“Writer’s block.” I’m not entirely sure what it means, but it would seem to imply having nothing to say. I’ve had a lot to say and have said it in therapy sessions, friend sessions and cold bathroom floor sessions.
There were times I wanted to write but was afraid my friends and family who have subscribed to this blog would incur hurt feelings or be worried or angered by my words. Afraid that future employers would use my disclosures to discriminate against me. Afraid that no one would read anyway because I am not a serious author.
There were times I wanted to write but was afraid my decision to do so would compromise my decision to live. I did not want to be the one who documents but the one who experiences. I wanted to be Alice, not Lewis Carroll. It’s ridiculous, to imagine writers cannot live authentically… Nevertheless, we are all familiar with the xkcd comic, “Yet all I can think is, this will make for a good LiveJournal entry!” In the same way the production value of work imbues a life with worth that transcends the personal, the process of shaping experience into narrative imbues a life with meaning that transcends the individual. But what worth and meaning would I find if I peeled away the layers of identity wrapped up in the production of commodity and narrative? I needn’t climb atop an elephant or mountain to eschew worldly perspective. I could just stop writing.
There were times I wanted to write but was afraid that I wasn’t doing it correctly, or that it had become an instrument of pain. I’d enlisted myself in this fantastically enjoyable project called “exposure therapy,” which is basically a root canal for your amygdala but without anesthesia. It usually involves watching images of or talking about whatever harrowing trauma you’ve not recovered from, and repeatedly, until the intensity of emotion evoked by the memory lessens over time. All terribly A Clockwork Orange. Why agree to such a thing? Morbid curiosity. Encouraging data. The adrenaline rush that accompanies doing something that scares the fuck out of you. Desperation to not be “sick.”
Given my penchant for being brilliant with words, or something, we decided I should write my traumatic experiences out. It was all very well-intentioned. And in fact I found it curiously helpful. But my tracts continued to elicit the same complaints: too much narrative, symbolism, background context, analysis, perspective, superfluous detail, “flourishes.”
“The point is to describe the event as realistically and viscerally as possible, as if it were happening right now.”
Oof. Perhaps symbolism and perspective and superfluity and artistry and reflection are “real” and “visceral” for me. Perhaps I am being asked to use the skills I’ve developed to navigate the fissures of existence as means to precisely the opposite end? Take an axe to the frozen sea inside us? I write to create a puppy dog-drawn sleigh, complete with warm blankets, to transport me across the frozen sea to the shores of safety.
I continue the exposure therapy, verbally, committed to never again whoring out my skills to such a brutish client, however generous the compensation.
I still want to use my powers judiciously. I still want to suck the marrow from the bones of life and have it count without a blogpost on the merits of marrow and accompanying cellphone pic of a plate of bones to document the event. I am still afraid of nogoodniks using my blog to discredit me. Of not being a “real” writer.
But then someone just had to go and write a book about smart, modern, frustrated, literary girls being pathologized, institutionalized, silenced. Oh, don’t misunderstand. I am a feminist and will not deign to give you the time of day should you believe otherwise, but The Sisterhood? It occupies the same mental space as Santa Claus: a beautiful sentiment that makes me feel warm and giddy inside, but we all know who puts the presents under the trees and which gender would have brought extinction upon itself if looks could kill. I am no more inspired by a dead flapper ballerina than I am by a dead Russian gambler. Though to be clear, Zelda Fitzgerald and Fyodor Dostoyevsky are possibly my two greatest inspirations.
Devil beware, if there is one singular thing guaranteed to get me clambering over rooftops for a good old fashioned Yawp, it’s imposed (self- or otherwise) silence. Spend the first decade of your life being beaten, raped and terrorized by your own father, and 30 years later – should you live that long – imposed silence will sound more terrifying than a doped up Rush Limbaugh leading a parade of neo-nazis through the corridors of Hell. Like, Medieval Hell.
Being afraid to write because of discrimination feels like being afraid to wear a short skirt because of rape. Being afraid to write because I may unintentionally upset loved ones denies them the same capacity for resilience that they expect from me. Being afraid to write because writing compromises living turns a match made in heaven into some forbidden thing that ends like a Shakespearian tragedy. Being afraid to write because I haven’t cured cancer is insane: no one held Dostoyevsky to that standard. And being afraid to write because no one will take me seriously is a sure fire way to ensure no one ever takes me seriously as a writer.
In the blazing summer sun of a mid-nineties afternoon, I stood on the beach with Kristian Davies, the coolest boy I’d ever met. He was whistling Some of these days you’re gonna miss me baby…. I wore an oversized Carpe Diem t-shirt and baggy linen drawstring pants rolled up to my knees. As if planning a revolution, I proclaimed, “I don’t want to read books. I want to be the main character in my own book.” He hurled a rock into the lake and brushed his long hair from his perfect face. I’d never felt so witty or strong or beautiful. Like I had the world in my hands.
I’m inclined to file the whole episode under youthful naivete. I feel like I should. But for the love of me, I still want that and think it is a great and valid thing to want. The beautiful boy and unironic t-shirts have disappeared, but not the rest. And the world in my hands. It just weighs much, much more. When I was in my 20’s, the emphasis of that statement of intent fell on the words “main character.” Today it falls on the words, “my own.” I’ve really quite mastered the role of me. But if I don’t write down my own story, well, it’s no less valid of course, but it’s all behavior. With no context, symbolism, artistry, perspective. It’s all frozen sea. With neither axe to destroy it nor sleigh to traverse it.