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  • In 1990-'91 I was living in Brooklyn trying to figure out if the world would allow me to be a poet. I was writing my way into many difficult truths about my life so far. I was breathless with excitement about being in the big city and able to go to poetry readings and other cultural events. It was much farther than I had ever thought I'd get.

    I turned 26 while at an artist’s colony in New York where I stayed in the “Philip Roth room.” A 27-year-old fiction writer was upset that she wasn’t the youngest one there and I told her, “Yes, but you are working on the galleys of your second book—I am nobody!” Down the hall in the room once occupied by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath was a fiction writer working on his second book. He was as ignored as I was by the older, more famous folk, and we gave a reading together. He went on to sell millions and offend Oprah.

    I learned at that colony a bit more about the way in which men took each other seriously and saw themselves as forging their great careers together. A Canadian poet stood outside my room and mooned over me. Because he wanted me, I had access to places I otherwise would not have gone. It was all very clear.

    A year later I briefly dated a painter. He had a loft on Broadway where he had lived since the early 1970s, one of those places that take up a whole floor and the battered freight elevator opens directly into the apartment. The giant windows looked out on the building across the street which had gargoyles on the roof. I felt privileged to see that view.

    He had been a poor, struggling painter for decades and then he met an artist who changed his life. This artist was famous for vacuum cleaners and basketballs under Lucite. He told the struggling painter that if he wanted success, he had to act successful. He scoffed at the struggling painter’s torn jeans and T-shirt.

    The painter cleaned up his act. He began wearing designer suits and a bow tie every time he went out in public. Every night he sat in the front window of a restaurant or wine bar in SoHo and drank a glass of champagne. He told me this as he and I sat in the front window of a restaurant in SoHo and drank champagne, and I saw what I knew already—my part in this story.

    He attracted the interest of a gallery owner and of wealthy clients. He made a lot of money. He renovated his loft so that it would be suitable when gallery owners and wealthy clients came to see his work.

    He took me to the opera. He taught me about wines and good food. He taught me about art. He thought I was sweet and impossibly genuine and his favorite thing about me was that I ordered my black leather jacket from the Spiegel catalogue.

    That year, I left New York for the Number One Most Prestigious Creative Writing Fellowship on the west coast, where I learned a lot more about men making their careers together and a lot I hadn't yet known about the meanness of poets, and after a long time of trying to get in, I’ve spent the last six years slowly backing out and finding another way to be.
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