December 12, 2015

Grace Bauer

REVISING MY VITA

Life should be a novel, not a resume.
—Dave Toomey

I’m trying to get the years to justify
along the right-hand column of the page,
to sum up my accomplishments concisely
in neat lists that spell success, make progress
apparent at a glance. It’s a strange brand of fiction,
this genre, in which chapters are reduced
to paragraphs, decades to mere lines.
The narrative
leaves out joy and pain, love and loss—
all the spaces between events deemed pertinent
to this plot we call the profession. Tradition demands
we maintain the illusion our actions will always
continue to rise. The very possibility of denouement
must be scrupulously (or un) avoided. And as for climaxes,
well, the less said about extracurricular activities,
the happier most colleagues are.
Character is best left
sketchy, defined by doing, since evidence
of an inner life is considered extraneous to the point.
What is required is exposition reduced to outline—
all the intended reader has interest in or time for.
In fact, one will often be asked to edit the story
down to less than bare bones—three pages max
I was asked for just last year.
But the version
I am fleshing out now is, supposedly, the full one,
and I’ve finally got my categories straight:
teaching and research and service lined-up like
dutiful soldiers prepared for parade or battle—
I’m not sure which. My headings are tabbed in.
In CAPS. In BOLD. I eye this representation
of myself scrolling down my pc screen.
That’s me,
all right—or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Me, with a tidy, organized past. Me, with memories
selected to leave out detours and diversions.
It’s a story sans heart—that ambiguous antagonist
that always lays herself too wide open to critique,
her messy text too easy to deconstruct.

I print
the document that bears my name and scan
for correctable errors, knowing life is a course
of study I’ll never really be sure
I have passed. Until I have.

from Rattle #18, Winter 2002
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