Monday, January 31, 2011

Dear W.H. Auden

Dear W.H. Auden:

This one is for you.

Tonight I re-read In Memory of W.B. Yeats. Over the past few months I have been struggling with the lack of creativity that my current way of living has afforded me. The truth is I am unable to find employment doing something that I love and in order to make a living I am doing something that I hate. As much as I despise cliches the one that is standing out in my head most right now is the tried and true saying "find a job that you love and you'll never work another day in your life". While I wait to hear back from the grad schools I have applied to I am frantically trying to figure out just what the hell I am doing with myself.

Nowadays an undergraduate degree is, for the most part, useless. I read an article a couple of months back that compares the undergraduate degree of today with the high school degree of the past. Nobody told me that studying the subject that I am most passionate about would lead to a severe struggle to find employment in that field. Granted I was not disillusioned about the whole starving artist mantra but I genuinely did not see myself still working as a server two years after I graduated.

The one undergraduate class that still stands out for me years later is a second year English literature class in which I was shaken from my hungover stupor with the misquote of the famous Auden poem previously mentioned. "For poetry makes nothing happen..." My professor was using "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" in order to refer to Elizabeth Browning and the poem she had written on the plight of children in England ("Cry of the Children") during the industrial revolution. His point was this: the poem didn't change anything. Working conditions remained the same and life? It moved on.

I had never read "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" before this day and I was so struck by that particular discussion that I mulled over it for several days. Years later I still think about that class and the apparent uselessness of my degree. Writing. Poetry. Why do I feel the need to write when I can hardly hold out hope that I will touch even the smallest or most insignificant life with it?

Looking back history is littered with writers who have committed suicide: Hemingway, Plath, Sexton, Woolf...why is this? Talented writers. Writers who's works outlived their short lives and will outlive mine. The classics we call them. Novels that have stood the test of time that their authors could not bear to face. What do we take away from these stories? From the poetry? What change has happened because these books exist? The art of writing is a daunting, sometimes frightening task. Perhaps these writers took their lives because the immensity of what they know and what they are trying to portray is just too much for them and not enough for the critics. For the readers. The fear of inadequacy, the fear of not being heard or of not being understood overwhelms.

"...From ranches of isolation, and the busy griefs,/Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,/ A way of happening, a mouth."

I continue to hold out hope.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One Call. That's All.

Last night I was sitting at the back of the bus quietly chatting with a friend of mine. So engrossed was I in our conversation about the steak and lobster we would be partaking in during dine out Vancouver that I failed to notice a surly old man sit down next to me on the bus. However, I was soon unable to avoid this man and the temper tantrum he threw during the next fifteen minutes all directed at yours truly. My offense was this: I was talking on my cell phone. On the bus. While he proceeded to shout about what a terrible person I was and that I was incredibly rude and disrespectful I attempted to ignore him. It was only when the shouting reached a fervor pitch that I stood up for myself (for the record I am generally a passive aggressive person who avoids confrontation at all costs), and asked him how he thought I was being more of a disturbance than he was. It was at this point that the boxing gloves came off. An empty beer can (whose it was I do not know) happened to be rolling around on the floor and this only fed this crazy curmudgeon's fire: "She's drunk! She's drunk! That's her beer! That is why she is talking on her phone while on the bus! The bus driver should kick her off! Thank goodness my stop is coming up."

Thank goodness indeed.

After about ten minutes the man quieted down but continued to chunter about how he was appalled by my behavior and how much of a bitch he thought I was. Yes he called me a bitch. For talking on my phone.

The man eventually exited the bus and although I felt discomfited by the scene that had occurred it raised my thoughts as to what exactly is proper cell phone etiquette. I couldn't help but recall the commercial in which a wife in sexy lingerie is ignored by her husband or how a man cannot even take a piss without putting down his phone. Is this what I have become in a sense? Unable to put my cell phone down?

At the restaurant that I work at we have a certain regular. Lets call her Veleste. Veleste is the most miserable woman I have ever laid eyes on. Not only have I never seen her smile I have also never seen her display anything that could remotely be called manners. However, one day she was sitting, eating a "brown" scone, and observing the table next to her. Three Asian women were glued to their cell phones while having high tea with no conversation to be heard. What followed went something like this:

Veleste: "What would those girls do if they didn't have their phones?"
Server: "I don't know. Talk to each other?"
Veleste: "Well wouldn't that be a reeeeeal pity..." (Veleste proceeds to roll her eyes).

I am not sure if I was more surprised that Veleste had a made a joke or about the truth of her statement. Through text messaging I have given up real conversation and through my cell phone use I have the potential to alienate those around me. I left my phone at work the other night and couldn't access it for the next fifteen hours. When I finally had it back in my hands I felt like I could breathe again. It's sad really when I think about how my parents didn't even have answering machines when they were my age, and once upon a time the telephone didn't even exist (God forbid). I suppose it is too late for this modern day and age to discontinue a complete reliance on our phones, especially when they can be particularly convenient at times. But one thing I know for sure is I will think twice before chatting on my phone while on the bus. And while there is always text messaging I will wait for the day when my fingers tapping the screen become too much of a disturbance for the stranger next to me...