Tuesday, July 17, 2012
“If you’re not scared, you’re not writing.”…….Ralph Keyes
I never kept a journal. I never even came close. I never lay across my bed in high school scrawling notes on things I later would be horrified if found out---Today I dreamed of what it would be like to be married to (random nameless guy in my biology class on whom I have a huge crush). I dreamed of our children and how he would bring me flowers and call me sweetheart and show me off to all his friends……….Today I cursed my life. Why do I have to be the smart girl and not the party girl? A friend offered me something in home ec class. I didn’t even know what it was. She said it would make me feel good, really good, and that it would be fun and that nobody would know. She told me this while sitting on the counter flipping the lights on and off, on and off, on and off. I was afraid I would get in trouble. I was getting sick from the lights. I really wanted to focus on the skirt I was sewing for the upcoming fashion show. I said no…………….Today I learned that some girls like girls. I learned this from a girl who likes girls. I think she liked ME. Some people, she said, are grossed out by this. I wasn’t. I wonder if I like girls. Now I can write these things and find them humorous and unimportant. At the time, the thought of having someone see my inner world was equivalent to the pain I imagine involved in a good round of tar and feathering.
When I hit adulthood and finally convinced myself to pick up the pen, I wrote the literary equivalent of safe sex. It was writing, yes, but with all the adjectives and expletives deleted. The content was present, but the passion removed. I created recipes that were so good they were published. Add two cups of flour, one of cup cocoa, two tablespoons of baking powder and stir. I nearly sold an article on breastfeeding to one of the major glossies. Many mothers make the decision to continue to nurse an older child when they learn they are pregnant with number two. I penned thought of the day books, quote books, and books filled with writing prompts that never saw their way to agent. Later, I began writing articles on vegetarian diets and health and well-being. People paid me to do this. It was exciting. Exciting with a period, not an exclamation mark. I was writing, yes, but I wasn’t WRITING!!
Then one day I sketched out an essay on growing up poor, on growing up hungry and cold and on being whipped with switches and belts and shoes. I told the story of learning to smoke pot in my grandmother’s bedroom when I was ten, pretend pot. We didn’t have money for the real thing. I told the story of how my cousin taught me to walk, to swing my hips and flip my hair. You do this, she said, so the boys will like you, and then you smoke pot, and then you have sex. That is the plan. I told the story of how I didn’t want that plan. I didn’t want a baby when I was fourteen or even when I was fifteen. I didn’t want to be like the other girls. I told the story of growing up in a house with parents who yelled and fought and went after each other sometimes with fists and frying pans and whatever they happened to be holding at the time. I told this story and someone saw it. Only one someone saw it. “Why are you writing this other crap?” he asked. “You have a real story here. You have real mud and rocks and (some other earthy piece of grit I can no longer remember).” But I didn’t want people to see that real story. I didn’t want them to see it and feel bad or to tell me that it never happened. I didn’t want them to say that I couldn’t tell my story because it wasn’t mine to tell.
I wrote more. I wrote about the thing my cousin did to me when my mom wasn’t looking. I was five. I wrote about the fire and how I thought my mom was dead. I was seven. I wrote about eating squirrels because that was all there was and about crying myself to sleep when I thought I would never see my mother again and about wishing I had big boobs and pretty legs like Barbie. I got brave. I wrote about practicing the kind of kiss you kiss when you want a baby. I wrote about practicing it on my pillow when I was seven and pretending it was Whitley Crow, the guy my best friend and I ogled and argued over in Mrs. Farrell’s class. I wrote about my cousin who died from drinking too much, my cousin who died an alcoholic at forty. I wrote about my life. I cursed people while I wrote. I cursed my parents for birthing me into a life of poverty and a life of want. I cursed my friend for encouraging me to write this stuff. I cursed others for not understanding, for thinking it is easy to grow up in a world where one is expected to get good grades and be a good student when really she can’t focus so much on the books because she is tired from not sleeping, not sleeping because there was no heat and it was cold outside and cold inside. She cannot be excited about the field trip as the other children are because there is no money. There is no money for the field trip because there is no money for lunch. Her parents don’t help her with her homework not because they are bad parents, but because they don’t understand. She doesn’t want them to feel bad and so she teaches herself and just figures it out. She doesn’t ask her friends for help because she doesn’t want them to know that her work is hard for her parents. That it is hard and they don’t understand. I began to write the literary equivalent of hot wild raucous sex. Passion flew off that page. Passion flew, but no one saw it, no one except this one friend. I was afraid.
Well, dear readers. I am not afraid anymore. I am not afraid because we all have our inner worlds. We all have our inner worlds that are not pretty, that are real and wild and deep and dark. You may choose to keep yours to yourself. That is fine with me. For my part, I am putting mine to print. Deny it or don’t. I really don’t care. It is MY story. It is mine to do with as I wish.
(I no longer curse my friend. I thank him. I thank him very much.)