(Justin ⇒ Jasdev)
> Towards shorter word counts, you mentioned a poetry class and an in-progress chapbook when we first hung out in-person. Did it ever come together? And in either case, any pieces from it you’re fond of?
I forget if you knew this, but most of my education was as an English major. I was trying to do things the “smart way”, though!
By the time I entered college in 2009, “English majors working at coffeehouses” was a stereotype already well-nestled into the collective American zeitgeist. I didn’t want to end up as yet another Buddy Holly cosplay reading Dostoevsky in between shifts at Café Whatever; I was going to be pragmatic and get a minor in Marketing so I could work in advertising and make money and no of course none of this was influenced by my having recently started watching Mad Men what makes you say that at all.
I don’t know how much you’ve heard about advertising internships, exactly, but let me tell you: mine was not good! Don’t get me wrong — the people were good and kind and the office was entirely bereft of the debauchery and debasement I was worried about.
But the work was…exhausting, and not in a good way. Tagline ideation and sitting in a conference room brainstorming print ad concepts was not my cup of tea.
And…I revised my plans a bit.
I realized that if the most fun I had in my internship was the time I spent messing around with our clients’ WordPress installations I should probably do some programming for a living, and that if the thing I really loved about my English degree was the excuse to read a lot and write a lot then I should just summon some spare ounce of self-determination and decide to read and write for myself.
I switched into computer science. I finished the English degree anyway, going heavy on the creative writing courses, and built up enough of a casual writing habit that I thought I’d be able to do it in a post-graduate setting (even if for nobody but myself).
It turns out, though, that I am quite bad at self-determination. You know that one passage from The Bell Jar?:
> I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
That passage always frustrated me. Life is never about a single fruit! The friends and coworkers whom I admire most are the ones whose existence seem most akin to multiclassing (to use the Dungeons and Dragons parlance, a reference that seems particularly discordant after citing Plath): the engineering manager I know who runs a farm co-op on the side, the union rep who’s getting her master’s in cryptolinguistics.
And when I discovered Hugo House, a temple for creative writing, a mere three blocks from my apartment, I was so convinced I could become one of those people I admired, to whom life was a simultaneous exhibition.
For a while, I was one of those people. I am a man of schedule, and my writing schedule was blissful: bi-weekly seminars, and long Sunday afternoons at Cafe Pruf with a French 75 and a double espresso, writing and rewriting and breathing metered air. It was a performative hobby, sure: I started a private channel for poetry and creative writing in my work slack; I sent (other peoples’) poetry to friends; I daydreamed and talked about a chapbook that I had only half-gotten off the ground.
As you can guess from the preceding paragraph being prefaced with “For a while”, things petered out. I missed one seminar, then another — work and projects were getting busy, and I found myself with less and less creative energy (let alone time to apply it). I had friends from Hugo House, but none with whom I was close enough to rely on as a crutch — to kick me in the ass and tell me to get to writing.
And I’ve doodled a little bit, here and there, over the past eighteen months, but early 2019 was really the last time I was seriously writing. I dug up the last draft I was working on, and it feels distant:
(Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.) I am not Florence: I am not her summers spent in dripping sunshine, her hands turned vice from cotton gin, her Tahlequah days with the rainstorms forging roof-drums. I am not her technicolor wedding — Cleo, out of frame, trading tires for pea-pods — nor the way that night hummed with strawberries, the bruise and the squeeze. Please, swallow this truth like so much salt and birdseed. I'm more sculpture than woman, I'm built of bronze and tricep, I'm valley bones and a palace of teeth. I'm the one who snaps bluejay necks so the kids don't have to. When you look at me, don't dwell on these years of dust and fennel. Think of Florence, two years prior, her soles still flush with river mud. She's a different kind of drunk, sure: on parish flute, on distant migrant fires.
I remember some parts of writing this piece. I remember knowing the first stanza was (and is) too overwrought by half; I remember falling onto the phrase “years of dust and fennel” with no small amount of glee. I remember staring at the poem’s ekphrasis for what felt like hours on end.
But more than anything, I remember that feeling: of being 25 and having a Sunday afternoon with nothing to do but to write and to think about writing, and how it feels farther away than it probably is.
I don’t think I’ve quite left enough time in my life for hobbies; or maybe, like wishing for a grand MMORPG but really wishing for to be 2007 and to have no obligations in life but to one’s schoolwork and to one’s internet connection, it’s not the writing I miss quite as much as the ability to spend time and do nothing but write.
Anyhoo. That’s a long way of saying no, nothing really came of it. The chapbook (preemptively titled Abstractions, because of course I had to go with a name like that) is still in the confines of my
~/Documents/Poetry folder. But I’m glad you asked — I got to open that folder for the first time in a long time today, as well as some of my favorite bits of inspiration:
What about you? Are there any hobbies or habits you find yourself missing?