Monday, June 25, 2007

Having a Heart, Finding Contentment: Molly Meneely & Sara Oliver Gordus

Help is on the Way
Molly Meneely

I have just become the greatest writer cliché. I moved to New York this month, and I would like to Make It. Too bad no one gives a rat’s ass (and that actually means something here) about the fact I consider myself a writer and have only an armful of old notebooks and a few small credits to prove it. At least I didn’t move to Los Angeles to act.

But the city is lapping me up, at least in some ways that don’t matter at all. Consider the wind, whose gusts, exuberant to the point of violence, rocket me up 7th Avenue to my epically boring day job, propelling my hair into a galactic tangle above my head. Or the broad, dawdling snowflakes that hover over intersections, luring me to take a deep inhalation of winter—only to find myself drowning in the sour molecules of the sewer, the burdened fumes that could only be subway-born, or the thick and salty cooking smell of sausages and franks (what is the difference anyway?) sizzling nearby which convince me one can eat affordably anywhere if you aren’t picky about the content of your meat products. The instantaneous bumps and brushes of shoulders, bags, and U.S. postal service push carts—my path to most anywhere has evolved into an infinite series of collisions as we all try to out-jaywalk each other in front of an accelerating cab. These physical connections lack the soft stroke of a lover I’ll surely be months without, but still seem the most exhilarating human contact—that briefcase against my ribs—it’s the city battering me, egging me on: You really like think you’ll make it out alive? I do, I do.

My first moment in the State of New York, I slipped and fell in LaGuardia Airport on the way from the gate to the baggage claim like an idiot, my forty-pound carry-on of books accelerating the descent. Miraculously, two people helped me to my feet and kindly said nothing to amplify my humiliation. But this—my first step? It foreboded doom, and on the sidewalk each day to work, I see it again and again in my head as if happening anew—my knee cap cracking at contact with the urinated pavement, the flail of my borrowed coat a quick flash of beige before the strides of hurryers pave across my back. My lips pressed to cold, flattened gum, I hear the thump of a stack of newspaper upon the shelf that is my rear end. “New York Times Sunday, New York Post,” hawks a woman above my flattened body.

“Have a heart” calls the troll-voiced man collecting donations each day as I leave the deli with my latte I convince myself I pay for by walking everywhere. “Help is on the way” reads the circular button above the office building elevator numbers which I’m assuming would light up if I were really in trouble. “If I were a gay prostitute, that’d be a different matter altogether” said the man in front of me on the sidewalk two nights ago, and I think, no kidding, that would really be something to write about.

Because how can I write this place, this bulb of literary, cultural, urban, American brightness? How dare I feel unique to be dazzled by the energy of it all?

But I do. I do have a heart. And it’s my heart that clenches each time I step outside, squeezing itself dry, again and again drafting that moment on the edge of something—a moment that hovers, without oxygen or sense, birthing stars in my eyes and a flicker of what the depths of things can be—all before the world begins to flow again and I can never be the same. It’s exactly why we jump out of planes or fall in love, or move here. To get back to that place. The place inside our minds that takes our breath away, that permits us to ride upon the wind like space ships or voices. The only help I know to get there, see, is to keep writing.

Molly Meneely lives and writes in New York, in addition to working in editorial at an academic publisher where her time spent teaching composition at Arizona State University is actually coming in handy. She has her M.F.A. from ASU and her B.A. from Stanford. She has been published in the Blood Orange Review, SOMA Magazine, and GetOut! Phoenix and used to be a professional ballet dancer. In her free time, she smells the roses and, relatedly, gets passed by speed walkers while jogging in Central Park. *********************************************

Those Who Can’t Do
Sara Oliver Gordus

I work at a publishing company, so it’s no surprise that I work with people who love books. No, I don’t take three martini lunches with Michael Chabon or Zadie Smith (besides, I think those lunches have been replaced with two-Pinot dinners). I work with academics on college textbooks. The majority of my coworkers have degrees in English and have smart observations when our office book club meets every six weeks or so at a restaurant that we try to nebulously tie into the book’s theme. Watership Down? No doubt a vegetarian dining spot. Our discussions are at times rather insightful and I’m impressed and thankful to be around so many people who value literature.

Some of my coworkers even write and, with a few people, I have formed an informal writing group. It’s tough though. I had to ease up somewhat on my fear of blurring the line between my professional self (capable, upbeat) and my writer self (nuanced, occasionally sarcastic). I think it helped that I didn’t often work directly with those in my writing group. Generally, I don’t talk about my writing much at work. Perhaps out of fear of being a publishing company cliché – “I’m an associate editor, but what I really want to do is write!” (Insert big blinking eyes and vacant smile here). But when my writing does come up, many people say, “Oh, I used to write, I should really get back to it,” and “It’s so hard to find the time.” And that really is the crux of things; once you commit yourself to an adult, full-time job, things change. A job produces tangible benefits, namely money, but makes it harder to prioritize other goals in life, like writing. And who, but a fortunate few with means or a very unfortunate few without, doesn’t eventually succumb to the lure of a paycheck?

A writer of poignant, regret-filled travelogues once told me that a writer should pick a job he hates. That way, he won’t become too content, too lazy, and therefore he could ensure that his writing is his number one priority. I took this advice once, inadvertently, when I found myself in the unfortunate position of having a job I hated. I felt angry and resentful all the time at work. My time away from work was spent de-compressing and fretting about finding another job. I wrote a lot less. The best situation is to find a job you are content with (even if it doesn’t speak to your soul), and make sure the hours are fairly well defined so you can treat your writing time like a second job. If the people you work with like books, well, that’s a bonus.

Sara Oliver Gordus was born in California and now resides in Massachusetts, where she is an associate editor at a textbook publisher. Her fiction has appeared in the Jamaica Observer and Blood Orange Review. She is a graduate of the University of California at Davis and Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She celebrated her marriage this August.

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