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Obscurity is a skill I’ve learned to both master and abuse in my time as a writer. It was born out of antipathy, necessity, chagrin. I was an illiterate child actor who wished for a talent agent (grown man, pressed suit) to pop out of a box on Christmas morning and abduct me to Los Angeles; I’d even settle for Atlanta. My mother had recently quit her job working as a district bus driver to pursue her dreams of writing YA novels. I watched as she covered the windows in sticky notes, plot points, loopy sharpie words like seasick, girlhood, devastation, vomit. As my literacy strengthened, teachers and parents alike would rifle through my neatly typed novellas set in yellow fever epidemics and the dust bowl’s reaches, and they would compare me to my mother. Ticked me off. There was no writing without mother, no mother without writing. I would sit with her while she moved around the room, a Danny Casolaro mess of papers and books, for ten years I would watch her work to piece together the same, singular children’s novel. In the meantime, she practiced her journalistic skills, writing op-eds for the city newspaper and its offshoots. She had a handful of blogs and FaceBook pages. As her novel stalled, her voice as an individual grew louder. It became abrasive. It became exploitative. As our family unit suffered personal losses and eventually fell apart, she published TMZ-inspired updates to her audience; our neighborhood.

We didn’t speak for a few years. I went on to university, having lost my spark for performance I moved into screenwriting, directing. I was so enormously taken aback by one’s ability to ostracize their family members, their children, all to publish a victim piece on How to bounce back after your children abandon you. I turned inward. The writing I produced was knotted, eroded in surrealism and vastness. I feared myself, as a fiction writer, I feared the chances to slip and spill what deserved censorship, the relationships I held and intended to keep. The term walking on eggshells became my life, my most terrible fear. It’s difficult to feel proper shame when your largest insecurities are pinned in a wash of words and memory.

Fiction worked as a crutch, for many years, it was my means of hobbling through sharp, pointed truths of my past. My first feature-length script was my swan song to university, and to my mother. It was a Don Hertzfeldt-esque multi-chapter collage of a film depicting an obscured version of my relationship with my mother. It was titled, Narcissa. Upon its competition, the relief I anticipated so intently never came. I had created a monster of a ghost to further haunt me. I feared I hadn’t hidden her, or myself, enough. I feared the mute, animated Lady Crabs I had characterized us as, were too opaque. Nothing would separate me enough from who she was, as a writer, as a mother, as a person I knew so well. In readings of the script, I was able to breathe a bit fuller, listening as the voice of my character was carried away by a bearded man in oxfords and overalls. It couldn’t be me. No one could think so.

When I published my first book, I included a prose piece of the same title, Susie Q. It was one of those things you just woke up to found you’d created, a fever dream. Years later, my brother had lent his copy of the book to a coworker, and afterward decided to give it a reread himself. He came to me, having connected to the piece, asking for further explanation. What he didn’t know, and what I hadn’t consciously realized while writing or publishing it, was that it was about him. Despite the fact it was written from a female perspective, a mother’s perspective, the voice it took was that of my eldest brother, and he recognized himself in it. It was in this moment that I came to see, amidst my tireless work to hide my emotions in heady writing, they still existed as plainly as could be, if not more poignantly. The details were omitted, yes, the exact wordings and incidents tied far off and out in spacetime, but the shape of my throat and the pressure behind my eyes and the lack of blood in the tip of my fingers were there, still, there. Seasick, girlhood, devastation, vomit. I’d designed pathways to drop packages of grief in, covered the map in shit and mud, and through publication, allowed the average person access to my grounds with a hose to slough and clear away all the bullshit preventing them from connecting.

Upon taking this job, to write for a pulsing, youthful, digital publication as Hot Literati, I was initially petrified. My CV was full to the brim with surrealist accolades, my writing published under my name, my id camouflaged. This was an opportunity to connect readers with the self, to offer clearer cut paths into my psyche, and I would loop my computer screen ‘round to the ghost, seeking approval. Is this too much? Is this too little? It had become so much easier to write about masturbating in the Newark International public restrooms versus Walmart, when it came to my ins and outs, my knuckles grew white with tension, angst. It’s so easy to embarrass yourself. I could make small talk with the grown men who read the masturbation piece, with the ex who inspired the gritty novella, with my senile grandparents who read of my nipple piercings and subsequent, never-ending discharge. None of it could phase me. The only person exploited was myself, I had designed the stage, the audience, the performance, and no one could judge what was so intentionally created to amuse, arouse.

It is so, hilariously easy to embarrass yourself — if you lose control. If your intent grows hazy, and you write sheepishly, your ghost will return, wringing its opaque hands. With each title I write, I run to check every door’s lock, every window, to ensure my mother cannot force her way in. Taking ownership of your shame, or confidence in the form of anticipated shame, will barricade you — for better or for worse. There’s safety in your sealed tower, but with this comes constant confrontation. Why does your voice quiver? Who gave you permission to think this way? How many people can you scratch before it begins to scar? I offer my own wisdoms, as anyone can design a path for you to follow, anyone can loosely (and, inevitably, falsely) ensure your safety. But as a storyteller, though it may be your most esteemed creature comfort, safety and censorship will continue collapsing entryways for your readers, until it is just you again. And the observation here that I would like for you to note; you will always be alone. Your stories are temporary bridges into the lives of others, the connections they choose to make. And you cannot control this, you will never be able to. Read: everything is fucking embarrassing. That’s why you’re a writer.

1 Comment

Mar 28

"The only person exploited was myself, I had designed the stage, the audience, the performance, and no one could judge what was so intentionally created to amuse, arouse." So good. The distinction between the contemporary ease in writing for shock value vs. really unearthing feelings and experiences that were emotionally sharp is brilliant. Will be thinking about this for a while...

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