The Danger of the Everyday
In the fall of 1987 after driving across the country to study at the University of Iowa, I found myself enrolled in James Alan McPherson’s fiction workshop, not knowing how I’d ended up there. The rumor circulated that, like a magisterial conductor of a symphony orchestra, the Iowa Workshop office manager, Connie Brothers, somehow made all the decisions about our academic lives, but I couldn’t be sure.
We read fine things but never feel them to the full until we have gone the same steps as the Author.
—John Keats, letter to John Reynolds, May 3, 1818
“I purpose…to make a sort of Prologue to the Life I intend to pursue.…I will clamber through the Clouds and exist.”
—Keats, letter to Benjamin Haydon, April 8, 1818
Sun Ra claimed to hail from Saturn, but he and his Intergalactic Arkestra still had to suffer the trials of earthly travel. When his agent phoned us to say they’d be driving up early, a day before their hotel was expecting them, we had to scramble to find beds.
At sunrise on the first Saturday in March, 1970, as the body count continued to rise in the war in Vietnam, less than two months before the Cambodian Incursion, when campus protests would close down universities across the country, including mine, I sat in a coffee shop on Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach.
I. Living It
Anna is in the orchard wearing a sleeveless housecoat, lifting a stone from the Roman road discovered a few feet away. It was unearthed a week ago during the gas line extension to Taranto. The stone fits a low wall in the garden she’s planted with nightshades—eggplant, tomatoes, firecracker red peperoncini hot peppers whose oil is drizzled over warm waxy potatoes.
In memory of Chinua Achebe 1930-2013
Aupres de toi j’ai retrouvé mon nom.
In the months after my friend R.’s death, I suffered bouts of shame deeper than any I’d experienced before. These were often followed by unreasonable fits of anger, which had me shaking my fist at drivers when I was walking and shouting at pedestrians when I was driving. At least I considered them unreasonable at the time, which is why I didn’t tell anyone about them. Now I might accept all this as ordinary, a natural part of the grieving process, as inevitable as my eventual recovery.
Absent-Minded Professor Joke: A famous mathematician works in the city at a university and lives with his family in the suburbs. One day they make a short move to a three-story, slate-gray Victorian house with red shutters the next street over, a move his wife oversees while he’s at work. He leaves his old house in the morning and returns at the end of the day to the new street, but can’t find his new house.