I could’ve sworn that I heard Peace’s bones creak as she pushed herself up from her favorite blanket to stretch her rickety backbone. I had never seen her so weak. Her face was still round and fuzzy, but the rest of her had become a shrink-wrapped skeleton. I could even feel my fingers rise and fall along the spines of her vertebrae as I petted her ancient back. I hadn’t expected to find her like this. Every visit before now, the 19-year-old tabby seemed defiantly full of life. Now she seemed near the end, and I expected that I probably wouldn’t see her again. I snapped a few photos of her sleepy-eyed face to remember her by, cursing myself that I didn’t have any pictures of Peace in her prime.
I know I shouldn’t hate read. There are so many other more productive, positive things I could do with the same amount of time. But sometimes it’s a “I’ve come to hate read and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of bubblegum” kind of day. Some of my favorite targets for scorn? Lists of famous authors’ writing habits.
I understand that the lists aren’t necessarily supposed to be prescriptive. I get that the aggregations of anecdotes are more of a window into the different lifestyles and habits of the sorts of writers whose work fills English Lit. reading lists. But I can’t shake a sense that the lists of authorial quirks congeal into a misrepresentation of the struggle to write.
Wordcount compilations are the worst of all. Some authors write fast, and others write slow, but sharing the quantified estimations of their productivity out of context doesn’t mean anything, especially since the bar is being set primarily on authors at the height of their careers. For aspiring authors, or those like myself who are in the lower echelons of the writing world, knowing the habits of writers at their height isn’t very helpful. I want to know what they were doing when they were starting out, yearning to be heard.
For a brief time during my college years, I worked in a Target warehouse. Not exactly my dream job. I made minimum wage scuttling between shelves packed with cardboard boxes holding whatever cheaply-made crap had to be driven over to the store. Squinting because of the fluorescent lights gave me a scowl Karl Urban would envy, and the dry air was so full of dust that when I’d sit down for my daily 30 minute break, my nose would start bleeding into my lunch as soon as the moisture from my meal hit my face.
There are far worse jobs. No argument there. But I can’t say that I was a happy and fulfilled team member. So I had to find what little fun I could.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is an awesome song. It’s so brilliant that we should burn it onto a golden disc and send it into space for distant civilizations to encounter – if we ever start funding that sort of thing again – and so incomparably epic that when I saw the remaining lineup of Queen a few years ago they refused to play it live. Even attempting the song without Mr. Fahrenheit would lead to certain doom. But as amazed I am at the tune, sometimes I can’t bring myself to listen.
While I was winding my way south through Wyoming last week, the highway stretching through what seemed like endless prairie, shuffle kicked “Bohemian Rhapsody” on through the car speakers. I turned it up. A few days earlier I’d heard Mike Myers talk about fighting to include the song in Wayne’s World on WTF, and I hadn’t heard the rock opera in a very long time.
I got about as far as “Mama… just killed a man” when I had to fight the urge to flip to the next song on the list. I started swearing under my breath. “Fuck… fuuuuuuck, fuck, fuck…” Not in tune with the music, but grating against it. All I wanted was for the bad memories to bond onto my curses and be invisibly neutralized in midair.
In my travels, I occasionally meet other people who used to live in New Jersey. Upon meeting, we’re required to ask “Which exit?”
If you’re not from New Jersey and deliver this question as a joke, don’t. Just shut up. It has never actually been funny. The reason New Jerseyites ask is because the garden state is a gigantic bedroom community that could be more or less evenly divided into New York City suburbs and Philadelphia suburbs, with that weird pinelands bit that thinks it’s in The South. Parkway exits are the only useful signposts to figure out where someone’s literally coming from.
I grew up off Exit 135. That’s central New Jersey, which, contrary to what northern and southern New Jersey denizens claim, really does exist. Specifically, I grew up in one of the most boring places on the planet – a small town called Clark.
Clark is the very definition of white bread suburbia. It’s square, painfully pale, and totally flavorless. That’s a fact – the 2000 census found that over 95% of the townspeople were white, and in the 2012 election over 58% of voters in town pushed the button for Mitt Romney.
Most of Clark is a snarl of postwar homes modified to middle class tastes, with a small cluster of restaurants and stores clustered around the Parkway ramp as if they were shat out by the asphalt snake that winds up towards the big city. There’s no theater, cinema, music venue, or any establishment even remotely entertaining in the suburban wasteland. Finding anything mildly entertaining requires venturing elsewhere, slowly rolling along in SUV-packed traffic jams that could materialize at any time of day. If someone asks you to visit Clark, they do not have your best interests in mind.
Last September, I went back for the last time.
There is not a heap of squirming space slugs in my basement. Spiders, moths, and the occasional sewer roach all go about their business in the dank and the dark, sure, but I’ve been down there enough times to be sure that my apartment’s cellar does not host parasitic invertebrates from another galaxy. But that hardly made a difference. Past midnight, as I walked around the outside of my apartment towards the basement door, I had to keep telling myself “I don’t believe in space slugs, I don’t believe in space slugs, I don’t believe in space slugs…”
Tracey wasn’t awake to reaffirm the lack of extraterrestrial gastropods beneath the apartment. She had gone to bed early after a tough day at work and starting up the laundry. Despite her truly heroic efforts, though, a prodigious pile of dirty shirts and worn underwear threatened to avalanche through the hallway, trapping us under a drift of our own laziness, so I decided to stay up late and run a few more loads. And I had a bit of an ulterior motive.