Alumna Deborah Hauser leads a double life akin to the famed poet Wallace Stevens: She’s an insurance rep by day and a poet by night. Hauser received her undergraduate degree from Stony Brook in multi-disciplinary studies, focusing on political science and sociology, in 1999, following up with a Master’s in English in 2005.
What follows is a candid conversation with the newly-published author, whose first book of poetry, Ennui: From the Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders, hits the stands this summer.
Can you talk a bit about the title?
It’s definitely satirical. Ennui is the French word for boredom, but it means a particular kind of world-weary boredom. I think it is also particular to women; it’s kind of the unfulfillment and boredom that Betty Friedan talks about in The Feminine Mystique. Betty Friedan was talking about women who were educated but wound up being housewives instead of going to work — women who were not realizing their potential in the home.
I got the word from reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and the word just stuck with me. I started by defining the word; then I broke it into sections. These sections are kind of modeled on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders, so I set it up like a satirical medical guide — as if ennui were a medical condition being examined from all these different points of view.
How autobiographical is this, or is it just something you became fascinated with yourself?
It is not directly autobiographical. I’m married, with a house and a lot of domestic chores. I wouldn’t say I feel restricted, but I feel that I have more domestic responsibilities that define me.
Are you a full-time poet?
I’m not. I’m leading a double life like Wallace Stevens led. He was a very accomplished poet, but he worked for Hartford Insurance even while he was writing all his poetry books. I’m also working, oddly enough, for Hartford Insurance. I’m a claims rep, so I have that full-time job and I’ve been taking workshops and pursuing poetry in the evenings. I wonder what it would be like if I didn’t have to work and I could be fully immersed in it all the time.
Is this poem an expression of that existence to an extent?
I’m not bored as in, I have nothing to do. I would say I’m bored as in, my insurance work and my home chores are not intellectually stimulating. I guess I’m in a state ofennui all day when I’m working.
How excited are you about being published?
I’m very excited about it. It’s beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve been writing on and off my whole life. I’ve taken poetry classes at Stony Brook, and just about three years ago I decided to go back to writing and really focus on it regularly and seriously. To have a book coming out already is really more than I ever imagined was possible.
How is this going to change your life? Do you think it will?
I’ve been doing readings. It’s kind of an external validation to have someone say this is good enough to publish. It gives you a little bit of confidence. It’s usually the first question someone asks when you tell them you are a poet — they want to know if you’re published and now I can say yes. Otherwise it probably won’t change my life that much. I will continue working at Hartford and writing at night. I will continue leading my double life.
The foregoing is an abridged version of a forthcoming article in Stony Brook’s Graduate School newsletter, The Graduate Review, by Lynn Allopenna.