Praying the Pen is Mightier

Yesterday I was in therapy creating this terrifying choice: graduate and get a nine to five and work my way into a position with a title something along the lines of “Assistant Vice Executive Sales in Marketing Strategy” and enjoy a steady income, but see a large part of myself leak out or die or be forcibly removed from my sense of self or just wither away in darkness like a now useless memory OR exist as a self-imposed starving writer, struggling in to make meaning while hating myself for knowing, deep down, the fact that this was self-imposed made it a front and thus meaningless. Like I said, I don’t rationally think my future will go either way, but emotionally those two lanes represent very real fears that I’ve been carrying along for a very long time.

Earlier in the week I’d needed to use an old external hard drive to show a movie clip in one of my classes and I found my first “real” journal on the hard drive. It’s almost a decade old at this point. The first entry was titled “Why Do I Want to Write?” and it reeked of the same self-obsessed confusion my binary future reeks of. There was an Ouroboros like element to both the question and the entry in that I was attempting to deal with a feeling or drive by trying to write/think my way out of it, hoping that the action of writing/thinking might be enough stave off the feeling or drive which in turn begs the question of why I want to write to begin with.  Many writers who are asked why they want to write (wisely) reply they just always have. There’s no need to go making up stories over it. None the less sometimes knowingly crafting a fiction and holding it as truth can settle things if it’s crafted in a way that the emotions are similar in both truth and fiction.

Mine might go something like this: In third grade I spent a lot of time wishing things were different; more interesting. I wanted monsters to plod through the woods while I slept, so I willfully created some. Our house was surrounded by woods and prickers and I’d spend lots of time with my brother and sister carefully traversing all the pricker bushes. It was a labor intensive process. There was one bush that was so dense and wrapped up in itself that it looked like a cave, there was even an opening. And like the best imaginary places, it was impossible to get inside the cave because the walls and floor were bloodletting thorns. I imagined a group of giant foxes lived there; foxes that sneered before they chewed your neck. My siblings and I treated the whole forest this way. Different plants were places of mystery and fear and joy. Dionysus was still very alive in my woods.

In sixth grade I wrote a short story about the time my dad and my brother and me rode the wooden rollercoaster at Lake Compounce. My dad loves rollercoasters (aaand so do I) and belonged to a rollercoaster club (I still don’t know what that was or is). One of the best things about wooden roller coasters is their sounds. They actually clack in a way that’s nearly soothing. My dad, instead of yelling, would burst out laughing while he was riding. I loved those moments because he was exuberant and alive and I had no idea what he was laughing at. I was seated with my dad and brother and being in sixth/fifth grade between us, when the restraint bar was put in place it secured my dad more than us. This was supposedly the longest rollercoaster in the northeast or something, but the story didn’t start until the end of the ride when there was a series of hillocks you road over at great speed. My brother, not being well strapped in, started hitting his head on the bar, and my dad, alive and exuberant and unaware of my brother’s head banging, started laughing. Sitting between two people I loved, I heard the clacking of the track, the laughter of my dad, and my brother yelling at my dad between forehead hits to the bar saying, “Don’t!” Whumph “Laugh” Whumph “AT ME” Whumph. I gave this story to my teacher and she laughed and it felt good. And it felt good because it hadn’t happened that neatly. My dad laughed and my brother yelled at him but the rest was my invention.

And this is what seemed attractive and good. I could invite experience, scary experience, traumatic experience and pull yarn from it, weave and knit with it. I felt some control. It’s no wonder my fears have to do with losing control and moreover losing the thing that gives me the fantasy of controller.

But there’s something else, that I haven’t told you yet.

There have been too many times I’ve found myself lying in bed, immobilized by thought, praying it might mean something. The answer something gave me to give to myself was writing. It can be fodder John, all of this. I didn’t have any way of knowing if it was a good or a bad thing to fetishize writing in this manner, to turn it from a pastime to a lifeline. The older I got the more it took on that role. But here’s the thing about really good fiction, believe it long enough and it comes true.

There was a night with my brother where we fought. It was bad. It left me with PTSD. It was no one’s fault but it would have been easy to turn an evening where I thought my brother was going to kill himself so in stopping him he almost killed me into a belief that the world was cruel, he was cruel, but I didn’t do that. That night, under the light of a single lamp, in the near dark, my rage against his rage it was as if my consciousness was broken into different strands. One of them was screaming, crying, reacting in a human way, a caring way. One of them was simply seeing, comparing how big he’d grown from when we’d wrestle when we were younger, another simply told me over and over you will write about this. That was the only strand that sought to rescue the moment from what it could have become. In a perverse manner, what I’d been through with Tom became valuable. I could still love him because of it. Or, that’s what I tell myself. Probably I would still love him no matter what.

Of course all this still leaves me in a pretty complicated place. I love something I’ve fetishized, something that’s sometimes unrealistic in ambition, something I’m doing right now. And I think I love it out of fear. I think I love it the way one loves a golden calf: because it feels like it protects me in a world that feels very scary. And I know cognitively that the world isn’t always scary, but for now, for me, it is. And for now I have this.


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