Eliezra Schaffzin, 1/16/2011
Current Occupation: Unemployed Writer
Former Occupation: College writing instructor; bookstore shelver; house manager for regional theater; concessions and box office attendant for independent movie theaters; soap opera intern; public radio intern; convenience store cashier; landscaping laborer; clothing salesperson; administrative assistant; library assistant; personal assistant; editorial assistant; backup singer for demo tapes for songs for children’s television; pizza maker; translator of legal documents; writing tutor; high school substitute teacher; holiday basket assembler for beauty supply franchise; bar mitzvah tutor; freelance journalist; hotel waitress; babysitter; dogsitter; housesitter; barn mucker; fruit picker. Among other careers.
Contact Information: I spent the past ten years teaching writing classes at Harvard University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Right now I’m engaged in an attempt to “emerge” — I’ve published fiction and nonfiction with AGNI Online, Word Riot, and Barrelhouse, and more is forthcoming with PANK and the UK-based Sein und Werden. While part of me is emerging, the rest of me is submerged in a novel-in-progress, a work of magic, seduction, and the early-American department store. My “author page” seems to be emerging of its own accord at www.schaffzin.com/eliezra.
La Fruta del Diablo
I’m sitting in my armchair, purchased at the Salvation Army for times like these: in-between-story times, when I’m neither at work nor away from work but merely sitting, waiting for what will come next. It’s springtime at last, and I can see a small band of marchers down on the sidewalk, waving flags, a lackluster drummer trailing behind them. They’re celebrating May Day. Alongside them wobble two bike cops, a blue colon introducing a red exclamation mark. They pass through the frame of my fifth-floor window, and, out of sight, they’re out of mind. I settle into the species of silence that characterizes my street: birds chirping, cars trundling past, an occasional child’s shout, and that computerized male voice the city buses feature, the one that announces every cross-street on the route. I’ve been outside today, on a walk to the post office, where I shipped a half-dozen stories to literary journals. This is a complicated process, since I must purchase the postage for each story’s journey away from home, and its journey back again. I try to approach a new, unwitting postal clerk on each visit, but this winter, I was funneled repeatedly to the same quiet man with a name-tag reading CHONG loosely affixed to his USPS-issue cardigan. Again today, on the first of May, I found myself opposite Chong, and could only smile sheepishly: “I’ve got a few more.” This was enough to break the man’s silence. “What are these?” he inquired. I explained: I write fictional stories. I send them to journals I admire (and some I do not), and then I get them back in this kind of envelope. It’s called a SASE. I felt guilty: I’d admitted to Chong that the labor-intensive cause to which he’d been recruited was a hopeless one. Chong shrugged. “In China,” he said, “I did not do the work I do now.” So I asked: what work did he do? “I was a professor of literature,” Chong said. Then he said, “Debit or credit?” Well, I thought, at least he is not a strawberry picker. The work is back-breaking, I’ve heard. Migrant workers call strawberries “fruit of the devil.” Back at home, I went immediately to my chair. The chair is comfortable, very comfortable—this insures, I like to tell myself, that only the most worthy ideas will compel me to get up and write. And so here I sit. I look at the rug that lies on my floor, filling the divide between armchair and writing desk. A thought comes to me: if I stand up and lift the rug, I will find something precious underneath. It will be my dog, Kai, who will run to the door, gesturing with her snout, asking to go out into the spring air. But Kai is dead; she died last May. The old stories I sent out at the time—having found that in grief, the numbing bureaucracy of the submissions process was more palatable than writing itself—have long since returned to me in their self-addressed envelopes. I shift, almost imperceptibly, in my chair. The birds chirp. It is strawberry season again.