Better Living Through Verbs

I used to fantasize about spending the summer living with a half-dozen friends in an airy clapboard house in a sleepy town somewhere in New England or upstate New York, where we’d all have incidental part-time jobs that we never went to, and we’d put old tea towels in the windows for curtains, and we’d spend afternoons on the huge, wide, screened-in porch drinking beer, half-naked, dozing, with Willa Cather novels folded on our laps as the sun barely moved.

I used to think it would be a nice life working behind the counter in an independent bookstore, the kind that had a cat napping in the window.

I used to think it would be great to spend a summer waiting tables on the Cape, or Fire Island, where my only responsibilities would be making cash and getting a tan.

I used to get crushes on nonverbal carpenters and line cooks and awkward tomboys in bands who made crafts. I fell almost in love once, six states away, with a rootless, Dumpster-diving ambient musician who rarely bathed and wrote me anguished typewritten letters on paper bags.

All of which is to say, again, that I seem to have become a Grown-up in the last 12 months.

I turned 25, already having fallen in love with a man 10 years older;

I got a job that entitles me to both a pension and a dizzying amount of authority; I can silence a teenager with a glance; I have developed peripheral radar that allows me to scold someone while facing the other direction.

My expenses are painstakingly transcribed in a series of spreadsheets; the first section I grab when we get the Sunday Times is Real Estate, even if a down payment is years and years away.

I wear the same pair of hip but sensible, not-cheap jeans every day; my sleek but sensible boots are waterproof and cost over $200; I turned down a free haircut from my best friend and paid for a professional one, and it’s more classic than hip. Somewhere between mid-party costume changes at Hampshire and becoming a school teacher, I stopped performing my identity. It no longer seems important to affect the perfect balance of Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby, mid-century sailors, Dorian Gray, and the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. Not that I was very good at it, anyway.

At work, I notice the students who stand out for their turned-up collars or distinctive corduroy jackets or matching green Chuck Taylors and polo shirts, the ones with locks or Afros, the ones who reinvent ghetto-fabulous by way of Angela Davis and indie rock and preppy 80s hip outfits, and I remember how fun it was to dress up.

But letting go of it seems to fall in line with everything else I’ve been loosening my grip on, from identity politics and first impressions to cute, impractical clothes. It’s like I tell my students when they write essays: Write with the verbs, lose the adjectives. Write the action; don’t slow down by describing it. Cut to the damn chase.

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