People With KnapsacksPrint
By Phillip Lopate
June 17, 2016
People with Backpacks
I hate people with backpacks. They stop mid-step in front of me, and I can’t get around them. They thwack me in the subway when I’m not looking, and don’t even know they’re doing it; they have lost all consciousness of their body perimeters, like whales. They block me from holding on to the pole. They feel entitled, apparently. You would think these clumsy sacks, round or rectangular but always expandable, contained some precious cargo, such as lost Goethe manuscripts, emerald necklaces, or the future Dalai Lama. But I doubt it. Ostensibly the rationale for them is that they place less strain on the back muscles than carrying a tote bag or attaché case. I don’t even want to enter into the perspective of people with knapsacks, or God forbid, sympathize with them to any extent. I simply want to hate them. May carbuncles afflict them interminably.
How I Write
I don’t write standing up like Hemingway.
I don’t write in bed like Proust.
I don’t write on Benzedrine like Kerouac.
I don’t write in the early hours like Celine, who suffered from insomnia.
I don’t write every day like Trollope.
I don’t write all dressed up like Keats.
I don’t write with the scent of fermenting apples in a nearby drawer like Schiller.
I don’t write agonizingly as if opening a vein like Ralph Ellison.
I don’t write longhand anymore, except in my diaries.
I don’t write only when I have inspiration.
I don’t write only for money (pace Dr. Johnson).
I don’t write after sex (but I do sometimes turn on the TV and watch the late news).
The Things I Don’t Write About
The things that I do not write about were one day collecting in the closet and having a conversation. “Why do you think he never writes about us? Is it because we sound funny? No, that’s not it. Is it because we’re too slow that we can’t even jump into the fellow’s inkbottle when he’s dousing his pen? Is it because we’re too dull to be noticed? Too freckled speckled walleyed whatever? Or is it, do you suppose, because we’re too important to let us into the game this early? He’s saving us, that’s what!” And so they sat cheerfully unannounced the rest of their days.
Phillip Lopate is director of Columbia University's nonfiction program, editor of The Art of the Personal Essay, and author of Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body, and To Show and to Tell, among other books.
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