Writers on Writing #109: Matt Fogarty
14 Floors: On Walking and Writing and Progress
I recently started a new job. This, after three years of MFA and another year of occasional employment while finishing a book and hoping for a job not in an office, a job that might allow me time for myself and for my writing. This job is not that. It's an office job and involves empty friendly phrases like "Doing anything fun this weekend?" and "I'll have to circle back to you on that." My first day, they handed me a cell phone so I'd be within reach at all times. Which is to say I've been aching these first months of full employment—joyous and fortunate employment insofar as it is gainful—for things (objects, ideas, moments, words) of my own.
The job is in the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit on the 24th floor of one of the towers on the river. The tower elevators were built at the outside edge of the building and are paned with glass. Each morning, I look out over the river as I rise, at whatever's crossing, and at Canada, the most distinctive landmark being the bright red sign for the Caesar's Palace.
Most days involve little real walking, little of anything really purposeless or aimless. I go to meetings, I go to the bathroom, I go to a colleague to ask a question like, "Doing anything fun this weekend?" I slip downstairs for a quick lunch and maybe again for an afternoon coffee if I feel like skipping the 24th floor's Town Commons, where they keep the vending machines and the Keurig. I have a parking space in a garage four blocks up the river. I wear a badge with my picture on it. One day I left the badge in my car, didn't realize until I'd already walked the four blocks. I was scolded by the security guard at the front desk.
After four years of teaching and workshopping and writing at home—often in my underwear—it's been an adjustment. Not to mention, I'm working at the same company for which my father worked more than 40 years. A company that didn't treat him well. A job he hated. A job he didn't want to do, wished he didn't need to do. He worked in the same building, in fact, the same tower, except that his office was on the 10th floor. I don't know whether this lends me credibility in the workplace. Some days I wonder whether this is some measure of progress, these 14 floors.
I know I can do the day job and my writing job—my real job—all in the same day. It just requires work. And maybe that's why I long for the writing community, why I'm trying to build that community in my new home, to continue to learn from others and to continue to teach myself what hard work really is and how hard it is to observe in the detailed way that feeds good writing.
Every morning and every evening I walk four blocks along the riverfront between the parking garage and the building. There are faster routes. There's a shuttle bus. But instead I walk and every day, every time, I'm fascinated by how the landscape has changed. Not the river; the river is always more or less the same. Sometimes it shimmers, sometimes it's heavy with boat. But the street next to the river: the street changes. One weekend there was a carnival. For four days, I watched them set it up, watched them raise—in an occasional way like a time lapse—the fences, the rides, the stages, the ticket booths and the midway, the entrances and exits.
Monday morning, it was gone. All of it. They must have torn it all down in the night. What had taken them four days to erect had come down in a matter of hours, the crew and the rides and their everything on the way to some next where. There were two dumpsters on the side of the street filled nearly full with trash bags and temporary fixtures and wood. Next to one of the dumpsters—close enough to make me think it had been intended for the bin, that somebody missed—there was a pint-sized glass bottle, Crown Royal, empty. Tuesday, the dumpsters were gone and Tuesday evening, traffic was unusually heavy, what with a holiday weekend approaching and most people getting out early, getting a start on vacation, on getting wherever it was they were going, wherever they really wanted to go.
Matthew Fogarty is the author of Maybe Mermaids and Robots are Lonely (George Mason University’s Stillhouse Press 2016). He has an MFA from the University of South Carolina, where he was editor of Yemassee, and he is Co-Publisher at Jellyfish Highway Press. His fiction has appeared in Fourteen Hills, PANK, Smokelong Quarterly, and Midwestern Gothic. He can be found online at www.matthewfogarty.com and on Twitter at @thatmattfogarty.