I started writing poetry again back in March. I was walking through Northside library on Rio Rd. when I saw an announcement sitting atop a waist high shelf. It was a call for poems — a competition to be more precise — from WriterHouse, a Charlottesville-based writing community with a physical location on 508 Dale Avenue.
“Why not?” I thought.
A brief, soul crushing history of working in a bagel shop
Though I’ve never stepped in the front door, I’m familiar with WriterHouse. Years ago, after college, when I was searching high and low for a job, I briefly landed at Bodo’s Bagels on Preston Avenue. WriterHouse was literally next door. Working at Bodo’s paid the rent (mostly) and provided a free lunch. Granted, till this day, I won’t eat an everything bagel because I smelled enough garlic and onion flakes at 6 a.m. to last a lifetime.
Graduating college with dreams of being a full-time writer, only to find yourself working at a bagel shop, was soul crushing to say the least. Sure, it was temporary, I told myself. And so, I’d sit on the back stoop at Bodo’s during my measly fifteen minute break eating a ham and cheese on a plain bagel staring at the back entrance of WriterHouse, telling myself that one day I’d just walk over and introduce myself.
“I’m here to write,” I’d say.
But then my break would end, reality would set in, and back into Bodo’s I would go to slice my finger in half like a split hot dog, cutting open a bagel for someone who ordered a lox bagel for breakfast.
Bodo’s has good food (that’s affordable), but man, I fucking hated working at that place. My facial hair grows rather fast, and one morning when I failed to shave a single day (one fucking day!), my manager said something about the millimeter length stubble on my face, then handed me a razor and shaving cream, and pointed to the bathroom. That was the last straw, mainly because I viewed it as an asshole power play more than anything.
Please tell me why you are allowed to grow a 1970’s era porn star mustache, but you can’t have the slightest bit of stubble on your face? Please tell me.
As I stood in the bathroom with Barbasol shaving cream foamed over my face, while the aroma wafted through the air from a guy taking a shit in the stall behind me, I decided, “Fuck this,” walked out, handed my asshole manager his Barbasol and razor, and told him I quit.
“We don’t have enough teammates scheduled today,” he said.
Your problem now, I thought, and left.
Oh, yeah, about the poetry
I hadn’t thought about WriterHouse since that time. It was connected to a rather depressing period in my life, so I pushed it back into my memory as far as it would go.
I also hadn’t written poetry in years, but over the course of 2018, I started doing a lot of activities I hadn’t done consistently over the last decade or so of my life. Activities that reach deep inside me and bring about a level of serenity that, for one reason or another, I had abandoned as I entered my young adult years on into my current age. Activities like shooting basketball on a daily basis (I’m a bit of a basketball junkie if you don’t know me), drawing, taking long walks, and writing for hours at a time.
Poetry is something I’ve always loved. Every morning, I crack open The Flowers of Evil & Paris Spleen, by Charles Baudelaire, and read a single poem. That’s how I start my day.
I’m cheesy like that. I’ve been a hopeless romantic for as long as I can remember, and poetry aligns well with hopeless romantics. Not that all poetry is about unrequited love, of course. The personality type, however, tends to be a good match.
Robert Frost once said, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”
Once at home after returning from Northside, I started writing a poem, with plans to meet the end of March deadline from WriterHouse. I’ve written a few poems over the years, but not many, and in no way how I once did when I’d let the lines and stanzas overtake me like a drug. And, that’s what started to happen the same day I returned from the library.
You may be thinking, “So, what came of the poem? Did you submit it?”
Or, “Who gives a shit about poetry? Tell me more about working a soul crushing job at a bagel shop.”
In short, no, I didn’t submit the poem. I held onto it like a mother holding an infant in her arms. March passed, and I was still playing around with the words, gently rocking the syllables and rhyme schemes back and forth, until calm could be found. It’s finished now, and has been for some time. And, I’ve decided to submit the poem (and some others) to literary journals, and start taking my writing a little more seriously again, and that includes poetry.
Something that writers do is box themselves into genres, and I’d like to rip the cardboard box I’ve placed myself in. If I want to write poetry, I’ll write poetry. If I want to write memoir, I’ll write memoir. If I want to write short stories and fiction, I’ll write short stories and fiction. If I want to write a blog post, I’ll write a blog post. Why limit myself?
Will anyone accept the poem? I guess I’ll find out. If not, well, I’m in good company.
“I’m a failed poet,” William Faulkner once said. “Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”
But what if Faulkner wasn’t a failed poet after all? What if he was a poet like many of us once were that simply gave up?
What’s a dream you once had, and why did you abandon it? Share in the comments below. Soul crushing job stories also welcome.
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Written by Jeffrey Pillow, author of the coming-of-age memoir in progress When the Lights Go Out at 10:16, which you can read on this blog as it’s being written. When the Lights Go Out at 10:16 is a story of growing up in small town America in the 1980’s in a teeny tiny town known as Phenix, in Charlotte County, Virginia. It is a story of life and friendship in the face of terminal cancer. Want to read more blog posts? Visit the blog archive. You can also subscribe to this blog to receive updates of new posts by email.