31 January 2008

"Journalists are, as a rule, late risers. It was seldom that in England, in those night-refuges they called their homes, Shumble, Whelper, Pigge, or Corker reached the bathroom before ten o'clock."

-Evelyn Waugh, Scoop

First it was Charles and Julia, then Father Brown quotations about "a twitch upon a thread" and mercy so terrible it tore people apart to remake them. I was haunted enough by Brideshead, but I should have guessed, from colorful Sebastian, that Waugh wrote humor too. He's one of those famous authors that I knew nothing about until a year ago and now I act as if my every discovery is a newsflash. I always fall for the dead authors.

A month ago I was reading Scoop in front of the fire, feeling like we were having a very old-fashioned evening because my dad had turned off all the heat in the house and every last sibling had arrived in the living room with books and knitting. Since there are 11 of us in the house and my brother had a guest, we were all elbow-to-elbow on the couches and pushed up as close to the hearth as possible.

I was deep in Ishmelia, a fictional African nation in the throes of a communist upheaval during the 1950s, watching poor William flounder around as an accidental-overseas-correspondent. Scoop had its share of funny moments, but not that many. I was only half impressed until I found the line above.

Suddenly, it was not me or my sloth, not my late nights, not my persistent snooze-striking, not my lack of will, but my job that was to blame. Journalists are, as a rule, late risers.

30 January 2008

counting sneezes

Today I sneezed at my desk and realized that it was the first time in a while.

This might not seem remarkable, but there were whole weeks in December and earlier in January where I feel like all I ever did when I came here was sit at my desk and sneeze--that and single-handedly empty the spring water globe when I made my tea (I thought about making a marker line every day and signing it as the water level dropped with my multiple steaming cups).

I think that is the place to start in describing my workplace, Amy, the dust.

I turned to Reporter S and said "That's the first time I've sneezed in a while." She laughed and said, "maybe you're building up an immunity." Maybe I am. Maybe the coat of dust is so thick in my lungs that they no longer respond.

One of our editors is always saying that when she worked in Africa her working conditions were cleaner.

Because this building is dusty. It's a three-story tenement house that's a couple hundred years old. The first floor is a aimless labyrinth of windowless rooms and mismatched paneling and a huge front office. We're on the second floor in this wide room with tall floor-to-ceiling windows. Supposedly the third floor, mostly empty rooms, is haunted.

When the sun shines it beams through the bay windows at the front of the newsroom, striking every particle of dust. Or, when it's cloudy out, like most days, you can look beneath the quivering florescent lights that hang from the uneven plaster and get the same effect.

The window frames, painted grape-cool-aid-purple, and the matching chair board that runs around the room all have a chalky layer resting on the top. All the desks spread throughout the newsroom are irreparably dusty. I just dust the little space around my keyboard and try to rinse off my Gerber daisies every few days. The floor "grinds" when you come in.

So I'm not sure if its good or bad that I haven't sneezed in a while. But this is all I have time to reflect on, because I have exactly an hour to finish a couple stories before I leave for After School Arts.

I don't know what city you're in now. But I'm sure the Spanish or Portuguese dust is older than the industrial revolution dust here.

27 January 2008

I have a confession.

I'm going to steal a poem you didn't write yet.

You told me about it last week, while we were walking down from the Knob. We were coming down those narrow and sandy steps that lead back towards the shore, when you grabbed my elbow.

A moment before I'd been standing up top, looking out across the water, messing with a camera. You'd been talking to a couple about their dogs, a brown bull dog and a dalmatian in disguise--she was black and only had spots on her chest.

'I could write a poem about that,' you said, grabbing me by the elbow just before we were out of earshot, 'his and her dogs.'

You know, Grandma, the secret I can't seem to learn: that poems aren't hard to write.

Around you, nothing is safe.
Not your evening dish of rocky road;
Not the red bench by Quissett Harbor;
Not the table we found behind Pie in the Sky, where we sat drinking chai in the late afternoon facing the Steamship Authority, the ferry launch, and the sun;
Not even those unsuspecting strangers who told you about their dogs.

You know, Grandma, the secret I seem to forget: that nothing is ordinary and when we write we can keep whatever we take.