Octopus' Garden

Sunday, December 04, 2005


An interesting blog post project from Lee over at You Are Here: What were you doing ten years ago? Five years ago? One year ago? Yesterday?

Ten years ago I'm living in Bloomington, Indiana, where I'm finishing up an outstanding literature course for my M.F.A.  a seminar in Victorian literature. I’m obsessed with the lives of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. The messy love lives! The laudanum! The wombats and epileptic seizures! I, myself, am at loose ends. I’m taking fiction classes, and tossing around the idea of doing another M.F.A. in fiction, even though this really doesn’t make much sense. I’m working as a graveyard shift telephone operator. I go in to work at 11:00 p.m., and leave at 7:30 in the morning. I try to write when it’s slow, but it’s sometimes difficult to remain alert. The pay is bad, so sometimes I work a second part-time clerical job from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, immediately after getting off the graveyard shift. I never manage to get much sleep and become slightly narcoleptic. During this time period I bemuse my friends by occasionally drifting off in the middle of talking to them and lapsing into surreal dreamspeak. “I’m scheduled to work this weekend because the fire trucks need to caramelize the time cards at the swim meet,” I might say. I win a prize and give my first out-of-town poetry reading. Literary journals have accepted a small handful of my poems. I have just turned thirty, and I am in love with a boy who is seven years younger than me. He is sweet, and smart, and very pretty, and he adores cats. I am also a little bit in love with one of my neighbors, who is almost twenty years my senior. He is an artist, and he has interesting things to tell me. He is soft-spoken and very kind to me. Sometimes I see him in secret, and my schedule becomes unnecessarily complex. I have an old piano, and for the first time in several years I let myself play, usually in the afternoons, when I should be sleeping but suffer from insomnia. Sometimes I open the windows, and Bach’s Italian Concerto, Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu, and Ravel’s Sonatine fill up the spaces between houses.

Five years ago I’m spending my first winter in South Dakota. My first book has come out the year before, and the job offers follow shortly thereafter. I’ve moved from Columbus, Ohio, where I’ve been living with the boy who loves cats. There, I worked as a legal secretary on the 29th floor of a downtown law firm, and when my book was coming out I secretly carried the mock-up of the cover to work with me. When no one was looking, I’d take it out and look at it to remind myself that it was really real. When I come to South Dakota, the boy who loves cats stays in Ohio. Midway through the semester I break up with him in my head to see if he notices. He doesn’t, but that’s okay. I’m appreciative to have been spared unnecessary drama. That winter, there’s lots of snow, and for a couple days, a complete whiteout. I realize how much I miss the snow, and the intrusive obbligato of the wind. I quit smoking and realize that for the first time I actually start to “get” wine. I drink a lot of wine! I finish the manuscript to my second book. There are two women who I have crushes on, but what happens with them doesn’t happen until it’s already a new year, and that would make it four years ago and not five.

One year ago I’m working on writing two books at the same time, and can’t be bothered to think about anything else, other than my teaching/work responsibilities. I am utterly oblivious and utterly miserable and utterly happy.

Yesterday I make a promise to myself to savor the process of polishing and revising my book manuscripts, because it’s my favorite part and I need to enjoy it when I can. I also realize that I need to slow down a little bit . . . take my time with polishing the books, because I want to have a sense of what sort of books I would like to write next before these books are irrevocably finished. I don’t do well when I get stuck in the cracks between projects, and so I’d like to have a direction, a point of reference, a little thread to pull on before I close up shop on the ongoing projects. I swear by Hemingway’s advice in this regard . . . about leaving a little something unfinished for the next day. I think that if I were Hemingway this would be the juncture where I’d need to divorce one wife and marry another. I’m glad that I’m not Hemingway. My friend P. calls me back and says that she really couldn’t understand a word I was saying in my late night phone message from earlier this week, but allows that there’s at least a 50% chance this could be due to the fact that her new cell phone sometimes garbles things. (CHAGRIN! Or is that really just minor chagrin? Who knows?) I procrastinate on grading. I read Julia Alvarez’s In the Name of Salome. I listen to Eric Dolphy and Thelonious Monk and contentedly change verb tenses in an unfinished story. Past to present. Present to past.
posted by Artichoke Heart at 9:46 PM


Oh most lovely is the intrusive obbligato of the wind. It makes me happy to read here, to read this, because we speak the same language. (The other language, the music language.) I've been working on a poem about Glenn Gould and Bach's Italian Concerto. Coincidence? Of course not.
Blogger Radish King, at 1:16 PM  
And I, my dear, adore that you speak the other language, the music language! (Sometimes I sneak a tidbit or two in just for you.) I would love to get to see your Glenn Gould/Italian Concerto poem when it's finished.
Blogger Artichoke Heart, at 1:18 AM  
It sounds like an unusual but positive path, with your concerns being about better and better circumstances. I hope the trend continues for you.
Blogger ScottM, at 12:40 PM  
I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for it.
Blogger Lee Herrick, at 5:32 PM  

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