January 17, 2019
I was meant to spend the morning writing but decided instead to finish reading Horse Crazy, by Gary Indiana, which had been driving me completely insane for the past few days. By the time I finished it, I felt totally bereft, like no other kind of writing was possible, like I needed to throw away all of my books and notebooks—like I was going to miss my train if I didn’t pull myself together and make another pot of coffee.
The 9:19 train is often late, and today was no exception. The week before, I’d finally actually met someone on the train, a real human being named Tom, who had told me, in an impossibly low voice, that he’d always assumed he was going to move once the kids left, but where else was he going to be able to afford enough room for his concert grand? I hoped I would run into Tom again, I had really enjoyed our chat, but I think he usually takes the 10:04.
I spent a few minutes staring at the computer in my little windowless office, then went to meet with my thesis advisor. He told me that he didn’t think it was likely that I would finish the draft of my book by the end of the semester—as I had been telling myself and anyone who would bear to listen—and that the best way for me to spend my time would be to get over the “hump” that inevitably sets in at around 75-100 pages, the same hump faced, he assured me, by all first-time novelists. It was his hope for me, he said, to leave the program “in fifth gear,” with the motivation and drive necessary to finish the damn thing in another year, year and a half, maybe two. All this, bear in mind, was meant to be encouraging, sound advice from a seasoned novelist, but given the state of mind I was in, the meeting served instead to puncture the brittle skin of the balloon of self-encouragement I’d spent the past few days inflating.
Then it was time to give a campus tour to a visiting novelist. We introduced ourselves, then walked to the elevator banks. “Oh, look,” Novelist said. “You have the opportunity to practice an actual elevator pitch!” We looped around campus a few times, then just before I dropped her off she told me about an essay she’d read that posited that all storytelling was preparation for death. I found this observation so hugely important that I rushed back to my office before workshop so I could scribble it down on a sticky note.
After workshop, I headed downtown to pick up the ring I’d given K just before New Year’s. I was looking forward to the errand—the jeweler we’d found for the resizing was so clearly obsessed with his work, and had told us all sorts of wild stuff about the ring, which I’d inherited from my mother, who’d inherited it from my dad’s mom, who’d inherited it from her mother. He wasn’t in, though—a family emergency.
“I have sighed loudly,” I scribbled into my notebook, “at least three times today.”
On my walk back to the BSL, I tailed a guy who looked effortlessly charming and suave; he was wearing olive-green pants and a tailored brown overcoat. Plus, he was carrying two Apple bags, each of which appeared to have a computer inside. As he pulled ahead—he was walking very quickly—he underwent a disappointing transformation, appearing increasingly shabby and store-bought. The final disappointment took place when he walked into the Apple Store. I’d assumed he was on his way home from there, full of spirit and verve and the kind of bank account that could accommodate the extravagance of two computers.
Back on campus but with a few minutes before Novelist’s lecture, I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. It became my urgent mission to get a bagel from the Bagel Hut, whose window was cracked open, letting classic rock seep out onto the manicured campus sidewalk. I approached the window, even knocked on it, but Bagel Hut Guy didn’t show. I felt sure he was in there somewhere—hiding? Perhaps even taunting me? After all, the radio was on, the little kitchen vent propped open with an empty coffee cup. Eventually (though not until circling the Hut twice) I surrendered, getting an Everything with Cream Cheese at the Bagel Shack instead.
“I love story,” Novelist had said earlier in the day. “Think about it: Anna Karenina is basically a soap opera.”