My time subbing in the middle school is over as of two days ago. Those seven days, like the two years I spent working in the upper school, were an overwhelming whirlwind. I looked often at the other teachers and wondered how they could do this job, do it well, for weeks and weeks, for years, many of them for decades. The exhaustion is quiet and cunning. It first appears as an inability to turn the key in the ignition as you sit in your car in the school parking lot at 3:30PM. Later, it manifests as a refusal to focus, dry mouth, and an acute impatience with the people and things that have the misfortune of being near you. It is finally amnesia, right before bed and right after three glasses of wine, and then panicked somnolent visions of crises, running children, disappointed parents. Decades.
I am collecting unemployment now, which has been both demoralizing and a pain in the ass. I had to meet with a woman at the Department of Labor yesterday morning in order to continue receiving benefits. When I sat down, she said, “So, Mr. Brown, for your list of skills I have ‘typing’ and ‘word processing.’ Anything else?” I left frustrated and wanting to never enter that building again, which maybe will help me get a job more than anything else has so far. But that is joke. I haven’t been voluntarily unemployed. This meeting just made me more aware of how involuntary the last four months have been.
The following song was in an episode of The Sopranos that I watched last night. I think The Sopranos is the greatest television show ever made. It paved the way for the post-soap era of longform TV drama that we enjoy now, with Mad Men, The Wire, etc. This song, which, like every song used in the series, was chosen by the show’s creator David Chase, was on a mixtape my dad made when he was in college. After my parents got divorced, my brothers and I spent a lot of time driving back and forth between houses in my dad’s car. My dad would always play his tapes during those drives.
My review of David Mitchell’s puzzling, kind of annoying novel The Bone Clocks was in The Rumpus a couple of weeks ago. The book could have been so good. I have been craving a return to genre fiction, to something that is unafraid to talk about mysteries or spaceships or magic. Maybe that is a reaction to unemployment. But The Bone Clocks ended up lame in a taxing sort of way. I felt like I had spent a lot of time reading the book and trying to remember everything about all of the characters and the reward was an ending that completely exploded the self-consistency of the immense web of bullshit that Mitchell had been weaving for 600 pages. I also felt like my review was disappointing, like I was never quite able to say what I wanted to say the way I wanted to say it. But it got picked up, and that is a victory. The editor of The Rumpus also agreed to run my upcoming reviews of This Is the Water by Yannick Murphy, Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark, and Man v. Nature by Diane Cook. I am really excited about that. All three should run in the coming two or three weeks.
And this morning, my review of Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s stunning debut novel Panic in a Suitcase was published in Artvoice. This is a really incredible book. It sort of reminds me of Jenni Fagan’s debut novel Panopticon, not because the books themselves are similar, but because they are both extraordinary debuts. But Akhtiorskaya’s prose is exceptional. Ten pages in I knew I had never read writing like this. Polished, unique, masterful. I am not sure if my review is very successful– it is difficult to write about something that speaks so well for itself. My review would probably have been better if I had simply written, “Read this book.” You should read it. More soon.