Dispatches | September 27, 2008
Case of the Missing Sense of Purpose
It’d been one of those days when my mind was like a personal check from a grad student: unlikely to clear. I stepped outside to give it a try nonetheless.
I left my office and walked across campus toward the little coffeeshop in the library, figuring that if the stroll didn’t do the trick, a couple doses of caffeine might. Plus, maybe I’d pick up a lead on the case of how little coffeeshops keep popping up in libraries — a trail that had gone cold on me weeks ago.
Speaking of weeks ago, I’d been thinking about a blog I’d read on Brevity back in August. It’d been reposted from fiction writer Blake Butler’s site and had given a suggestion for how to deal with the piles of submissions that arrive each day.
“The flood comes strong,” Butler had written. “Stand in the flood.”
That’s why I was out on this stroll, though. I’d been trying to stand in the flood, but it felt like the flood was standing in me.
Or at least the flood was part of it. More than that, though, this was the kind of day when everything seemed futile — thinking, reading, solving a coffeeshop conspiracy theory — all of it. It was the kind of day when you think oh, what’s the point but it has a period instead of a question mark. Optimism had been a guest in the hotel I manage that day, but had checked out and stolen all the room towels; I knew deep down those towels were gone.
Two students walked toward me on the sidewalk — a guy and a gal. No telling whether they were going steady, or friends, or brother and sister. I’m not sure which I’d rather they have been —friends, I guess.
As they got close, the guy pointed and said something that confirmed my worst fears. Clearly, he wasn’t on a campus tour. This student had been around for a while, and what his question verifed for me was that people don’t even read — don’t even know where to go to get books! and that effort put forth by everyone in the publishing chain from author to editor to printer to distributor is largely wasted.
I had a dark moment of the soul.
But as the two students and I passed each other, the gal crossed her arms, and I heard her say something that lifted my curtain of dread. She was angry — disgusted! — and I was proud for her, though I had never seen her before.
She scowled, crossed her arms, and stood in a flood of his ignorance. It was inspiring!
I wanted to tap her shoulder and say,
“Listen, I appreciate what you just did. Thank you on behalf of the library, with which I am not affiliated, as well as on behalf of The Missouri Review, with which I am affiliated, although not in such a way that I am authorized to speak for it in an official capacity, so forget I mentioned that part.
“Anyway, I know this bozo here probably guesses The Missouri Review has something to do with musical theater, but I’m willing to bet you would enjoy reading it if you don’t already. You can even access it on Project Muse in the library you just pointed out to said bozo.”
But I didn’t say that to the gal. Or anything, for that matter. I figured it’d be creepy, and that she probably already had her hands full educating the guy on the functions of other enormous and vital campus structures. Just as well, I thought.
Besides, I had my own flood to go stand in.
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