Downstairs in my new living room, there is a bookshelf stocked with novels, how-tos, and self-helps. Not even half-full – closer to a quarter. Scattered on the floor are messy stacks of more books. How did these not end up on the shelf? Why abandon the job partway?
Well, I got hungry. I get up to make – no, reheat – myself some soup, and while the microwave is doing its thing I sit down to examine the work I had done so far. I have a pile for books that are mine, but that I don’t want anymore. Most of these are self-help books that I had acquired over the years from well-meaning friends. They have reassuring titles like Why Women Don’t Make Much Money, or The Anxiety Sufferer’s Guide to Dieting. Another book pile had flashy covers of spacemen wielding space guns while riding space mastodons. These belong to my husband, and will go upstairs on his shelf, which is filled with more spacemen and women and mastodons and is considerably more impressive than my collection.
The microwave dings, but my soup is still cold, so I stick the bowl back in for another minute. I trip over the pile of unwanted books on my way back to the living room and cuss. As I stoop to pick up the mess I come across How to Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore. The book had probably come from my mother-in-law; she had a tendency to overestimate my abilities. Probably she had bought this book under the impression that I would read it in a day, punch out a book in a month, and be a literary phenomenon in a year. I never read the thing.
I fan the pages, because why the hell not, and stop when I see “kittens”. In an interview with the author, writer Ursula Le Guin describes her stories as feral kittens: “I just sit here, waiting and waiting and waiting till the story begins to come to me. Then I sit very, very, very still and try not to scare it off. If I grab at it, it might run under the sofa and hide, or escape entirely” (73). I flip a few more pages. I’m reading backwards now, trying to find the point in the conversation where the subject turned to cats, trying to make sense of this analogy. In my head I’m comparing my own stories to kittens. They’re not round, sweet, fluffy things; they’re scrawny, screeching hellions clawing my new (well, semi-new) carpet to threads. Taming them would require a writer crossed with the doctors Doolittle and Drew, and I am nothing close.
The microwave has long since sung its second ding, but by this point I have forgone the kittens and just started the damn book from the beginning. Ariel Gore reminds me time and time again that the key to being a famous writer is to write something, anything, now. “If you don’t have time to write, stop answering the phone. Change your email address. Kill your television. If you don’t have a baby, have one. If you have a baby, get a sitter. If you work too much, work more. If you work too little, work less” (12).
I stop and look around me at the piles of books, boxes, and bags. I’m doing the unpacking because I’m unemployed. Tomorrow, I’ll have time to eat up. The day after, I’ll do the same. Maybe at some point the house will have internet and I can start sending out my cover letters in the slim hopes of finding a job. Until then, I can volunteer. Cook. Clean the house. Visit with my neighbors. Sort this bookshelf.
Or maybe I’ll tame some feral cats. Le Guin encourages patience with her stories, as they may scamper under the sofa, but I don’t even have a couch yet.
My soup abandoned, I take out my laptop and start to write.
And that’s why I’m bad at unpacking.
Gore, Ariel. How To Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007. Print.