June 5th, 2019

labyrinth contrast

i was in the middle before i knew that i had begun

the first sentence of a likely confessional lyric essay about my slow motion horror movie realization of the extent to which social systems i was denied access to have assaulted me, injured me, and left me to die without my even realizing it:

“Nobody wants to talk about it, but Jane Austen was pissed.

the mr collins character alone. and only a very angry person could even begin to imagine, much more stomach presenting word-for-word documentation of that verbal assault of a marriage proposal that was mr darcy’s first attempt.

look: writing is like that hard. you need stamina, you need to be getting some form of nourishment out of the practice. otherwise, it is just emotional self-abuse and you must drink yourself to death at a young age rather than live out even an average human life span having to intimately witness horrible interactions like that inside your brain on a regular basis.

number of times i have traumatized myself with my own words: too many to count.

number of times even very good creative writing teachers have prepared me for this truth: i cannot think of one, but, then, i was never too great about paying attention in class.

keep it in mind: meaningful writing of any variety means deep fucking witnessing. in fiction, you are seeing both ways, back and forward in these character’s lives. you are seeing them not coping very well with remarkably dispiriting obstacles that have brought them to the shamefully erroneous conclusion that this is, in any way, how they should be conducting themselves in the presence of someone with whom they want to share love. you are feeling every subtextual wound the conflict inflicts on both parties. extra credit: you are likely seeing yourself in their failures. if you do not, you are not doing your work to your supervisor’s satisfaction and someone isn’t getting any more creative ideas until she’s thought about what she didn’t do. all this, and you’re doing it without a safety net. you need a little fuel for the road. anger is a decent power bar.

channeling anger into craft is a viable way of coping with it. it is arguably the rare healthy negotiation. a writer is using the idea of creative skill - something people strive for, compete over, something desirable built out of those factory seconds and post-consumer waste consolidating exhaustingly in our lives, that very stuff that made us angry in the first place - to fuel the development of our craft.

angry people are capable of amazing things.

look at it this way: society invented writers, and it did so by identifying a few people who happened to have a way with words and screwing them over so bad that the writing process became an acceptable coping mechanism. society invented writers because society needs writers. society needs writers because without several voices at least attempting different styles of objectivity (THERE IS NOT JUST ONE) and experimenting with different ways of describing social problems to different profiles of readers who might be able to help with those problems or at least get on the author’s side, we aren't going to get through to enough people to move the needle.

different readers need different writers. it's an old story, but i'll say it again: different readers need different writers. the voice that gets through to your friend betty sue isn’t necessarily going to get through to you. humanity needs writers. different writers. many different writers. we keep the labyrinth. we tend the minotaur. without the ability to educate and persuade with a speech or even just a block of text printed on a page, humanity would have assaulted, eaten, burned and pissed the ashes of itself into oblivion long before the industrial age. storytelling is a survival skill. receiving stories is the inception of the learning process. for most of us, it lies at the core of our how we learn over the course of our entire lives.

it’s terrifying to realize that you might be a political writer when you have no fucking idea of how to do that and everything about the process of political writing is terrifying to you.

in fact, another thing boiling in jane austen’s subtext. did she want to write novels critiquing gentry by way of agonizing social dancing, or did she want to write about lizzy and mr darcy’s wild time in the koi pond? because damn, you know? i didn’t intend to write a novel about the criminal justice system killing my best friend. as necessary as that novel might prove to be, i have other capacities i might like to showcase, things that would be a hell of a lot more fun to do with my time. by that, i mean: i wanted to write about lizzy and mr darcy’s wild time in the koi pond, comprised of "ms lizzy learns to ejaculate" and "the pansexual awakening of the splendiferously kinky ms charlotte lucas collins." pemberley manor would make a delightful setting for some eyes wide shut type rituals, i'm just saying.

i remember when this post was a sentence.

unfortunately, this potential essay, such that it is, seems like something that will necessitate my going to the library, and i just… can’t, right now. go to the library. before you roll your eyes at me, i have a deep and complicated history with libraries, maybe even more than most.

when each of my elementary school teachers reached that point where my presence in the classroom became too much of a distraction for the students upon whose test scores school funding relied, the teacher would write a note, fold it up and make me promise not to read it before dispatching me to the principal’s secretary. the notes invariably requested that the secretary “find something” for me to do for the next couple hours. sometimes it was phrased a little more cleverly than that, as if enabling the next generation of teenagers in socially predatory behaviors was of potential benefit to all parties involved. i wish i’d kept a scrapbook.

the exception was my sixth grade teacher, for whom i am still grateful. she managed, somewhat, to restore my faith in adults. her notes were largely complimentary, almost along the lines of “this talented young lady deserves better than how she is being treated in my classroom today.” she may have guessed i read the notes. maybe i wasn’t beyond hope. at least once, i think i may have been sent to the office in order to facilitate a conversation about Treating Judy With Respect Even If She Disturbs You and done so in a way that actually changed some behavior: i had an earnest and growing balance of friends who seemed to genuinely appreciate me by the end of the year. wish she could’ve given a talk at my middle school, but there i really was beyond hope.

i’d invariably end up in the library. i liked books, you see, and had a decent grasp of the reasons for and facilitation of alphabetization. if there weren’t any classes in the library at that hour, the school librarian would let me sit behind the desk and make little stacks of lined cardstock. if there was a class, she hid me in the library office where i could page the new acquisitions. apparently, i was one hell of a distraction.

bitter though i may be, this class scapegoat management technique probably spared me from the special ed program, from which there was, at that point in my school district’s history, little to no possibility of escape. you can get condemned to that round table in the room across from the kindergartners any time you like, but you can never leave. nor will your curriculum ever evolve past buttons and soap. which, in a few very important cases, was not only relevant, but a crucial civil service to the community.

a significant percentage of the kids ending up in that scene, however, were tragic failures of the public education system. buried in a program that did not serve their needs in order to get them out of the “normal” kid’s way. they were fellow nuerodivergents, kids the “normal” kids refused to learn to be around. kids for whom english was a second language. kids with too many family responsibilities. minority kids who were too smart about something that wasn’t math or science. kids who laughed at the wrong film strip. kids so focused on their confusion about one thing that it ate up all their resources for learning other things. kids rendered temporarily unteachable by secrets and trauma. kids gaslighted by their peers into believing they were stupid. kids who maybe where having problems understanding something important about soap and/or buttons, but who only needed a little extra attention and good will to catch up with the “normal” kids. instead:

in middle school, my mother got her first job in eleven years. she was hired for an entry level position at the checkout counter of the local library, back when you could do that without a master’s degree. she’d worked her way into management by my third year of high school. my social life, those six years (such that it was) took place almost exclusively at her library. before her promotion, i had semesters where i could go to the library and stay for hours as often as once a week. i was ariadne, the library my labyrinth and my minotaur. i wore an iron wrought key around my neck. libraries vibrate with secrets. illicit activities. forbidden texts. illuminated manuscripts. ancestral unrest.

i thieved my first v.c. andrews paperbacks from the swap rack: and shirley conran’s lace*, and richard brautigan’s abortion, and more YA serial trash than i care to admit. the princess bride. rosemary's baby. the house of tomorrow, pseudonymously published under the name jean thompson, was the journal of a twenty-year-old college student who spent the better part of a year at one of those charitable institutions designed to coerce unmarried pregnant women into surrendering their children to our deeply flawed adoption system; pregnant teenagers smoking in the basement rec room after bible study. it’s frank and melancholy and atmospheric, still one of my favorite books.

i’d find a table in a backmost corner, somewhere in front of a window looking out over a concrete courtyard at night, somewhere i could reassure myself of my continued existence with intermittent glances in that black mirror once the light was gone. i’d array my notebooks on the table, decide what story i was going to work on over the course of the next three hours, and then find some books. sometimes i’d profile the swap rack, sometimes i’d retrieve a modern art book from the collection upstairs, sometimes i’d wander into the YA stacks with my eyes shut and pull the first spine that made my fingers hum. usually i’d make it over to the cassette carousel before closing time. i probably checked out every tape in my preferred genres at least once. tangerine dream. paul horn. prince. wham. tears for fears.

i loved that library. i loved it maybe a little too much. it is hard for me to be angry when i am at such a library, angry in a creatively productive way, i mean. on the other hand, it’s far too easy to get caught up in distracting little snits about who else deserves to be in that holy space. everyone needs access to the library, but not everyone treats it respectfully. i do not write well when i am angry about such matters; i do not write at all. i chew unspoken rants into sleeves. i loathe and loathe and loathe. i try to find somewhere else to sit.

school libraries were both a little too different and much too much the same. i count five of my most significant high school memories as having taken place in the school library, but there are probably more. they just kind of happened there, is the thing. i never really bonded with that library, but i am drawn to labyrinths of every variety, so a bond already existed. my first significant memory was my single attempt at a closed-eye pull in those stacks. it landed me on a fiction title called august. i don’t remember the author’s name or anything about it, really, just that the cover had a couch by a window in room as stark as the emotional lives of the people in the book. i know i read it through, but i wasn’t proud about that. it dragged on for days, weeks, decades, thousands upon thousands of pages my eyes would slip over and slip over again. it ruined books for me for a few days. i wondered if this was what post-menarche recreational reading was going to be like and effectively buried myself in a frantic re-read of every girls of canby hall book i hadn’t stowed in the attic. it was the first time a closed-eye pull had failed me. i see now that it was hard for me to slip into the finger-humming zone when pretty much any random middle school antagonist could come upon me wandering the school library with my eyes shut: like gym class, a place where at any moment such an enemy had means and opportunity to brain me with a volleyball, it wasn’t so much that i was off my game, it was that i couldn’t get into it in the first place.

the first sentence of a likely confessional lyric essay: everything i write is confessional, especially the shopping lists.
*talk about a wild time in the koi pond