What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
by Raymond Carver

Field-Tested by John Moe

in Walla Walla, Washington

As I neared the end of college, I was dating someone who desperately wanted to be a writer of very serious, personal fiction. I did not wish this for myself at all, but I clung to her, in part because college was ending (I didn't like the idea of college ending), and of all the ways to cling to college, she was the most attractive and poetically compelling.

So when she handed me a book of Carver stories, I dutifully sat down on a patch of grass not far from the rolling wheat fields and state penitentiary (one of the only ones remaining in the nation that used hanging as a means of execution), but safely on campus. I read the book. All in a day. I sat on this well-tended, private college grass, and I imagined this world I was about to enter, this world I so feared. I had long understood that it would involve aging and probably sadness, but through Carver, I realized how kind of...bitchin' all that sadness might be. Sure, there would be instant coffee and there might be an inability to be open with someone you desperately need, and there could be a phone call that poignantly expresses despair as you realize the scope of your futility; but if its possible to find beauty in all that, maybe the whole life thing could be interesting. Being in the world of Carver sounded intriguing, especially if I could learn to understand people who resembled Carver characters, while avoiding becoming one myself. As my senior year wound down, Carver's widow, Tess Gallagher, visited campus. I didn't go hear her speak. And soon, after graduating from college, that girlfriend and I were through. But I bought a stack of Carver books and moved to New Jersey.

John Moe is the author of the humorous political memoir, Conservatize Me: A Lifelong Liberal's Journey to the Dark. John is a commentator for NPR's “All Things Considered” and a regular contributor to the nationwide public radio program, “Weekend America.”

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