IT'S 9:15 a.m. On my way to the Library of Congress; I finally got the study desk I was after for over a year.
At the bus stop, waiting for the Silver Spring bus, an old woman with skin like parchment and a face full of lines of story, captures me in conversation. She is obsessed with the subject of autumn. "Have you seen the trees along East-West Highway?" she wants to know. As a matter of fact, I have seen those trees, and they are the healthiest autumning I have seen this year, I tell her. The old woman is pleased by my answer. She comes alive, telling me of long-past New Mexico childhood falls. She must be at least 80 years old.
It seems strange to me that she should speak of nature's time as if it were exactly like that of her own life; utterly changed and not much left of it. A little later, transferring to the subway at Silver Spring, I walk with her, slowly, listening. We sit together, talking.
"Look!" she says.
Trees again, the autumn. Watching the passing riot of colors through the train window, I find myself thinking of the bloom before death, but I don't share my thoughts with my old friend. Instead I recall the blossoming of springtime, which for me is the best of times here and the trees' most glorious.
"Oh yes, it is lovely in the spring, but autumn is my time," the old woman replies.
And somehow, we never get to speak of winter. Tuesday
Today, in the throes of the unemployed blues, I decide to visit my former colleagues at the Institute for the Arts and the Humanities at Dumbarton before I cover the employment agencies.
Tudsday is my employment agency day. Every other Wednesday is my Employment Security Office day, to sign for my check. I'm singing the blues today because the bank refused to cash my checks that I'd waited for these past weeks. Deposit first, they say. Well, another few days of pennilessness should make no great difference.
As I leave the apartment I hear my upstairs neighbor railing at the world and playing musical basketball with an intensity and rhythm that would make the Harlem Globetrotters eat their hearts out. I wish he would take his genius somewhere else.
The autumn is beautiful along East-West Highway, but it is matchless on the Dumbarton campus-Howard Law School. On the edge of the parking lot looking across a valley and out toward Maryland, the trees cluster together, the view is breathtaking. I had forgotten.
Up four flight of stairs to the Institute. I am greeted warmly by Juliette, Harold and Jenny. We talk about Sagala, a new journal in which I have an essay. Sagala, published by the Institute for the Arts and the Humanities, has just come out. After a while Juliette goes off to the law library to finish a piece she is writing, Jenny goes back to the computation of a budget, Harold to a New Directions article on African cosmological ideas which has been absorbing him. I decide to leave. But first Jenny and I walk up to a Chinese restaurant on Connecticut Avenue to have a chat over lunch.
By 2 o'clock, I'm stomping the pavements of the business section of Washington again, walking into buildings, reading their directories, trying to find employment agencies that I have not yet tapped. By 5 o'clock, I am at the Library of Congress browsing through the card catalogues, home by 7:30. My husband is being interviewed by two young men delving into his past life. We go to bed way past midnight after looking at the Benny Hill show. Wednesday
5:15 a.m. As soon as I open my eyes I know that the typewriter will claim me all day long and not just the few token hours that a writer must go through each day to maintain her discipline. I feel the creative juices flowing.
Breakfast: one banana, some nutbutter, a glass of milk and five brewer's yeast tablets blended will make me forget about food for the duration of my thrust. For sharpness: a niacin tablet; for additional good health: vitamin C, and for background music: the blues litany of my upstairs neighbor, (a troubled soul if ever I did hear one), who rails all day long against societal injustices while beating out his musical basketball, with his stereo going full blast. What better inspiration can a writer need?
Julian comes home around 7:30 p.m., just after I have decided to stop for the day. Today is the day he conducts a writer's workshop with the critic Eugenia Collier at Howard. We discuss our tiredness, our day, read a little, look at television at little and watch the Benny Hill show before going to bed. Thursday
This is the first presidential election I am witnessing in the United States. At first I was tempted to say politely to anyone (American) who would listen: "Pardon me for butting in at this juncture, but I would like to make a few observations, get a little illumination . . ."
I soon found out that any observation I might want to make can be put much more graphically where there are huddles of disenchanted Americans -- the Employment Security Office, for example. And those early days in the unemployment lines were most illuminating.
Hence today, on my way to the Library of Congress, I find myself headed for the lines for no reason save to hear how the generally oppresed and the temporarily set back are viewing their world.
I get in my usual line, 4, and pick up on a conversation in progress in line 5.
"The thing is that we get so much of that parodying of life on television . . ." a young man is saying to the woman in front of him, and she quickly cuts in with: "Oh, but it's not only life they parody, they parody death too. Ever watched 'That's Incredible'?"
"Exactly! Right, right. That's right!" The young man, agreeing vigorously, nodding rapidly. I stay with them, moving up with the line, eavesdropping on their conclusions: "You don't know where the parody ends and the truth begins . . . It's all hype . . . the same old bull . . . all that stuff about the hostages' release . . ." I have to quit the line at this point since there is just one person ahead of me and I have no business in it in the first place. It has been a well spent hour.
At the library my browsing leads me to exciting new discoveries: On microfilm, a report of Messrs. Peck and Price, hired by free blacks of Baltimore in 1839 to go to Guyana (then British Guiana) and Trinidad to report on the kind of life they might lead if they migrated to these countries. I also unearth inducements to American blacks to settle in Guyana by the government of Guyana in the latter part of the 19th century. I am so beside myself with joy at finding these crossroads in the terrain of my research, I don't leave the library till they ask me to go, at 8 p.m. Friday
My unemployment checks have cleared at the bank, and it is another beautiful autumn day. These two facts lead to thoughts of winter and my inadequate wardrobe. Coming from a country where the sun shines all year round, I always approach winter shopping reluctantly. It always seems a waste of money to buy clothes that are wearable for just four or five months of the year.
However, as they say, "needs must," and someone has liberated my best sweater, one bought when my circumstances were not as strained as they are at the moment. Hence I find myself in this exclusive little specialty shop today, feasting my eyes on clothes that fit my taste, but not the present state of my budget. I find that my favorite sweater is out of production, this year's version has added touches that make it a little less tasteful than last year's to my mind; I console myself, as I leave it and other temptations hanging there in the little shop.
Downstairs there is not a table available at which to sit and eat a meal. I stop at the bakery shop, order three brownies, start when I'm told the price: 65 cents each. Never again, I swear silently. By 3 o'clock, I am at the library, can't wait to asemble the pieces of the pattern unfolding.
In the elevator going up to deck D, a fellow researcher asks where I'm from when he hears my accent. When I tell him Guyana, he says, "Oh, then you must have known Walter Rodney!" We talk about the assassination of the respected Guyanese political scholar who was blown to bits in Guyana earlier this year. We say goodbye and go to our respective desks. He is an historian doing research on West Africa. At home later, I have a brownie for dessert. It melts in my mouth. I know I'm hooked. Saturday
Chores and more chores. Shopping is the greatest agony. Though I can pass the rows and rows of tempting merchandise on the supermarket shelf these days, without automatically reaching for things I don't want because of the subliminal effect of television ads, I still realize that my taste for good food is like my tast for fine clothes -- far outstripping my budget. Nevertheless, tonight we are having a sumptuous dinner: roast beef, baked potatoes and salad, to celebrate a week well spent. Sunday
5:15 p.m. The paper boy announcing his delivery: a knock on the door, a thud on the floor. I creep out of bed sleepily to lug The Washington Post inside before someone steals it -- after all, it is Sunday.
Later on Julian and I will argue over the sections, Outlook, Style, Parade, Book World, that we always seem to want to read at the same time, though we have all day long in which to read leisurely, and look at "Sunday Morning," and "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation" and the Sunday Movies and the football games and "Sixty Minutes" and . . .