I should be writing a recommendation letter now for one of my many students who have asked me to complete this task for them so that they can get a job, get an MFA (most of the requests are for these), or get into some other form of graduate school. Recommendation letters--the writing and distribution of them--have gotten way more complicated in the past three or four years. It used to be that I wrote one letter, students would open a file at career services, and I'd send one copy of the letter there. Then career services would send out said letter for them (and me). Now, some of my students use Interfolio (a letter service), but others follow grad school guidelines for online applications, so I'm writing paper recommendation letters and mailing them, and then trolling my e-junkmail box for robo-links so I can upload my letter to a jillion more schools, each of which has a totally different e-system to navigate, many of which crash while I'm trying to upload my letter. Multiply this by ~20 students a year (and sometimes more). Which is to say that I'm a little bitter about this current complicated system, as it taxes my organizational skills, and sucks up way too much of my time. Complaining about this is, I realize, ironic, as I work for an MFA program that requires electronic rec letters. I just wish someone would centralize the process again somehow.
This is an excellent place to offer a brief diversion with some links to recent articles about MFA programs making the rounds: there's Joyelle McSweeney's recent "Lay off the Motherf$%ing MFA Students;" there's Chad Harbach's "MFA vs. NYC" article from n+1 excerpted on Slate.com recently; and The Chronicle's "A Fray Over Frey’s Play to Prey on M.F.A.’s" (which is about this article on James Frey's fiction factory from New York magazine). The one thing all of these articles have in common is that no one will ever make money off their poems.
But back to task-based wheel-spinning: I spent a good chunk of my day in my doctor's office, waiting for him to look at my foot due to my aforementioned accident with my son's Big Boy Bed. My primary care physician is lovely, but also deeply deeply Christian. The waiting room has multiple copies of the bible (illustrated and non), and each exam room also has a copy of a blue bible on the little table that holds all the doctor's instruments--his swabs and tubes and syringes. Usually the TV in the waiting room is tuned to Paula Deen making corn fritters, but sometimes it's turned to the 700 Club or other shows where people with health issues talk about how Jesus saved them. The waiting room is also filled with oil paintings, all done by my doctor, all of which look like photos unless you look at them at an angle to catch the brushstrokes: a girl lacing up a toe shoe, a toddler with roses, a few paintings of street scenes in India where he's gone on missions. Sometimes there are farmers in the waiting room talking about their cattle. Often there are people bringing in elderly relatives in wheelchairs who nod off while they're waiting. And we wait. I've sometimes waited more than two hours while Paula Deen whips up Truffle Whoopie Pies with Cranberry Cream Filling.
The doctor sent me 20 miles down the road to our local hospital, so I could get an x-ray taken of my foot, which ate up the rest of my day. The hospital waiting room was far less interesting than the one at the doctor's office, and I was tempted to ask the receptionist if there was any way to speed up the process so I could make it home in time to light the Hanukkah candles, but the amount of explanation that would have required seemed too exhausting, and there weren't many people in the vinyl chairs around me. I worked on the one recommendation letter that I promised to finish today in both waiting rooms, but it will have to wait longer--until tomorrow--to be totally finished. The x-ray technician was wearing a t-shirt with a drawing of an atom on the back, and seemed Doogie-Howser-esque. I swear she couldn't have been more than 19 or 20, and the plastic bracelet they gave me when I checked in at Radiology had my age printed on it--35--which made me feel impossibly old, this seeing my age in print every time I looked at my wrist. The technician lined up the red-light crosshairs of the machine on my toes and I tried to hold still while clutching a lead apron she gave me over my ovaries. There was beeping and shifting. And then I drove the 20 miles home.
So what does any of this--the broken toe, the waiting rooms, Paula Deen--have to do with poetry? Not so much. Some days the mundane overwhelms any desire I have to write. And sometimes the waiting room is where I find my poems.
Exercise of the night: Write a poem while you're in an interstitial or liminal place--an in-between and hovering place: in a waiting room, a parked car, on a bus, in line, on the phone on hold.
Question of the night: What mundane or semi-involuntary activity has led you to a poem?
Poem of the Night (excerpt):
"In the Waiting Room" by Elizabeth Bishop
In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited and read
the National Geographic...
The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another....