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2002-08-05 | 2:52 p.m.

[I found an old notebook from when I was teaching introductory literature classes as a graduate student in Iowa. I wanted to write down something, and I couldn't find anything else to write on, so I decided to just start using it again. Except when I started writing, this is what came out instead. Decided to post it here since it is about something that I want to keep in mind.]


The last time I wrote in this book was almost ten years ago. Today is Monday, August 5, 2002, and I am not feeling particularly reverent or spooked by this notebook (which might not have been true even yesterday), but rather practical. A tree was sacrificed to make this paper and it is a shame to let it go to waste.

I have other things to write here, fairly unimportant things, but before I do I want to say something else. About Iowa. I started therapy this year and mostly it's been a pretty straightforward affair. But sometimes the therapist will say, "I'm still trying to figure out where you lost your confidence." Or he wonders about the origins of my fear of being embarrassed publicly, or my fear of being published to harsh reviews. (I'm not afraid of the harsh reviews--not exactly--but afraid of the way they will make me feel. Maybe that's putting too fine a point on it, but it's a meaningful distinction in my mind. I'm afraid, or wary, of despair, and especially where it will take me. I'm afraid of the drain I went down.

Anyway, while the therapist is musing over these questions, I am sitting there thinking, "I know. I think I know. It was Iowa." But I don't like to say it. Iowa kicked me in the fucking teeth, broke me down, and stole my wallet, but I hate to admit it because I don't want to make it any more of a focus in my mind than it already is. [It's too big already and thinking about it makes it bigger.] It was really, the whole experience, the most colossal failure of my life. It was a big failure, spectacular in a quiet way, with lots of smaller failures contributing to the overall effect: the architectural gingerbread of failure decorating the foundational failure. Pink sugar roses of failure dotting the smooth, unrelenting fondant landscape of my failure.

When I talk about Iowa now, I tend not to delve too deeply into the individual events; the chronology. Most, I talk about the weather. It is (and was, even at the time) my metaphor for the personal travails I endured. When I talk about the difficulty of unlocking, in sub-zero temperatures, the frozen lock of the sliding glass door that was the only way into my mobile home, I don't mention that part of the urgency I felt was my not wanting to catch the attention of my friendly neighbors across the way, because I didn't want them to ask me again when my husband would be coming back, and have to answer. I didn't want to see the landlord because I was so ashamed of the dog shit on the front deck, which accumulated at a mind-numbing rate. No wonder nobody wants to rent to someone with three large dogs, I'd think to myself. Then it would snow and cover up all the dog shit, until the dogs would shit in the snow, which showed up worse than dog shit on the wooden deck. So I'd clean that up, but never often enough, not nearly often enough, and the yard also filled up with shit, which would--combined with snowmelt--create this great, soupy swamp of dog shit, like a moat around my front door, which I had to cross anytime I wanted to participate in the larger (and often moat-shitty in its own many special ways) world. Which I pretty much never wanted to do.

It is a testament to the good friends I made there that I ever went out as much as I did, especially when things really started to go down the toilet. I've always known that was the good I took away from the situation. The question now is whether it would do any good to go back and stir up those memories, in the hopes of slaying old dragons. I don't know. I suppose I can talk myself into the purge, regardless.

[I feel good about going ahead with this material. I have a lot coming back to me just as I type this that I'd like to get down. Just little memories that aren't all that important by themselves, but remind me of how it felt to be there. Just things like having to buy bottled water for the dogs to drink, because the well water was too disgusting even for them, and renting second-rate videos at the Hy-Vee on Wednesday night (was it three for 99 cents, or rent one get one free?)]

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