speaking with high school boys
I always knew I was a person who wrote. perhaps because i would read a lot as a child — that’s actually all I did as a child. My first poem was something I wrote when i was about 6 years old, I wrote a poem about how much i wanted a sister. It went: i wish i had a sister.. who isn’t a blister.
I mean from there alone, you could tell the extent of my talent. I could rhyme, but I did not necessarily make sense. But seriously, what other words rhyme with sister? Mister is the only word that comes to mind, wouldn’t it be stating the obvious? And it went on as a wish list for what i wanted her to be like, pretty but not too pretty that I would feel ugly, smart but willing to teach me and a lot of other traits for the perfect sister.
But going back to the actual writing, I think you can recognize that I found writing as an expression for what i wanted. And if you’ve read poetry in your life, some of it is about expressing desire. So it really does begin from a very self-centered place. I want this, but said in a creative way, I guess I thought I could impress my way into getting what I wanted. I hope you realize that people are not easily impressed with the use of beautiful words.
When I discovered boys and entered high school, my writing further developed into these syrupy, flowery declarations of love for various people. All the guys that I would fall in love with had a poem written for them, the embarrassing part of that story is that they would all have copies of it. I guess I was operating in the same way, that if I told them how wonderful they were to me — they would love me back. It would be a completely humiliating day for me if all these guys got together and compared poems. Unless by then, i would have my share of awards and these heated, juvenile scribbles of how I couldn’t look them straight in the eye would be worthwhile pieces of literature.
Unfortunately, it never really worked. More material for poetry. So of course I would have all these pages of the pain of rejection, the ache of longing and in the end, just loneliness. Still self-centered, and still focused on desire. Basically, all my writing was a product of intense emotions. I was depressed because he didn’t call me that day, or he didn’t even look in my direction so I wrote a 15 line poem. I think i wrote every single day, filling up notebooks of what I say now without any irony, shit.
Then i found myself in college, found a boyfriend, and just stopped writing. These were probably the most difficult years of my life, suddenly the safe little bubble i travelled in popped. The real world and all its contradictions and complexity rushed in. I’d like to think that it was because i had important things to worry about that i gave up my poetry, but i knew that i wasn’t writing because i couldn’t speak. i couldn’t express myself anymore. i was in a way, mute. when you are trying to deny the circumstances of your situation, you keep it simple. you just shut up. You know how they tell you that when you lie, it’s better to keep it limited to s ingle story so you won’t mess up. strangely enough, i also didn’t read poetry.
i only learned to open my mouth again when i was in fourth year college, i took a creative writing class for non-fiction with an excellent teacher. and she made me comfortable—- she just seemed so interested in what i had to say. I didn’t have to lie anymore. The bad situation i was in had ended. so i began talking again. i wrote about what was happening in my life — and that year it was my mom. the piece i wrote was called “The Songs My Mother’s Tumor Sings” and it detailed what was happening in my house, the sounds of a trampoline, my mother’s tantrums because of the pain, my brothers’ anger —- i was talking about a house that was in the middle of a storm. a storm that finally flushed me out of my protective shell and made me realize just how i was simmering in my little pity pot.
her death literally set me free. for me, grief was finally being in the world, but discovering that i was neck deep in an ocean. lies are very powerful things, they can convince that you can breathe underwater. writing became a way to at first tread water, eventually swim. with writing, i was able to let go of the lead weights i had tied to my feet. these lead weights were my own insecurities — there’s something about losing your mother that makes you stop caring about how fat you are, how your nose is so round or how your lips are so thick — especially if it is your mother’s lips that stare back at you in the mirror. from that i just began to write, and write, and write. Like someone had broken a dam, all i could do was keep wiping what spilled with my pages.
I was lucky enough that with those poems i was able to enter a couple of workshops, and i was able to face something vital in the creation of poetry. the actual art of it. the form, the importance of sound, the manner with which it was produced. i was so used to getting away with just how honest and open my expression was that i did not necessarily look at that aspect of creation. what do you do? you read, you become a student of those whom you admire, you practice with their voices until you can sing on your own.
and you begin to look for different things to talk about. i’m tired of my scars. also, if writing poetry is dependent on experiencing pain then i’m done with poetry because i would rather live a normal life. it’s good to ask why exactly it is you are writing poetry. i began writing to express what i wanted, then towards dealing with not getting what i wanted, then to free myself. all so self-centered. but now i know i write because i love language, i love the act in itself, i also know that there are things that must be said.
and that is where i lose my way again.
i have not written in a long time. my being mute is something else completely. getting back to dry land, I become aware of the fact that I was a single body in a multitude, and my voice was among many others which screamed. so I realize that merely writing for myself, to impose my life on an audience is not only unfair — it’s just not art. art exists because there are those who will see it, those who want to see it.
except with the awareness of the world out there and the suffering that exists apart from i have experienced in the privacy of my own life, i find myself hesitant to speak. suddenly the question of relevance comes to play. realizing that i operate within a social context, my stories of heartbreak, grief and abuse seem useless. but i can’t write about the life of the tricycle driver, or the activist, or the urban poor —- without sounding condescending or just stupid. i can only speak with my own voice. the objective reality of our country is something that we can all open our eyes to, but to write poetry about it pretending to speak for those without voices is just arrogance.
it would be so easy to talk about discovering the joys of teaching again, the horrors of checking student papers, but to do that knowing that i am not speaking about how two UP students are missing, or how one out of three women will experience some form of abuse in their life just kills that impulse.
like the growing popularity of all these blogs where anyone can confess, where we can all share in someone’s broken heart, but really when you’ve seen actual agony, they begin to look like cartoons. like we’re all just living these cartoon lives. yes, personal expression is important. but really, do you want to hear about how obsessed i am about my nails or how much i love writing with a fountain pen? we do share in the emotions we all feel. grief,loss, rejection, love, happiness, excitement, boredom, we can all share in that. but we can forget that we share a country, a world —- we are in this together. and not in a happy wappy let’s all hold hands way, but in a real, gritty, dirty, smelly way. so to forget that is a travesty.
i am struggling to get out of that silence because i know i’m wasting time. there is something that must be said, and i will have to deal with my own fears, my own contradictions and inadequacies. I must go beyond the fact that i care, and recognize that I am allowed to care because i am insulated from much of my country’s suffering. If i say that this is my way of being in the world, of contributing to the world. then all i have to do is write. Just write, because I want a better world.
And i guess this is where it all begins.
reading this again now, i realize one thing: i have developed an excellent language to speak around my poetry.