Portia sits at a small desk under an open window and looks at clouds, cumulus pillows that flash by too quickly to personify. She sips coffee, black. She is thinking about writing, but she is not writing. There will come a time, she thinks. Full stop. Trite, she mussitates. I’m warning you. You only have three months to finish this damn thing. The damn thing is her dissertation. Sheets of paper and piles of papers and open books and piles of books with yellow stickies popping out tops and sides clutter the desk. She sits before a 10.5 by 8.5 spiral notebook, open to a blank page. A laptop is open, askew, on the bed beside the desk.
You should. Stop. You could work on the parts you know and worry later about the background literature. OK. But what parts do I know? Thinking stops the writing. I think too much. Stop. Portia practices thought-stopping, taught by a non-too bright cognitive behavioral therapist she saw years ago, the only one her insurance would pay for. At least she didn’t kill herself during that god-awful year, perhaps that’s a measure of success. Although she is certain that the therapist—her name was Alice—and not only Alice, but a whole string of therapist that she saw, sometimes more than one at a time, all killed off one or more of her facets, her personas. I’m still crazy after all. Stop. No don’t stop, it’s an acceptable thought.
Crazy is the wrong word, she reminds herself. But it is a perfectly good word, has the right amount of zing to it. Everyone knows what it means. Sort of. Pessoa published very little while alive. Another parallel? Damn it, why didn’t I go for the MFA in creative writing instead of this useless PhD in interdisciplinary studies? She wonders for the millionth (billionth?) time if we aren’t all crazy, that is, crazy in the same way as Fernando Pessoa, meaning containing many distinct and unrelated personalities within fighting for expression. She thinks so, certainly it is true for her. But. Stop.
There are too many distractions eating up time. The coffee turns lukewarm, and then room temperature. The sky has clouded over, its blueness erased. It’s chilly. She thinks about whether to put on a sweatshirt or close the window. She does neither. Instead, she lays her body back down onto the bed thinking the thought is grammatically perfect. Her body is an object that she puts here or there, lays down or picks up, rubs and scratches mindlessly. It is separate, in a very Cartesian way, from her mind. And not only that, she wonders why she didn’t study poetry instead of literature as an undergrad. She likes, well she has no idea really, but she thinks she likes the poetry people better. It sucks, this program, having no one to talk to. But then, talking about poetry spoils poetry, doesn’t it?
A new cup of coffee, very strong, very black. She’s seen the poetry people at the writing conferences she’s been to, tracking herself into the non-fiction stream, tributary perhaps, running alongside fiction and poetry without quite merging and certainly not flowing along at the same tempo. She is dull, she knows it, not inside, but in appearance, in facial expression, in corpus; she lacks exuberance and jokey levity, the cachet of spicy interaction. Dull, dull, dull. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Stop.
The truth is she doesn’t want the chatter. It changes her, brings out a loud-mouth East Coast bitch (Shall we say Jew? She is a Jew.), living precariously in the Northwest, someone not really interested in what anyone else has to say. There have always been problems—with family, relationships, jobs. She writes it off to a sling of clichés—people either like me or not, their choice, it’s all the same, it takes time, I give a poor first impression so few take to me, I have a few good, hard-earned friends. Etc., etc. One morning she has a coffee-sputtering satori. I’m always thinking people don’t like me, but the truth is, the underlying context is, I don’t like people. I really just don’t like people. Stop.