Our nightmares are coming true.
I was taken by the story of Paris Gray, a high school student in Georgia disciplined for bombing her yearbook quote. She cleverly used chemical symbols from the periodic table to code the title of a hip-hop song by Juvenile. The song is vile and disgusting, but I think that’s beside the point. This girl beat the censors with a code that obviously embarrassed the school. I comment on it in this week’s True Community.
Check it out. And please do share.
Photo by TAMUC
You should write the thing you would really like to be reading.
You can’t claim you don’t know what that is. That’s like saying you don’t know what you want to order from the menu. Of course you know. If you were by yourself, you’d order it.
Unless you’re one of those people who doesn’t know what to order when you’re by yourself. It’s because you’re playing the bullshit game, believing there’s something better than what you want. There simply isn’t. There is nothing better than what you want. You think, I want to order the best meal. I want to know that, when my food comes, I’m eating the best thing. Who’s going to judge what’s in your mouth? Don’t play games with yourself. No one can taste your food for you. And if you’re tasting something other than what you’re eating, you’re having a delusion, and you’re alone in it.
You’ll say that writing isn’t food. I should be writing for the audience. Which one? You’ll know people who claim to be experimental, sublime, vulgar, minimalist, maximalist, postmodern, classical, formalist, post-punk, marxist, nihilist, spiritual, bleeding and cauterized. Good. Know them. They will never taste the food in your mouth, and they will never know what you would like to be reading unless you show them.
When they read and say you’re not postmodern enough, the experience teaches you little about yourself. Instead, you learn this critic believes he’s really postmodern. He’s a tyrant wishing the world to be different from itself, but he is a walking paradox and has not learned what generates the world in the first place. He looks at mailboxes and fire hydrants and condoms and thinks, “These things are not postmodern enough. I’m not interested in them.” Fool! You want a postmodern condom? Look at a rubber and say, “Now there’s a Postmodern Condom.” There’s a Marxist Maibox. There’s a Bleeding Hydrant.
You are the hydrant. It’s you. It is also the reader, just as you are the reader. When someone reads this sentence: “The fire hydrant is bleeding,” the hydrant bleeds both because an author has written and a reader has read. If the reader is pissed about a bleeding hydrant, it is because s/he has failed to imagine the hydrant bleeding in a satisfactory way. Writing about a Marxist Mailbox will not solve anyone’s problem. It simply contributes a distraction from the first, and now we have two identical problems instead of one.
Yes, it’s frightening to admit what you would like to be reading, then to show it to someone. It is identical to seeing that pretty girl, the one with the ribbon on her back and the French braid, and walking up to say, “I love you.” Chances are she does not love you. You know this. You knew it the first time you saw her. But there are two reasons to tell her the truth. One is to be done with it. The other is to see what happens.
What is the worst outcome? She’ll murder you in disgust. But death is absolutely certain. Better to be killed for expressing love than to wait for death in a fortress. Better to write the sentence you would like to be reading than to write the one you hope everyone loves. You cannot tell love what it wants to hear; that is a fraudulent start, the relationship headed for doom. Instead, when you write, you want someone to say, “I thought I was the only one who saw bleeding hydrants.”
Of course you’re not. Hydrant blood puts out fires.
Photo by Darin Barry.
I took these photographs in Nida, Lithuania, on the Curonian Spit.
Such is the power of art. Of the human imagination. It takes imagination to create images and myths. And it takes imagination to consume, to turn an image carved from innocent wood into a series of emotions and ideas.
I was very moved by some of the responses that I got to (trigger warning!) my republished version of Baptism Party. If you have not read that essay and have stumbled on this post at random, know that, as a memoir of my abusive childhood, the piece is very difficult to read and might remind traumatized readers, especially those who experienced life with an alcoholic, of their past.
For obvious reasons, many of the responses did not appear in the comment sections. They came directly to me from subscribers to the Good Men Project, readers who have been following me since the publication of Finding the Moon in Sugar and also former students. The majority were from people who suffered at the hands of a narcissist, or who grew up with pervasive intoxication either at home on in their community. What shocked me—it actually rattled me up—was how many readers quoted this part of the essay:
Children of narcissistic alcoholics will tell you they inhabit the homes of their childhood about as often as their dreams, as so many of their dreams, in daytime as in sleep, are the stubborn memories of childhood. At times when I must return physically to the house, I always enter twice, initially through a sequence of vivid memories and images. As they play out, I construct a fortress of introversion around myself. It does not matter if I am simply dropping off borrowed jars or coming into a full-blown party. Each time I enter, I brace for an assault, though I can never be sure what kind.
I had not really spoken to any “children of narcissistic alcoholics” prior to writing this. Sure, I had read books, attended some meetings, and I had spoken to a variety of therapists before writing the essay. I had also heard stories from people at work. But I can’t say that I wrote that paragraph believing I had gotten to the heart of something. Quite frankly, I thought I was taking calculated liberties.
If you are among those readers who took time to write and say, “That’s exactly how I feel,” know that I was deeply moved. What’s shocking is that so many of us feel something private and sinister while we exist inside that “fortress of introversion”, however we dress it up, but if we could lift our heads out for a moment, we’d find ourselves in a community we didn’t know we had. Realizing this helped me quiet the voice in my head, so similar to the one I write about, the one that criticizes me constantly, bellowing: “Why the hell are you writing this self-indulgent horseshit? No one cares. Grow up! Get over yourself!” (Doesn’t that remind you of anyone?) It’s so much easier to tell that voice, “Take a look at these letters I’ve received. Take a look at this group of people that has no idea what they share, and with how many!”
There are more of us than any of us know. We are invisible even to each other as we sit lonely in cafes or ride the bus to buy soap and toothpaste. Your responses have given me enormous energy. I’m encouraged to continue writing about these important issues of abuse, trauma, self-realization, social confusion and all the close toxic cousins. Thank you so much for all the well-wishes, the sympathy and your expressions of vulnerability. That is all I can say. I feel it is not enough.