I am working three days a week at a small farm-to-table restaurant, waiting tables and cooking. I am more excited about this than my coworkers — they want to make money, I suppose; I want to make food. I like staying on my feet, moving between the indoor and the outdoor tables, and being able to do many different things. I like walking to and home from work, even on 88-degree days with 98% humidity. I like being a part of people’s experiences with farm-fresh, local food; being the intermediary between farmer and chef, the voice that tells the eater where their food comes from, what’s in it, how it’s grown, and why that matters. And I think it matters what people think about what they’re eating: it matters that they are interested, it matters that they made the choice to eat there instead of at a chain, and it matters that they leave the restaurant thinking just a little bit about the plants and animals they ate during their meal.
I am working four days a week tutoring undergraduates in writing — mostly first-years in Expository, but also older students in Research in the Disciplines, Business and Technical Writing, and ESL. I’ve done this before and I enjoy it; I like the writing center and I surprise myself by liking working with students, too. And helping them write helps me write. I don’t move as much here as I do when I’m serving, but I walk back and forth between an empty office on the third floor and my students’ study areas on the second floor. We practice minimalist tutoring at the writing center, which means I spend a lot of time not with the students while they work on exercises I think up for them. There’s a lounge for the tutors on this floor, but I like having a space to myself, and nobody ever walks up to the third floor. My favorite minutes at the writing center occur on dark, November evenings when most of the staff has gone home and I get to push in all the chairs and turn off all the lights, and lock the door behind me.
Today, my coworker Adriel asks me why I majored in English and I have a Wikipedia-bio answer for him: since I was six, I loved reading more than anything else. I grew up not in New Jersey but in the world of stories, first because I was a kid and that’s what kids do, and then, I think, because those worlds weren’t quite as scary as my own. I read stories and watched stories until my junior year of high school, when I realized I could write them, too.
These days, I tell him, I find it hard to read; I can’t get past how very fiction fiction seems to be. I read a lot of nonfiction and I try to remember that writing is an abstraction of intellect more than anything else.
Nine days ago I sat in the departures terminal at the Oslo Airport in Gardermoen and decided I would thenceforth live in my head. I haven’t really told most people that I am home. My mother sits in the living room with me and reads her book. I know she wants to be near me, but it is hard for me to want to be near anyone.