When I was a grad student in poetry writing at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop back in the Jimmy Carter era, before mobile phones, I used to wander all day lost in my thoughts like a baby version of Rousseau. I liked people better than Rousseau but that’s another story. Nor am I nostalgic when I say that having whole days, weeks, months when you could walk around without emails, e-calendars, texts, or phone calls was paradise. And though I couldn’t see the future I understood my liberation. Here as best I can reconstruct it is an average morning spent in Iowa City before iPhones, computers, pagers, or anything else that ice picks the mind. I admit it’s a story of privilege. I had the opportunity to live this way.
Wake up. Look at crows in the ruined garden outside my apartment. Though legally blind I know they’re crows. Either that or they’re giant animate raisins leaping for joy or in hunger. Wonder if joy and hunger are related. Promise to finish reading “Hunger” by Knut Hamsun. Drink coffee on front porch.
Stand at bathroom mirror for at least fifteen minutes. Should I shave off my beard or not? I don’t like my face. Understand that I don’t like either option. Think about Nikolai Gogol. Imagine having an enormous mobile nose as a companion. Think that might be OK. Conclude that cutting off the beard will take too much time. Reckon I need to go outside right away. Hope the imaginary Gogol nose will follow.
Late September in Iowa City. Leaves falling. Walk upon them. Smell them. Fruit spoiling. Wind. First sweater day. I’m twenty four and refuse to wear colors. Grey is not a color, I’ve decided. Blue jeans, hole in knee, Adidas tennis shoes, white. Head south on Linn Street toward downtown. Zero notion where I’m going. Gogol’s nose hasn’t followed. Decide to get coffee. Head to diner. Lean on counter. Overhear two farmers wearing caps that say “Blue Seal Feeds” discussing Randy Newman’s hit song “Short People.” One likes it, the other is affronted by it. I think: “curses on both short and tall people.” I do not say it.
Spend the next hour walking in circles around the town. As far as I know I do not meet people who know me. I’m too blind to identify passersby.
In the autumn of 1978 I’m very caught up thinking about the subconscious. More of Jung, less of Freud. I believe it’s possible to fall asleep and share a dream with someone in Tashkent. Stand for a moment outside a farmer dude barber shop. Think about Isadora Duncan and Sergei Esinen. Wonder if they met through synchronous dreaming. They lived briefly in Tashkent.
Head to public library. Old, homely, granitic friend. Know I’m unlikely to meet irritating fellow graduate students there.
Drift through stacks smelling books. Can read some of them when the print is large enough.
They have a large print edition of Stendahl’s The Red and the Black
Check it out and though its big as a Manhattan phone book I carry it with me on my walk.
Now I’m like a man with a votive pillow. The Stendahl pillow.
I walk up Clinton Street with a supersized edition.
Locate public bench. Sit. Business school students wearing cheap suits scuttle past.
I’ve been out of my house for two whole hours and no one has bothered me.
Several leaves do a dans Russe. Wonder who killed Esinen. Or did he really hang himself?
Time for a cigarette.
Time for spontaneous laughter. I laugh at nothing apparent.
Decide to walk beside river.
It’s a day.
One can read uninterrupted.
I keep a journal.
Write a few lines about the unconscious, Isadora Duncan’s love of the Greeks, think of her in a canoe telling Sergei to “strophe, strophe!”
How lovely the days before the constant dings and chimes.