Dawn to Dusk in Two Hours

 Every Sunday afternoon of summer 2014, I sat behind my computer and waited for my online class to begin at 4:30 pm. Living in Tehran, the capital of Iran, I was just done with a long busy day, for Sundays are working days in Iran. I waited for the picture of Elena Passarello, the instructor of the course, to appear on the top left corner of my screen. It was a small frame, but still I could detect a dark window behind her. You could never guess from Elena’s sharp and energetic manner that Sunday was just beginning for her at 5:00 am. Elena and I sipped from our steaming cups once in a while throughout the class: my afternoon tea and her morning coffee.

In April 2015, Iowa Writing Program (IWP) had called for applications for an international nonfiction seminar. Twenty-four candidates from eighteen countries were selected from a pool of 400 applicants to take part in the seminar.

Including Elena, we were twenty-five spots on the Earth, linked via invisible strings to a small chat bar, just below Elena’s picture. Experiencing a time range of 5:00 am at Corvallis, Oregon to 9:30 pm, at Tokyo, Japan, we were attached to the same rotating and orbiting planet via sofas, chairs, or beds, listened to Elena as she discussed nonfiction elements. I had a piece of paper nearby not to miss a writer’s name or books, essays, and journals’ titles, to which Elena referred frequently. She hit the buttons in the farthest west and PowerPoint slides followed one another on our monitors. We read and discussed “Total Eclipse” by Annie Dillard while revolving slowly and tirelessly around the Sun.

For years, I was pleased to watch the Sun leave my hot city in summer afternoons, but this was the first time I could spot where it rose again. As the two hours of the class rushed to its end, the first Sunbeams, as joyful and glamorous as they could be on a weekend day, enlightened the small window square behind Elena.

I liked to think that some of us were on the same circle of latitude, that in a few hours, a classmates’ city would occupy the same space that my city was occupying now.

In as short as a summer (or 90 degrees of Earth rotation), I surfed the world in my classmates’ weekly-submitted essays: I came to know Elis Regina, the late singer who criticized Brazilian dictatorship. I spent a night in a Canadian village motel of the 80’s. I witnessed Polish girls celebrating their traditional Kupala night. I learned about “Mung bean cake”, the non-sweet Vietnamese dessert. I searched for photos of truck art in Pakistan right after reading about them. And I shared the joy of reading literature in a tranquil linen closet with a New Zealander young girl of the 60’s.

Each of us led a life full of memories and tastes. We rode different horses on the same carousel. We explored unique personal experiences that could turn into memorable essays. Our lives made an international anthology of essays. Probable book chapters. Potential books of memoir.

Apparently, there is an agreement to simplify global contacts: they have set twenty-four time zones. People who live in each time zone share the same standard hour. They live their hour and pass it on to the next time-zoners. A hot potato is tossed around. Earth residents performed a Mexican Wave from east to west. The Japanese classmate went to sleep after the class and the Indian friends followed her in a couple of hours. From Tokyo to Oregon, we successively waved up and down by consecutive sunrises and sunsets.

At the end of the summer infinity seemed reachable. I knew many new writers to read from. Countless experiences were out there to be lived. They say the Universe is expanding.  I experienced this expansion as it made me a summer older.

I discovered a hidden door to a wonderland. The course webpage is always there to log into. Class videos, workshop discussions, reading materials, and above all good writer friends are always there. Now, I know I am not alone with my words and writing. No matter what time of the day, an unseen workmate is writing with me somewhere on the writers’ planet.