Poetry News

The cubicle is no place of rest for Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

By Harriet Staff

Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz talks at TEDxPhilly about "how you can turn nerdy obsessions into things that can transform your life," but not without working for it. Aptowicz spent eight years working in a cubicle (the same cubicle) and writing, publishing, and touring on the side before making the decision that she was going to live the life of the writer she thought of herself as.

I wish I could say I had a Norma Rae moment, that I stood on my office chair with a big sign that said "POETRY!" But I didn't. I'm a working class girl so I handled it as we do. I thought of being a writer as a job, one that I have to apply for.

Aptowicz chose her project—The Mutter Museum of Philadelphia, famous for its collection of medical oddities— based on passion and spent a year getting rejections to pursue it. When she got her wish, she wondered if she'd gotten in over her head and contemplated a retreat to the safety of the cubicle:

This doesn't mean you won't have moments of panic. Mine came several weeks into the project. I'd spent weeks touring super hard and I did not want to miss my early morning appointment at the Thomas Jefferson Archival Library. I was exhausted, I was wearing my boyfriend's clothes because all of my clothes smelled and I was surrounded by books filled with 1850s medical horror stories and I thought, "What have I done? Why did anyone think I could do this? Wasn't it so much simpler just to have an office job?"

And it was then that Thomas Dent Mutter, that genius, that cad, spoke to me through 150 years of history. He wrote a speech in 1847 that I just happened to be transcribing in 2010 and in it he said, "The world is no place of rest. I repeat, it is no place of rest but for effort. Steady, continuous undeviating effort. Our work should never be done and it is the daydream of ignorance to look forward to that as a happy time, when we shall wish for nothing more, and have nothing more to accomplish."

Originally Published: January 10th, 2011