a man had died in the cistern, and how the previous Collegiate Building had burned, and how the first Principal, back when it was a “normal school,” had a heart attack at the age of 35 in his office, and how ghosts were everywhere.  You had been their favorite aunt, scaring the wits out of them, and when the heavy wooden door closed just behind the three of you on your way down the stairwell, they shrieked, and you did too.

Remember your mother, who has just retired, at the café downstairs, having lunch with her at the tables, sitting with her on the benches outside the building while she smoked, how she fed your boys chocolate milk and bagels and huge cookies whenever you brought them in for a visit.

The time you hid under a desk one cubicle over because you mis-heard the PA announcement: “Active shooter in room 31” and thought you were on the brink of your death, grateful your son was at daycare and your husband at work, but the shooter, actually, was on Route 31, where you lived at the time, and the man with the gun was not in Hartwell–not just a room or floor away–but had been your neighbor, and your house stood small and proud in the news pictures while you were in Hartwell, safely away, and your family, too, and you laughed because you’d called your parents in what you thought were your last moments, under the desk, sitting next to this very computer, but then it became more horrific when you realized the man with the gun had been just houses down from your son when he slept last night.

Do you leave?

You’re tired from this tour you’ve taken and have one last thing to pack, though you’re still not sure it’s yours to pack, though you know you will need a computer in the LAB, and if you don’t, will it stay behind with all of your files? Then you stop for a minute because the sun shines through the window, and too much more comes to you, like how you and your husband spent hours reading in the Writers Forum office when you had been just friends and then the classes you’d taken with professors you now call friends, but you go too far back, and so everything turns into something else, and before you know it, time is nothing.

 

 

 

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Matters of Space

English: State University of New York at Brock...

English: State University of New York at Brockport’s Hartwell Hall, east side (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In class last Wednesday, the heavy doors of 219 Hartwell Hall opened and closed without reason.   The windows were shut.   No students were passing.

Each time the door opened and closed forcefully, I looked to a different student to corroborate.  I knew what people would think, and I wasn’t crazy.  Hartwell has its own haunted history.  I’m not the first person to abandon skepticism.

This week I will move to a new house–an 1860s Victorian on a village street in the college town I grew up in.  As I write my novella amidst the packed boxes in my house,  I consider the matter of space.  It took me so long to get going on this piece.  It was so much larger in scope than anything I’ve written before.  The short stories I’ve written nearly all my life seem like mudrooms in size compared to the grand, living room-sized novella I write now.

The house we will move to is twice the size of the home I sit in as I type this.

On Friday, in class, I discussed with my students the Hartwell Takeover of 1970–a Vietnam protest that occurred in the very same building we sat in that minute.

The Hartwell Takeover: Brockport students smoking pot in the hallways, skinny-dipping in the (then) swimming pool (now, Strasser Dance Studio), a student on LSD climbing the bell tower, and a cultural center just around the corner from the building set afire in protest.

I asked what had changed in all this time?  I urged them to consider how everything around us had changed.  How can we not explore the space we live in?  Even its past?

It’s probably the reason I love old houses.  And thrift stores.  And museums.  It’s probably the reason I’ve never left my hometown.  I take the word “roots” literally.

I have always tried to imagine myself in a time-warp.  Who was standing in this same spot–in the quaint farmhouse where I now type this–40 years ago?  I happen to know that the house we’re about to move from was a college house in the 1970s.  Perhaps the students who had protested in the Hartwell Takeover were strumming guitars or drinking Gennys in this same space?

My parents’ house was built in the 1880s.  As soon as we got our hands on a copy of the deed, in the 1990s, my father and I scanned its history, and I placed each family in context, imagined them in the kitchen and on the front porch.  I longed to hug them, to hear their arguments, to rustle through their closets.

It’s part of what we do when we write, and probably part of the reason I had such a tough time with the novella at first.  I fought with the setting of a home for unwed mothers, when I’d never been there.  How could I go to where I’d never been?   I had to relocate my mind to some place foreign–something I’d never done.  I write the stories of the place I grew up as I imagine them, but more importantly, as they could have been experienced in human terms.

When that door in Hartwell opened and closed, who was there?  Was it the force of another door down the hall sucking the air from our space?  I don’t know.  Maybe I don’t want to believe that.  I like to believe it was some part of history, some student from another time taking a peek.

The house I will move to has its own history, and most of the facts have been researched and recorded by a village trustee, but I have a lot of wondering to do, still, a lot of supposing to do in that space.