This Was a Few Years Ago Already
It’s Shirley MacLaine’s birthday. There’s, uh, Art Carney on television. There’s Shirley MacLaine… taking her clothes off. I mean I didn’t know that’s what she was going to do before I started speaking that sentence. Now, uh, Art Carney’s in some kinda old-fashioned… bathing outfit with a straw boater.
I guess this is supposed to be… [mouth and nose noise] a period piece. Although Shirley MacLaine looks as modern and as fresh as ever! Here’s Art Carney. He’s… never mind. What the hell am I doing?
So easily distracted.
Yeah, so I had to call about my upcoming surgery. I finally had to call. It’s been ten days or so, since, uh… the date somebody named Jennifer was supposed to call me. I assumed she was up in Memphis with the eye surgeon, but no, her voice message indicated that she’s here in town… I… called… she finally called back… more or less ten days late. Uh, and told me I’m gonna have eye surgery next Friday, so get ready! She sprang it on me! And… that she’s leaving work so I can’t call her back. But… she’ll call me tomorrow at lunchtime, which is my… my… meeting time, but how would she know that? Nor does she care. I’m associating her too heavily with the angry surgeon, the angry eye surgeon who handles my face like I’m a cadaver he’s practicing on. I don’t want him pokin’ his needle around my brain!
Although that’s exactly what he’s gotta do.
I assume it’s a needle. Not a spoon.
I’m to get a brochure in the post. So it, uh, may have all the gory details.
That’s not Alain Delon, is it? And they’re in some grotto. Yes, they’re in a grotto. [Laughter.] Ohhh! My head hurts again.
[Something rattling around.]
I can see all right. I can see well enough to read Agnes Grey. And you know, there are long passages where Agnes Grey just sits at an old woman’s house and the old woman speaks in her country dialect about the Gospels, and, uh, the meaning of the word love in the Gospels, and it goes on for several pages and… and I like it! Eh—you know, it’s all about church. Let’s go to church. Should we go to church? Well… what about the social aspects of church? This girl just wants to go to church so the boys can see her! On the other hand, the old rector is a big jerk, but the new young parson is humble and meek.
And it’s very unusual. I, errrrrrrrerrrrrerrererer, it’s, it’s quite poky for a novel. Uh… you know, the excitement comes when one of her psychopathic charges, you know, mutilates an animal or something. It’s, you know, and then for… forty pages it’s, uhhhh, “Meekness is an important quality!” [Laughter.] Uh, you know. I… good! Thank goodness Agnes Grey came out when it did. It’s a matter of timing.
It would be torn apart in a workshop! In, uhm, an MFA workshop. “Do we really need so many pages about, uh, mildness?”
“Th—there’s nothing really happening here, you’re just discussing the, the benefits of being mild.”
Uh… yeah! Good! Why not? I want that. Give me some of that. I wanna know what’s goin’ on in your head, Anne Brontë!
And, yes, the character of the old woman… the old… uhhhh… woman who’s in a quote “religious melancholy” unquote… yeah!
Yes, she’s a mouthpiece for Anne Brontë. Yes, Anne Brontë wants to say a thing or two about… you know, faith versus works. And I’m all for it. Come on, Anne Brontë!
I, er, er, when I did teach, I… had a class… I made them read Wuthering Heights and Dracula and then… we had a long, uh, project in which the consideration was… how would Wuthering Heights and Dracula, how would they have been treated in, in an MFA workshop?
And the short answer is… they never would have existed if they had had to go through an MFA workshop.
[Rattling sigh. Face rubbing?]
“I don’t know, it’s kind of confusing! Which… there’s two…? It seems like you’re… you’re really telling the same story twice, aren’t you? There’s Heathcliff and then they… wait. They both go… they… she has a kid and he has a kid and then, then their kids… uh… get together…? But… the flashback structure is really… did you earn that? Did you earn that?”
That was a common question in MFA classes, and my answer was always, “You earn it by p—writing it [laughter] on the page.” There. I earned it. You don’t h—uh. That’s another…
See? Now you see why I’m not teaching.
So I have the fff—eye… the eye surgery on Friday, and [lip noise]… you know, this place, I don’t have the best feeling. I still don’t. I was talkin’ to Mom on the phone and she said, “If you go there and the ceiling is falling down just tell ‘em you have a [laughter] stomachache, and, uh, and turn around.”
You know, they don’t seem very organized. You want… you want to feel that the people who are sticking, you know, chopsticks or… uh… I don’t know. [Short laugh.] Obviously I’m unacquainted with medical terms. [Coffee slurping.]
Whatever instrument they pierce your… whatever little vacuum they suck out your eye jelly… one of the eye doctors did call—refer to it as “eye jelly.” I guess to make me… I guess it’s a homey [laughter] phrase.
Nyahhhhhhhhh. Holy moly.
Please come this way for the next part.
Jack Pendarvis has written five books. He won two Emmys for his work on the TV show Adventure Time. During a period of light employment, he spoke into a digital recorder whenever the mood struck him and transcribed the results, accumulating the two thousand pages from which this column has been extracted.