Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Henry Taylor - Bethesda, MD

I made my last stop today, in Bethesda, Maryland, to meet with my MFA advisor, the gifted and gentle Henry Taylor, a man of immense humanity and talent.

I went to American University to work in his program in the early 80s as a fiction writer, and was turned on to poetry by his book An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards. His work is deft and exacting, funny, and so finely wrought that it is impossible to imagine anything else in its place. He writes out of the places of his life all the time, many times his home of Loudon County, Virginia.

It has been 20 years since I've seen him, and he is the same, smiling, bearded, and comfortable in his own skin. I am who I am and do what I do in part - I hate to lay this on anyone - because of him. The fact that he has a full head of hair is the only thing that disappoints me about the visit.

He lives with his wife Mooshe on a spectacular and spacious wooded lot just north and west of DC. It's a forest in there, and the city seems miles away. We talk in a room full of floor to ceiling windows on soft couches. We catch up a bit about the trip; he tells me about his new book. We remind each other about my time in DC two decades ago.

Henry and Mooshe are champion RVers, so we talk a bit about that. I hate to reveal that we have sold Winnie Cooper, just this past week in fact. We had planned on this for months, but when the ad appeared in the paper, and when Winnie was reduced to her statistics, I felt a dark spot form on my heart. How do you reduce that great rolling home to 4 lines of newspaper text: "2004 Winnebago, V10, queen bed, satellite dish...used to travel the country and dream new dreams, saw a billion stars. Price negotiable."

Henry and Mooshe are leaving later this week for a week's excursion in their lovely gold Class A, and I envy the journey.

We get to the interview, the 62nd and final one of the project. I ask the questions and record the answers. I shoot the photos and all over the event is a serene sort of sadness that I've been waiting for and dreading. I'm a project guy. I'm never happy unless I have something going on. I want to dream a big dream, figure out a plan and get to it. I love finishing, but now, 8 months and 5 days after interview #1, I am reluctant to let it all go.

After we chat we talk a bit about what's next for me. I'm embarrassed to admit we still don't know. There are some jobs I'm still thinking over, but really, maybe we're not ready to stop yet. Maybe we're still going to keep moving. But where? Why? What will be waiting?

I shoot some photos of Henry out on his property. I snap away like I have before and pack my bag. I shake his hand, drink in that moment, there with someone - who I must say - is simply a hero of mine.

And then I go.