February 4, 2018


You never know who's still awake
You never know who understands and
Are you out there, can you hear this?
Jimmy Olson, Johnny Memphis,
I was out here listening all the time
And though the static walls surround me
You were out there and you found me
I was out here listening all the time
(Dar Williams, "Are You Out There")

I nabbed one of
Grandma's "scratching out
ideas" notepads.
Reading Patricia Lockwood's article on Jason Brown's skating nearly made me pack up this blog and declare it retired.  Service: Two months.  Not eligible for benefits.  Reason for leaving: There is somebody out there who writes like that, and I sound like I'm wheezing garbage in comparison.  Let's leave it to the professionals.  Conclude exit interview.  

P.J. refused to accept the letter of intent and convinced me to keep going.

I didn't write in my twenties at all, save for Lille's odd ramblings about her teacher and the Fracture, always trying to make sense of it.  That's journaling.  I wrote a poem in my thirties and it was published, an experience that was both exhilarating and absurd.  I almost immediately lost respect for the publication on the grounds that they would publish something I wrote.  Most of my writing energy then was discharged into e-mails, and that was an adequate venue for *cue wet hairball sounds* creativity.

I have something against the word creativity.  I make a facial expression exactly like the one my daddy made one Saturday morning, when I was a kid.  He poured a bowl of Cheerios for himself, then grabbed the salt container instead of the sugar.  I think he was still tired and groggy, and I'm not sure what it says about my kid self that I watched with interest and didn't warn him.  He heaped several spoonfuls of salt into the cereal bowl, which was how Cheerios were meant to be eaten, had that been Dixie Crystals and not Morton's Iodized.  Remember scraping grey-white bits of sugar off the bottom of the bowl?  He poured in the milk and spooned the first bite.  That expression right there.  The one you can see him making during his "what the fuck happened holy shit where is the sink I have to spit this out" moment.  That's creativity for me.  "Nurture" falls into the same category.  I have these positive words that somewhere along the way I rejected, most likely on the grounds that Lille believed they belonged to other people, not to me, and her resentment rubbed off on me.

Creativity is people who sit in studios with pristine birch wood floors and a potter's wheel and work spinning clay.  Creativity is Bob Ross painting, and Kate Campbell sitting up from a dead sleep at 2:00 a.m. with an idea for a song, and grabbing her notebook and pen and flashlight from the bedside table and jotting it all down, capturing it for later.  Creativity belongs to the artists and the real writers.  They get to wear lagenlook clothing and go to hip local coffee shops that display their paintings or invite them to grace a live music night in a dim-lit corner.

The Great Wall of all inhibitions against writing was Barnes and Noble.  I used to measure my personal worth as a fraction.  If there were seven billion people in the world, and I was one person, that meant my value as a human being was 1/7,000,000,000, which is limit-approaching-zero for that purpose.  And there seemed to be seven billion books in Barnes and Noble.  I would walk in with my then-husband and look around at shelf after shelf of things that creative people had to say.  Book after book.  So many books.  All of the books.  Books about everything.

These other people, they'd covered it all.  Any thoughts I might have ventured had already been said, and said far better than I could say them, because they got published in books. Quod erat demonstratum.

I grew a little older.  The fraction-based perception of my own worth fell away as I stopped clinging desperately to the need for any sense of worth.  I realized I was seeing it all wrong, as I stared out at the Milky Way from a tucked-away mountain ridge and knew the exquisite freedom of being proven insignificant, and from that vantage point, I went out and gained a sense of security anyway, torpedoes be damned.  It brought me a measure of peace that only aging and stars can bring.

I think that's the main thing that allowed me to start writing.  I'm not writing now for the world to see and adjudicate, to elevate and add me to one of those towering shelves in the book store.  I'm not writing a book.  I'm not writing to be promulgated into fame like Ree Drummond and Jenny Lawson and Allie Brosch.  Real writers.  Jenny Lawson could do a twelve-part series on crunchy peanut butter and it would still leave me jealous and enriched and in love with her, all at once.  She does that.  It's her writing.  

My grandmother was a writer, too.  She had a tiny column called "Millicent and Me" in the local, poorly circulated newspaper of a small town that held an abandoned textile factory.  Millicent was her alter-ego, refined and posh and elegant.  She and Millicent would go around together, musing about the town's history and reporting on goings-on, small festivals and church events, and my grandmother would write about them in the form of a conversation between them.  She wrote her columns on what became stacks upon stacks of yellow spiral-bound note pads.  She then typed them up and delivered them to the newspaper office in town every Wednesday morning, in person.

I once asked her why she wrote.  "I can't help it.  I have to," she said.  "If you're a writer, you have to write.  That's how you can tell."  She wrote the monthly poem for the Baptist church newsletter.  It appeared beside the calendar of birthdays and the Bible study schedule, and above the list of names of those who needed prayer.  She wrote them even after the dementia had taken hold and she couldn't live by herself any more.  She lived with my daddy after that and often didn't know who he was or why she was being given her lunch, but she could still write beautiful poems.  My grandmother died a year ago at the age of 95.  The preacher and I struck up an awkward conversation after the funeral, the man of God and the lesbian granddaughter, in which he told me that they have a binder in the church library containing every one of those poems she wrote over several decades.  They named her the church's "poet laureate".  That would have meant the world to her.  I keep meaning to get by there to pore through that binder and make copies.   He said I'm welcome at the church.  I think he meant it.

My handwriting is even starting to look like hers.

The real writers.  I couldn't write until I knew I would be writing out into the void, the tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it.  This involved enough self-negation to let me be myself, keep me honest.  And I am not creative.  That's those other people.  The bloggers.  The authors.  My grandmother.  Not me.  I write for myself.

Now that I've started, I have to.  I can't help it.

The next part annoys me to no end.  Once I started writing, another part of me woke and stretched and yawned, and then put on its bunny slippers, grabbed some coffee, and set about manifesting itself as a long-suppressed part of my psyche.  I wanted readers.  I actually want people to see this and give me feedback.  What the hell?  I hear Yakko Warner asking, "How many people you got in there, Sybil?"

I'm self-effacing.  I'm way too mentally ill to put everything on display.  And Lille is wigging out because she usually gets to have tight control of things, and I've yanked the reins out of her hands and cracked them and done one of those "HIYYAH! GIDDY UP!" bits they do in old Westerns when a bandit is trying to escape town on the back of a conveniently placed horse.  I've startled Lille, and I've startled myself.

And I've utterly confused P.J., who is solely responsible for helping me past all of those look-at-all-these-fucking-books and I-have-nothing-to-say defense mechanisms and convinced me that if I want to write, I should write.  She wasn't expecting this any more than I was.

And neither of us was expecting that I would let everything hang out, leave nothing private and sacred.  I quickly cultivated the belief that I'm saying things, brazen things, that others might need to hear.  Brave and stupid.  Things other writers have the sense to hide, like civilized people, like masterful commanders of words.

And yet ....

Are you out there?  Can you hear this?

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