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2005-05-07 - 5:10 p.m.

It's true, I started a temp job last week and I'm reminded again of how much I dislike offices. Also, it's amazing, really, how much waking up at 7 am affects my body. Makes me tired. When I was at the newspaper, we didn't have to be there until 9, and that works much better.

But I get to ride my bike there (the office ladies can't get over this; it's like they're learning that I was born with hands where my feet were supposed to be) and that helps a lot. It's been unseasonably cool here. My first day there, a guy walked in and sat down in the lobby, one of those plush chairs with real estate trade magazines on the coffee table in front of him. We didn't say anything for a few minutes, and I felt as if I should say hello, and I did, and I asked about his accent. He was from Louisiana and he and his wife had recently moved here. He's in the Navy.

"But I don't like this state," he said.
"Virginia? Why's that?"
"Too cold," he said.
It was chilly for early May, but still about 65 degrees and sunny. "Funny," I said. "I always thought it was hot and steamy here."
"Where are you from?"
He laughed. "I guess it would seem hot and steamy, then."
He didn't mean any malice, he just wanted to be back home, I think. I found out later he was about to go on a six month assignment out to sea, maybe Iraq, though I didn't ask but should have. Navy people call them "cruises."

I'm grading my students' final portfolios/exams today, wrapping up. The first one I read, by this girl who's talented way beyond 21 years, was really good. Inspired me. I actually wrote a note on my hand, something to remind me about one of my own stories, I liked it so much. Her story's about a boy who's just been drafted for Vietnam and the girl who stays at home and feels guilty about not writing him more letters. To deal with her guilt, to avoid it but in the end to express it, she plays classical music, especially Bach. She called her story "Revolutionary Etude." After I read it, I sent her an email saying she she should consider starting an MFA program. I hope she takes me up on it. And she's not got that thing many very young, talented writers have, that bombast masking the fragile ego.

And, Frank Conroy's memoir "Stop-Time." Holy balls, it's good. I'm so glad it's not a woe-is-me story. Sure, his childhood was strange and vaguely bad, but it all serves as backdrop, not catalyst for story. The catalyst is character teased out by good fucking writing, really good exposition that's actually a 40-year-old man interpreting a 13-year-old's thoughts but he does it so seamlessly and consistently that the ruse of that imposed older wisdom never becomes apparent. I've decided, I think, after reading Augusten Burroughs' memoir, that I'm only going to read good memoirs from now on. Four or five memoirs, say, and then a good novel. I should probably read "Madame Bovary" or "Moby-Dick," some epic, dusty masterpiece where the story can't get in the way of the timbers and nails because the story's too epic and dusty.

And, the best thing about temp jobs is the stealing of postage. This place has a postage machine. Everyone I know may be getting letters next week. Actual, blood-and-bone letters. Sprang.

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