All right, explain this

I was looking through an old computer folder that had stuff in it that I wrote for the Craft of Fiction class I had in sophomore year. I wanted to come back to a story I’d written for that, reread it to figure out why it sucked, so I could make it not suck on the rewrite I’m starting. I knew it must suck, not only because when I turned it in for the final project I got what’s still the worst grade I’ve gotten at Grinnell (C+), but also because I remembered it not flowing or coming together naturally. I was mostly right. It did suck, but there were also a few good parts where my 19-year-old self surprised my present-day self with some pretty nice writing.

I closed the file that had the full story, and, curious, opened up a document called “TimAltern.odt”, which must mean “Tim’s story, alternate bit”. I found something that I have not the slightest recollection of writing:

I grouped the walnuts into a small flock and edged them closer to the incinerator. They trembled lightly as the first one fell off the edge of the table into the flame. It made a nearly inaudible popping noise. Then the table, the incinerator, and the house vanished, leaving me standing in a rectangle of dirt and my pupils struggling to contract quick enough. As it turned out, they overcompensated and turned my eyes inside out. I took a good hard look at my brain, and finally decided to lie on the ground. Our moles must have been overzealous, because I found my head in a hole. Then I realized it was not attached to my body anymore. And my body was no longer attached to my limbs. I groped around to find my arm. As I closed my hand around it, my eyes came back to normal. I was lying on the ground at the bottom of a sheer cliff made of ice, and on top of it my arms were holding each other, an amphisbaena. In fact, I was not at the bottom of it but on a ledge. I looked down and saw my legs. “I wonder if I’m the tallest man in the world,” I said aloud, but instead of words, a stream of walnuts emerged from my mouth. They entered my leg stumps, and my arm stumps, and filled me full of walnuts. I was now round and distinctly lumpy. My arms jumped off the cliff, and my legs climbed up it, and they rejoined my body. Walnuts were still entering through my neck, until I jumped up back onto it as well. Then my skin popped open, revealing my body to be a giant walnut. My arms and legs were small and made of wood. A sharp wind caught me and I rolled off the edge. Then I woke up inside the coffeemaker.

My only guess is that I must have been trying to write the most bizarre dream sequence I could possibly come up with. I guess I succeeded?

I had my first day of intern work on Monday. I found my way up to the 11th floor and entered with another intern who had come at the same time, Yana. Her job, for the first hour or so, was to teach me the things that had been taught to her yesterday by another intern who had learned them the day before. Our boss, Anne, acknowledged that this was like a game of telephone, but had faith in Yana, and it worked out okay. She mainly told me passwords to email accounts and databases and such things. Also, what to do once I was in those accounts, like how to put new events up on the calendar. Then my job for an hour or two was to read through the unsolicited manuscripts in the unsolicited manuscripts email account, and reject them. Rejection wasn’t the necessary response to them, and I was told to keep an open mind, but I was also told that it was only rarely that a good manuscript came into that folder. As I went through, this description was borne out well. There was, for example, a terrible erotica novel; a woman who, in lieu of a manuscript, sent a link to her blog; and my favorite, a guy who asked us to buy the book he had written by going to a desktop publishing site, and then appraise it. Someone had already rejected him, and what I found in the inbox was his note asking, “Does that mean your [sic] interested?” So, that was fun.

Then I started reading an agented manuscript, which was pretty good. But partway through that, Anne had me stop what I was doing so I could do a different task. It was this: to walk to a copy shop nearby and have them print a full-size copy of the cover of a book they’re going to release soon. This was at the request of Vanity Fair. They had called earlier and asked for such a copy, so they could wrap it around the printed galley of the book and make it look final and take a picture of it. Once I was done with that, my next task, to be carried out this coming Monday, was to go to Vanity Fair’s headquarters on Times Square and deliver the cover and the galley so they could take the picture of it. So, not two weeks into being in New York, and on my second day of work, I get to go to the headquarters of Vanity Fair with unique items that are also fragile. I’d say I’m pretty happy with how things are going.

After work that day I walked to a notorious radical bookstore nearby that I’d heard about a few days prior from a guy who was selling books and anarchist zines from a table on the street in Brooklyn. There was a reading and signing going on there for one of the books we’ve published, Understanding the Crash by Seth Tobocman, which is like a graphic novel but nonfiction—I don’t know if there’s a good word for that sort of thing. It was fun stuff. Seth and the other collaborating authors read stuff and had a visual presentation, and live music behind it as well. It was hot, but fun. I didn’t buy any books yet, but I want to go back and look around.

Lastly, another reason I’m glad I came to New York: I just discovered that the country’s most popular adult spelling bee takes place right here in Brooklyn, in a bar. There are only two bees left in their bee season, and I intend to be there for both of them. Maybe I’ll even win the final on June 21st. It’s called the Williamsburg Spelling Bee. I haven’t spelled competitively in so many years! This is going to be a hoot.

For now I’ll just read all the enormous number of things I have for reading, or write Tim’s new story, or maybe even finish my font. I think I have practically nothing left to do with it now, except make the files all work. All the design is taken care of. I just have to push through my inertia long enough to do all the byte-juggling required to make the files work. If I’ve got time, I’ll try to do that this weekend.

Oh, P.S.! I tried bubble tea, like I said I would. It was interesting. I think I would’ve liked it a lot better if I hadn’t gotten honeydew flavor. I guess I don’t like honeydews. If I try it again, I’ll say something else about it. But it costs $4 at the place down the street, and I’m really, really cheap, so I don’t know if the bubble tea saga will go any further.

File under: writing, work · Places: NYC


Anonymous

History

Go, Nathanael! I get to cheer you on in a spelling bee again. It sounds like you are having the time of your life in NY and I'm so glad you are doing this. And go get another bubble tea, and I'll reimburse you the $4 when you get back home. You can't miss that–you only live once. Grandma

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Anonymous

History

Yea! Another spelling bee. I wish I could be there to cheer you on….. G.Pa P.S Your job seems very very interesting.

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Anonymous

History

Aha! So you came in 3rd in the Spelling Bee!! Congratulations!! (I checked out the link to the Williamsburg Spelling Bee.) Much more fun than you'd be having here in the Chicago area!

Good luck in the finals!

Aunt E.

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Anonymous

History

A hand delivery to time square. Your life is epic(again)! New York can be intimidating and overwhelming but you can't deny that it IS the crossroads of what is new and next in life.
Dave

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