Not Me?

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I’ve been nervous. In two months’ time my luck runs out: my fellowship comes to an end, and though I’ve scattered applications for adjunct teaching, fellowships, jobs, and residencies all over the country, I fear that in the next few weeks I’ll receive only slender white envelopes of narrow rejection in return. A flurry of them, like so many SASEs from those literary journal submissions I also scatter around the country when I’m feeling plucky. Yes, the life I have chosen is one of rejection, hustling, and cobbling together work. I get it. I work hard, and I’m always looking for more work, but sometimes the phishing scams masquerading as jobs on Craigslist get me down. I’m one of those people who needs health insurance, and I don’t really want to leave my little attic apartment with built-in bookshelves and pockets of quiet and big south-facing kitchen windows. Just a couple of nights ago, at a taquería with my sister and a friend, I suddenly became overwhelmed by the noisy terror of the future, the student loans, the credit card bills, the prospect of arriving in a new town alone and staying there alone, the financial inadequacy of full-time retail plus part-time food service industry, I turned to a table of children squealing at an Ipad and, get this, shushed them.

The next morning I walked along the Pacific Ocean with the friend, another writer on her way to something new, and we spoke of entrusting ourselves to our own lives. We decided to give the universe no choice but to align in some way. The applications are out there, waiting to transform into substance, and no matter what, we know how to work. Soft rosy water puddled up in the light, and in the sand, seabird wings lay half-buried and a hermit crab died without dignity. I was still ashamed for silencing the children’s joy. My friend observed that the scrubby tops of the hills, their gentle descent into the sea, looked like the crumbs on top of a coffeecake. So perfectly plain an image. I thought of that Eileen Myles, whose words on the writer-hustle I guess I’d already been thinking of anyway.

In her “poet’s novel,” Inferno, Eileen Myles writes about the various jobs she takes on to offset the cost of life: selling counterfeit subway slugs, mild prostitution, and my favorite, picking apples in upstate New York. This last episode is perhaps the most demoralizing: Myles calculates, in her casual way, that the job costs her more money than she earns doing it. After she’s taken a bus upstate and paid for a hotel room and a pack of cigarettes, and found that she has to buy herself dinner, she’s out the money she’s made picking up bruised dropped apples and sorting them in baskets. She calls the chapter “Drops.” Losses cut.

In an interview with Autostraddle, Myles said:

“I often think about what my girlfriend said (which is on a napkin on my bulletin board over my desk) when she wondered “how palatable will women have to make themselves as artists in this depression.” It’s a depression the size of the world and we fill it by thinking about it I believe.”

That evening my sister and friend and I ate more burritos and read poems from Not Me aloud. I let Myles’s declarative sentences, rough and unmeasured by commas, land in the room like the contents of a pocket emptied on a coffee table–keys, change, wallet, dust–necessary, daily objects. Myles’s words didn’t tamp down my worry, but I think they articulated my fears in the voice I needed to hear. We read “Peanut Butter” twice, just because it’s so good. Rejection, uncertainty, fear–these things are tough. But Peter Pan brand peanut butter–and other cheap pleasures–are pretty good. Myles reassures us that we aren’t imagining it: we are humans with hungry needs, taking tiny steps in the path of the Sun. No big deal. Take the ride, Myles tells us. Let’s get right down to it:

Peanut Butter

I am always hungry

& wanting to have

sex. This is a fact.

If you get right

down to it the new

unprocessed peanut

butter is no damn

good & you should

buy it in a jar as

always in the

largest supermarket

you know. And

I am an enemy

of change, as

you know. All

the things I

embrace as new

are in

fact old things,

re-released: swimming,

the sensation of

being dirty in

body and mind

summer as a

time to do

nothing and make

no money. Prayer

as a last re-

sort. Pleasure

as a means,

and then a

means again

with no ends

in sight. I am

absolutely in opposition

to all kinds of

goals. I have

no desire to know

where this, anything

is getting me.

When the water

boils I get

a cup of tea.

Accidentally I

read all the

works of Proust.

It was summer

I was there

so was he. I

write because

I would like

to be used for

years after

my death. Not

only my body

will be compost

but the thoughts

I left during

my life. During

my life I was

a woman with

hazel eyes. Out

the window

is a crooked

silo. Parts

of your

body I think

of as stripes

which I have

learned to

love along. We

swim naked

in ponds &

I write be-

hind your

back. My thoughts

about you are

not exactly

forbidden, but

exalted because

they are useless,

not intended

to get you

because I have

you & you love

me. It’s more

like a playground

where I play

with my reflection

of you until

you come back

and into the

real you I

get to sink

my teeth. With

you I know how

to relax. &

so I work

behind your

back. Which

is lovely.


is out of control

you tell me &

that’s what’s so

good about

it. I’m immoderately

in love with you,

knocked out by

all your new

white hair


why shouldn’t


I have always

known be the

very best there

is. I love

you from my


starting back

there when

one day was

just like the

rest, random

growth and

breezes, constant

love, a sand-

wich in the

middle of


a tiny step

in the vastly


path of

the Sun. I

squint. I

wink. I

take the


Eileen Myles, “Peanut Butter” from Not Me, published by Semiotext(e). Copyright © 1991 by Eileen Myles. Not Me

Image: Robert Mapplethorpe

2 thoughts on “Not Me?”

  1. Isabel says:

    This is beautiful. There’s much to fear ahead, but the work, the real work of writing and reading, will move us through it. Thanks for this.

    1. Gina Balibrera says:

      Thank you so much for reading, Isabel. The work moves us through it: indeed, it must!

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