What I Have Been Doing Lately

by Jamaica Kincaid

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‘‘What I Have Been Doing Lately’’ is an elliptical, almost surreal narrative that begins with the words, ‘‘What I have been doing lately,’’ and proceeds to depict, in list-like form, a series of actions engaged in by the unidentified and nameless narrator. The narrator, summoned from bed by a ringing doorbell, opens the door to find no one there. After stepping outside and looking north and south, the narrator walks north, seeing the planet Venus in the sky, a monkey in a leafless tree, and finally an impassable body of water. After years pass, the narrator boards a boat, crosses the body of water, and continues along a straight path through a pasture, observing a dog and then a goat that each ‘‘looked the other way when it saw me coming.’’ When the narrator turns to look at the path behind her, everything has changed: it has become hilly and the landscape is full of flowering trees. Turning to continue on, the narrator finds that a deep dark hole has opened up in the ground. Wondering what is at the bottom, she jumps in. Her fall makes her feel ill, and she begins to long for her loved ones. She decides to ‘‘reverse’’ herself and return to the surface.

The narrator continues to walk through ‘‘days and nights, rain and shine’’ until she sees a figure coming from the horizon that she believes to be her mother. The figure is not the narrator’s mother, but it is a woman who knows the narrator. She asks what the narrator has been doing lately. After contemplating several nonsensical answers, the narrator repeats the events already recounted in the story, in some places adding events or details but often repeating her first account word for word. She concludes by describing herself coming upon a group of beautiful people having a picnic. After approaching the people, she discovers that the people and everything around her seem to be made of mud and she becomes sad, longing for home. Finally she decides, ‘‘I don’t want to do this any more,’’ and is back in her bed, ‘‘just before the doorbell rang.’’

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