I've succeeded in orchestrating a temporary life full of days full of writing. The content of said writing is guided by the MFA program I've just begun, though I fool myself into believing I am entirely self-employed, as I can build my own schedule. I am not getting paid, after all. In the end, I am paying, so let that give me the freedom it is worth.
My dog slides through the darkness in a scratchstorm of nails on laminate. Before dawn, I've already read a piece in The New Republic that necessitates changing the parameters of my thesis. When I sit down at my desk, my bum is cold, and I must come to terms with a hole in my pants.
I leave my consciousness. What setting should I put my mom character in? I think balls, and visualize a ball-pit, then a batting cage. I launch a maelstrom into my character's airspace and give myself an hour to help her juggle. A battle ensues. We use sports metaphors, reminding each other we are on the same team, that our differences only make us stronger. I will win for I have language; she only has balls.
I send a scary email and move on to some more menial tasks. I walk the cat through the yard and organize last night's dishes for an eventual bath. I brush my teeth and try to think of something important. Why the balls, I wonder. Is it serious enough?
I've minimized the number of things I check when I sit down again. I'm at one thing, though some days it can be upwards of six things. Checking satisfies but is also due to an ineffectual habitual need to control, which I give in to without much of it. The person has not emailed back, obviously. The way the animals look at me when I work is surely a projection.
I run seven and a half kilometres with a friend who is doing her PhD in chemistry. She tells me she placed her bike inside and rides it using an app that does a better simulation of the world than the world itself: wind, smells, sounds, all in her apartment! Running on cobblestones last spring she asked herself, "Is this really what cobblestones feel like?"
In Zoom class, a student asks us to think: "How does what you bring to the room take away from other people?" Similarly, my friend has posted on Instagram: "Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space." Since everything is now entirely conceptual, I pay even closer attention to my role within a group. I try to make my face the same size as everyone else's, and to talk half the amount of the person who talks the most. I wonder if other people willy-nilly poke in and out of virtual spaces without thinking or feeling their own presence?
Time remains important to me in this new world. I use it to cut myself off and to push myself along. I also manipulate sound (finish the album before...), food and drink (half an apple at least), and objects (finish the paragraph before scrolling). I am someone who needs cut-offs more often than reboots, though I sometimes use the world as a destination, or a capsule. I am not someone who needs a schedule; a finely-tuned list of tasks will do.
A fellow student emails to ask if I sent that scary email, which is just a shyly-worded request to the program coordinator seeking previously-offered feedback on an application for a scholarship for which she encouraged us to apply. A different student is typing on a Google Doc we share. I write "Hello!" then I write "I can see you!" The student keeps typing, and it is clear to me they do not notice or understand the energy I bring to this space. I email the first student to say "Sorry, I did send that email!"
After dinner and a show my partner and I creep back to our computers. I am writing a paper in which I analyze the shape of my thoughts in my notebook from this term and map the shape on to the time and place in which the notebook was written. This will help me create the rules for an auto-fiction story I will subsequently write. In the story I am someone who tries not to forget she is self-employed, doing all this for herself, paying to be free.
Véronique Darwin is an MFA candidate in Guelph's Creative Writing program, with a focus on fiction as well as stage and screenwriting. She lives in Toronto and was longlisted for Split/Lip Press’s 2020 Fiction Chapbook Contest and The Fiddlehead’s 2018 short fiction contest. You can find her published work in Geist, Existere and the Black Bear Review.
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