In my last entry here, I had left my huge letter boxes up on my bookshelf in my small Oakland apartment; as they were once on a bookshelf in my small New York apartment, and then in my Pennsylvania apartment when I moved there with my new husband in 1965, and then back to New York when he finally got his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and I was finally able to go for my MFA at Columbia, to a larger apartment, a more posh apartment, the apartment that neither of us had dreamed of but about which we had both compromised.
It was a classic four, I think, in the terminology of New York real estate, overlooking the long grim grayness of West End Avenue, (no riv vu), midway between Columbia where I studied and NYU where he taught. Neither of us was really happy but both of us were dazzled by the space and luxury of it; hardwood floors, elevator men, mirrors in the hallway, a black-and-white checkered kitchen, and at last, at leaset, a room of my own for my writing, the desk merely a plank between two file cabinets decorated with lounging cats and yet another electric typewriter -- I think this one and a million books lining the walls. I worked on what would later be my first published novel, The Second Story Man." he worked on books about urban planning with an architect friend (which got published long before mine did), and we compromised a lot, entertaining his family and my friends and his colleagues and my classmates, together, separately, never quite content, never quite unhappy enough to do anything about it.
I loved Columbia. Ilhad already written a number of novels all of which had managed to be enormously long and unreadable or which got lost in friend's apartments and disappeared. But the LETTERS did not disappear; they sat staunchly on my bookshelves, unread, no attention paid to them, while first an essay, then a story, then something else and something else and something else, got published and little by little I crawled toward becoming a writer. A real writer, not one of these people to whom others say (with a certain condescension), "Oh, so you want to be a writer," as if you have just announced that you were born with a birth defect.
After Dahlberg left Columbia, not quite a casualty of the 1968 strike but not quite immune to it either, I was given another teacher: a large, pragmatic and busy man named Richard Elman, who was a good writer of a completely different kind. No sterling phrases for him; no paragraphs like the mosaics in the Blue Mosque. Good workmanship, a sense of humor, largeness. He had a beautiful wife and a tiny daughter. He had a troubled life. He did a lot for me; pinning me to the page, making me revise and revise and revise, not automatically liking everything (or really anything) I wrote but instilling in me the work habits which have lasted for a lifetime, and helped my work go forth and multiply.
I no longer had time to add to my huge cartons of letters. But somehow I knew that I would always have them; that would always be part of my life.
Fast forward, now: the marriage has ended in a puddle of gravy; the big West End Avenue classic four has gone to some luckier couple; I moved down to the village and fell in love with a fey charming Englishman who played the violin and called me "Mim." We lived together and it was with him, in upstate New York, that I met the man who became my spiritual teacher, Dr. R.P. Kaushik, and allowed my life to take a completely different course from the one which I had intended.
So I did not end up a sharp New York writer with a great teaching job and decent workmanlike husband and a cool apartment which I had bought for a song in the 60s on the top floor of a gorgeous East Village brownstone, and a bevy of fascinating friends all connected to the literary world. I did not end up like that, which I might even have preferred; instead I gave away my things and stored my books and papers and tearfully left my cat with the lover who called me "Mim" (with whom she bonded and lived happily ever after, biting me -- hard -- the next time she saw me years later) -- and I ended up in Northern California on a spiritual commune in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rigid vegetarians who thought that the word "writer" was a euphemism for ne'er-do-well poseur. And where I learned, to everyone's amazement, even my own, roughly a million different things about life in which I had never even been interested before and about which I never expected to find out. Like how to sew baby clothes on an old Singer sewing machine; how to make tofu and cook chapattis on a pan without burning them; how to soothe pain by cupping it under my palms; how to listen to nothing and hear it sing.
But enough about that. This episode is about my box of LETTERS, whih still sits on my shelf.
To be continued.
But more of that later.
The LETTERS did not go with me. They were placed