Black Stars

A fast, tumultuous several weeks.  I have been busy with a mess of un- or barely-paid assignments, but this, as the man sitting next to me at a bar last night said, is what cutting your teeth feels like.  And it’s not exactly unpleasant.  I spoke this morning with my friend Corey about all of this.  We lived together at Amherst and he has been teaching English in Korea for the last year.  In the three years since we graduated, we have both experienced the strange, destabilizing mixture of malaise and dissatisfaction, a lurking sensation that the other people you know seem to be doing quite well for themselves, but that you have somehow managed to screw it up and miss the opportunity to achieve the same heavily retweeted acceptances and awards and sundrenched brunches.  My friend Dave, who was also in our class at Amherst, told me that though he is employed in a position that is challenging and rewarding, and which is related to his career, he often feels unfulfilled, as if he is on a track that is doing more to obscure happiness in his life than to lead him to it.  Something about all of this makes me want to address the claim that this is vain somehow– that it is selfish to be preoccupied with your own lot in life and whether or not it meets your expectations.  I understand that.  Often this conversation leads to an obsession with feeling jilted or ripped off, as if someone promised you something and the world has not delivered on that promise and now you’d like to take it up with the manager.  But I also cannot pretend that there is not value in discussing an experience that I think many people across the social spectrum are enduring and will continue to endure.

I am applying again to graduate schools, a project that I face with conflicting feelings of dread and hope.  I have applied twice before; first in the fall of 2011 to eight MFA programs and then in the fall of 2012 to eight English PhD programs.  Neither year bore fruit.  This was demoralizing and frustrating, especially because the admissions committees that rejected my applications were never very forthcoming with their reasoning.  In the absence of a concrete explanation (e.g. “We found your score on the GRE silly and lame.”), I obsessed for a long time over why, exactly, I had not been allowed to reenter the arcane world in which people demand to read what you write.  I still don’t know the answer, though one faculty member who saw my application told me his committee did not like the fact that my writing sample had mentioned Dostoevsky, who of course only wrote in Russian and therefore apparently has no bearing on the work done in an English department.  But this year I am applying to SUNY Buffalo, which is so strong in psychoanalysis that I am amazed at the fact that I didn’t apply there two years ago.  These past three years have been full of truly impressive moments of ignorance and oversight like that.  For instance, it simply didn’t occur to me that I could file for unemployment insurance until three months after I was laid off.

My memory, too, has been getting weird.  I feel like I forget things often.  Corey mentioned the incredible wealth of detail in Karl Ove Knausgard’s My Struggle, a series of six autobiographical novels.  I wondered what I could remember about my youth, or about the last year, or about yesterday.  I forget events I said I’d attend, letters I said I’d write, creative impulses so strong that they made my hair stand on end.  I wonder what else has been preoccupying me.  I can tell you that I have had several dreams lately, the most recent of which concerned me teaching a class full of middle schoolers who all refused to stop smoking electronic cigarettes.  I went in the dream to the bathroom to gather my thoughts about why they were being so obstinate and when I looked in the mirror I saw that my hair was grey and I was wearing a bathrobe.

I am also not sure that I am actually forgetful.  I remember lots of things, I just only ever realize I have forgotten the things I have forgotten.  I don’t quietly give thanks for all of the things I have remembered because remembering things rarely has consequences as severe as forgetting things.  And anyway this is probably related to the dream (in which I have suddenly gotten old, and in which I have apparently forgotten that I, too, used an electronic cigarette for years) and its portrait of my anxieties about growing up, and to the feelings of isolation and exceptionality (i.e. “No one is experiencing this except me; everyone else is doing great all the time.”) that seem to accompany the years after graduation.

I finally found a part for a watch that I had been seeking for the last three years.  That was a satisfying feeling.  I searched for it on the internet, at yard sales, at flea markets, everywhere, for three straight years and last week, I stumbled upon an old post by a man in California who was selling this part.  I put it on my watch using the lid of a tin of Carmex, which just happened to be exactly the right circumference so that I could apply force equally on all sides at once.  This is the part.

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This Friday, the newest issue of Block Club comes out, which has in it my feature on the Canadian Rust Belt.  Buffalo is about as close to Canada as you can get without crossing the border (it would take me no longer than thirty minutes to walk from where I am right now to the Peace Bridge) and yet much of the conversation about the situation in Western New York and the Rust Belt omits any mention of Canada, which, it turns out, experiences the same sorts of things but deals with them quite differently.  The project was fun and interesting to research and I hope the essay is successful at conveying that.  Within the next two weeks, my review of Yannick Murphy’s tiring, frustrating novel This Is the Water will be up at The Rumpus and my investigation of the MOOC will be in the Massachusetts Review.  For now, though, I am reading Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark in order to review it for The Rumpus.  I also just got a review copy of The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt in the mail.  The thing weighs maybe six pounds.  I can’t wait.

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