Archive for the ‘memoir’ Category

Killing Time
September 13, 2009

When I was a temp, I learned about killing time, or rather, I learned that I couldn’t kill it.  I worked for the head of Athletics at a private college in Poughkeepsie. When the woman from the temp agency called, I wrote down the assignment and directions on a piece of paper and then looked at it for a while, panicking. Athletics? I had never done anything athletic in my life, and I tried hard to avoid athletes. Now I was going to be among them, and not only that, I was going to work for the head ATHLETE. 

For a couple of weeks, I just sat, filling the space left by his receptionist. Her name was Sandy, and I would get calls, the person on the other end saying “Sandy?” in that way people do when they know you can’t possibly be Sandy. I stared at the computer, aching for work. I went through files on the hard drive and found nothing of interest. I read rules and regulations and NCAA guidelines in PDF format. I read and refreshed my email fifty thousand times a day. I got to know the staff a little, and they were nice. Athletic and nice. At lunch, I walked around the beautiful campus.

The office was located across from the Olympic sized pool, and three or four times a week, the divers would stand by the turquoise water and swing their arms around, stretching. I looked at bodies that were exceptional. The girls would slice through the air; they were small but not rail thin like you’d imagine. The boys (not really boys, I guess) were muscular, of course. I surprised myself by watching all of it with great interest, and not just for the beautiful muscled bodies. That was part of it, but it was also great motivation for physical excercise. At one point, I deluded myself into thinking I could become a swimmer.

After a couple of weeks, I couldn’t take it anymore. I brought a book to work and tried hiding it in my lap as I read, but after a short time I gave up on the charade that I had anything else to do. I went through three collections of stories: O’Connor, Yates, Marquez. I reread a series of books by Poppy Brite. I read Shirley Jackson and James Baldwin. And I wrote.

I read and got paid for it. It was surreal. I wrote long hand in a small book. At the time, what I wrote felt important and special because I had never written long hand before. I look at that writing now and realize that it was really nothing, well, nothing but practice anyway. I worked for five months, and read five months’ worth of books. It was a taste of what I wish my life could be. Go to the office, remove your coat, switch on the light over your desk, and open the book. Like most people, I have to go to work and sell my time. When I get home, it’s a lot harder to turn the lights on, go to the desk and start over again. When you are alone in your house, it can feel like killing time because time ticks by in silence. You can fill it with TV (and I do that sometimes), or chopping veggies, or working out, or whatever. Or you can teach yourself, or write something, even though it won’t get you a new and better job, it won’t get you much of anything. But you do it, because you are building a career in your own mind, and always have been.