At the beginning of my NEA Fellowship, I worked as a temp. For my first assignment, I subbed for the switchboard operator at a local call center. At this point in the story, people usually say “I’m sorry, that sounds like the worst job in the world.” And it does — it totally does sound like the worst job in the world. In reality, it was actually kind of awesome. Though our relationship was at first strained, the telephone and I soon got along famously. My co-workers were kind and supportive and wonderful, even though they knew I’d only be in their lives for a few weeks.
And there’s something about that, too. Temping is a bit like working as a ghost. People aren’t used to seeing you in the lunchroom or by the busiest Keurig or in the Subway down the street, chowing down on a Veggie Delight. Working as a ghost may sound terrible, but it’s a terrific blessing for a writer or for anyone who likes to eavesdrop, really.
There was a lot to listen to, too. That month, all of the TV and radio stations buzzed with the search for a missing teenage girl, who quickly became the subject of almost every conversation I overheard. No matter where I went, people worked through the details shared on the news, creating their own narrative. When it was revealed that she was traveling with her teacher, the details sometimes turned sinister — and, more often than not, they turned against the girl, transforming her from pitiful victim to predatory vixen.
In the lulled moments between tidal waves of incoming calls, I started putting together a poem about her story, about the ways in which she shifted and changed in characterization until it wasn’t — it couldn’t have been — her story anymore. I’m very lucky to say that that poem, “Amber Alert,” ended up in one of my favorite journals, The Shallow Ends. That link will take you to the main page, where a single poem appears every week. My poem is here, in the archives, if you’d like to visit it, too.
Also, I’ve got some pretty major news coming up, folks. As Rachel Maddow would say, watch this space.