Not only because of the rolling, debilitating, cascading changes that surprise your saved versions at every new turn, but mostly because coaxing any new draft into a uniform and generous design seems like luck, and is dictated by unrepeatable maneuvers.
I had pirated a Greek version of InDesign that I eventually trashed, because there’s something even more enervating about trying to design a little booklet in an incomprehensible language.
The production of literature is perhaps free—freeing, etc. The packaging of literature is something else. If I had six-hundred dollars to spare, I would press it into the premier desktop publishing program. If I was better at pirating software, I would scoop it up for free. As it stands—I’ve spent the morning bitching at phantom headers. They assert themselves, I negate them, they come back. I took a phone call from my mom, calmed down, resumed the labors.
Gimp and Scribus are shit, by the way. My unprofessional opinion!
Instead of drafting one this morning, I worked with my friend Beth on creating an alternate universe for Teen Wolf, wherein the characters work at competing wineries. The premise is now about vintners, chefs, horticulturalists, and sommeliers. I even wrote a scratch entry wherein Lydia and Stiles confer about hiring Derek for his culinary bonafides. Fanfic is laborious—I don’t know how people write it without the attachment of eros. In my managerial scene, I establish Derek’s Cordon Bleu Academy credentials (he studied in Chicago!), and otherwise remarked on the branding strategy of Beacon Hills Vineyard. I don’t know anything about cooking, or about winemaking; I know somewhat more about Teen Wolf but my fandom is shallow; it’s what I reward myself after a week of teaching, it scratches an itch, then it goes away. I’m more interested in constraints. Can I write a passable piece of fan fiction? What does that look like? What are the perimeters? For one—not having knowledge about winemaking has not proved a limitation. I can make shit up about champagne grapes. I can make shit up about the climate in a California wine belt. And I have eaten food, so.
I still don’t know what to say about poetry (I’m looking at last semester’s presentation; it seems about right, although the poems revue’d are all sad ones)—I have a feeling between now and the lecture, say, on the forty-minute drive to campus, I’ll remember some Randall Jarrell passage and DELIVER TRUTHS. Maybe I’ll revue literary arguments. I have been taken down by impostor syndrome in two panic attacks in the past two months—that apprehension is numbing. Time to move on and declare the importance of x and y. I am wearing stripes today and I need to fix that. And I can.
The party was a kind of appeasement ceremony. Both sides were there this night. Judges from the Lower Keys nibbled buffet-side on spare-ribs, glad-handing, spreading sauce, repeating their names in casual conversations so we’d remember them on May ballots. Public defenders and assistant prosecutors circled the perimeter with sheet-white faces, worn down by holiday divorces and DUIs. Hippies and conservationists held skewers of flaky white fish steak—“the fruits of the sea,” they said, grinning, indicating the waters beyond the berm, although it was cubed haddock from Maine. People were slurring, even the judges were slurring. It was that time of night. Policemen with light-batons directed traffic outside.
There was no consensus, and so the name changed throughout the evening. Conversations depend on orthodox pronunciation, on lilt, affect, knowing, cunning, demurring—no one had a grasp whatsoever on what to call the place they were living, it made people crazy establishing a vernacular shorthand. Nobody was born on the islands. Nobody’s parents lived on the islands. Nobody had a sense of where the cemeteries lay. History was that nefarious thing—luck, poignancy, charades.
I offered “the rock” early on, near the drinks table (“bar” would be overstating the drinks selection). “The rock,” I explained, to a podiatrist from Big Pine, “has maybe three discrete neighborhoods and probably four camper parks, and then two cul-de-sacs for the very wealthiest. I think the old women”—these were women killed while riding their bicycles on Overseas Highway 1, which connects Miami to Key West—“were late-life lesbians or divorcées. They’re oblivious wrecks, used to starving Peruvians driving them around in golf carts whenever they’re thirsty.”
“The rock?” he said.
My explanation was: “It just sits there.” But then, almost all landmass just sits there.
“I call it ‘the sandbar,’” he said, and called his wife over. “Marge—what do we call the Keys?”
Marge, very drunk, nearly fixed his tie in her wine glass. She said, “Whoops!” and winked at me. She held his tie safely away, saying, “My girlfriends, Bridget and Annabeth, they just say mile-markers. Good Lord. Marker 68. Marker 21. If you’ve lived here long enough, you have this sense, which miles matter. There is that café in Tavernier, right? And the movie theatre, all at marker 90?” She counted by clicking her rings on the rim of her glass: “Robbie’s Marina is 78. We’re around 30. All those bridges are below sixteen.”
Her husband scowled and took back his tie and said, “What happens is, these old rich widows from Nebraska come down and think they can bike all over the islands, bike after days of sustaining themselves on cheap margaritas, and then they wobble into oncoming traffic and then they die.”
His wife said, “Oh, you boys called me over to talk about death, Jesus, hell,” and then sauntered off.
I said, “I’ve seen ‘em die.”
He burped out a, “Yup,” and took more vodka off the drinks table. He took an unopened fifth, in fact, and so did I. Cherry-flavored Dark Eyes. “Yup—the skid marks of these broads,” he whistled, “an eighty-foot smear.”
If you stay for a season or better you see accidents on the islands. They are worth listing, if only to give prospective visitors a foretaste of the gloom the websites hide. I have personally witnessed, endured, or narrowly avoided boat catastrophes, drunk drownings, and panicked scuba divers—in the latter case, a father and son who never surfaced on Thanksgiving day. They were exploring an underwater cave with new gear that neither had any sense to safely use. Cardiac arrests while snorkeling are also fairly common, but then so is jellyfish paralysis, aggressive sharks, fire coral, Norovirus, flesh-eating staph, riled crocodiles, malarial mosquitos, and regular drunk drivers—driving cars, riding bikes. A blood-dimmed tide of STIs ravages young and old alike. A lot of sex therapists and virologists talk about the south Florida sero-prevalence—apparently one of the highest in the country. I tell friends who want to visit to steel themselves for the death camp-like atmosphere of mishap and misfortune, but they see sunny skies and palm fronds. I remind them that a three pound coconut falling from a height of fifteen feet can easily shatter a skull. No one minds. “Coconuts,” they say, slowly—”co-co-nuts”—thinking about the little colored umbrellas and rum.
The islands are sparsely populated, and the people who visit really want to have good times, crazy times, and they do mysterious things like walk off the sides of boats or eat raw shellfish plugged with fecal coliforms. That’s an oyster with human poop pumped through it. Islanders quantity fuck total strangers without condoms. Mostly everyone is avoiding someone in the Keys, and this pressurizes encounters, making baseline connections circular and curious, because everyone has things they would like kept hidden—but for the small-town vibe, stretching a hundred or so miles along a south-west line, they cannot. A lot of college grads wend their ways to the Keys, too, dreaming of white sandy beaches. But the keys don’t have beaches: the shores are protected by mangroves. There aren’t any waves, no soothing surf spray sounds, and not many gulls, either. So no gull cries, if that’s your thing. There are pelicans—pelicans eat puppies. It’s sick.
We were standing on marker 88: a key, a cay, an island, a sandbar, the sun-bleached scapula of exposed coral reef, an archipelago, congeries of mangroves, flats, pads, markers, development projects: we were under a collation of tents, a ward against the mixed weather of a tropical December night. My grey suede shoes were taking wet white sand on their toes, like twin nurse sharks nuzzling in shallows. My heel was full of sand, the cuffs of my rolled-up oxford had sand, my eyes took on sand, and I blinked back tears. A persistent wet wind blew sand and salt into our faces from the bay.
I didn’t know it, but Jim, the man I was talking to, was the incumbent coroner. Though he was a foot-doctor, neither of us used that term: “foot doctor.” I really wanted advice about callouses on my long second-toes, digits going over to warts. He wanted to talk about things other than feet. I could tell we’d run out of interesting subjects when he turned to appraise the crowd, and he lost all interest in me when he realized I wasn’t a registered voter. He thought I was part of the firm, a lawyer, because I had dressed up for the party. Dressing up in the Florida Keys means wearing slacks, means tucking in your shirt, means shaving the hair off your cheeks. Anyone in the realm of business casual freaks out everyone else. He asked me if I was covering estates and I pretended I was, and kept up this pretense, of working for the firm, basically all night. It got me into some photos, and I got to shake hands with some commissioners.
There is a parrot who lives across the canal from me; she is kept in a large cage. I have fantasies about releasing her, although I know this is wrong: she would die soon after. Sometimes she gets excited (desperate? angry? ecstatic?) and erupts into a squawking fit of duration and volume to challenge any wolf pack. She says “PRAAAWWWWK!” so I say “PRAAAWWWWK!” back. She says “HELLO?” so I say “HELLO!” back. She says “GEHHH!” so I say “YEHHH!” The outbursts happen at sunrise and eventide, in the golden hours of the day, sometimes in twilight if there’s weather. The other night, while I was taking notes down about connectedness, we whistled at each other for twenty minutes. “TWEET-TWOOO!” Forty feet of water separated us, and wires, and that terrible quality called “agency.” A man cleaning his boat two slips over looked so pissed, at first, standing stock-still while holding a hose above his head like a mace, and shook his head before continuing with the scrub. But then he whistled too—either caught up in his endeavors, or to belong—and the parrot whistled back; and I whistled at the parrot, and the parrot whistled again and so did the man cleaning his boat. Our likenesses reflected back at us in the crepuscular waters. The parrot fell silent. I went back to my gin and my books. The man finished cleaning his boat. A northeast wind overcame the island.
This was the conversation, or close enough:
"You picked it up?"
"Yeh—in Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, four or so years ago."
"That opening, right?"
"The blurbs, I think. And I opened it. I suppose I wanted a calming presence. The narrator is very sure. In Oxford, Mississippi, I was always deeply uncomfortable, Christ knows why."
"Mhm, and serious—the serious painting—"
"Of the guy on the front? Yeh, the ‘stoner,’ I actually really hated that. I still hate that. Such a fucking awful title. In the Sixties."
"Are you serious?"
"I don’t know."
"Did you finish it?"
"No. I picked it back up."
"Worth it, right? Gotta finish. So fuckin’ good.”
"When I started it, however long ago, I definitely thought, ‘Yeh, this is gonna be good,’ then Stoner got married to a nitwit, he himself is a constipated oaf, he lives in dust, lives spinelessly, a blob on the plains. I put the book down for 2011–2013, picked it back up out of a sense of grave respect, but the affair is never sumptuous, I don’t think the book will pull anything out. He’ll get shit on by the department, the affair will be exposed, his wife will have good reason to leave him, he’ll be disgraced and ‘stone’-silent and dignified, and I’ll still be bored as shit."
"As shit. And disappointed."
"The book is really painful.”
"Fuck that. I have the flu. I know pain."