See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a fuckin’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!
-Will Hunting, Good Will Hunting
I’ve got some eggs in my basket on leads for a job. They all pay well, they all come with benefits, and I’m sitting here waiting to see what’s going to happen. In the meantime, I’m taking Will up on his advice. I loaded up my Kindle with almost 1900 books, and I’m working my way through them. So far, I’ve loved every one. Right now I’m struggling with James Joyce, but as the book goes on, I’m falling in love with Stephen Dedalus. So much so that I may need to read Ulysses next, because when I went to Stephen’s Wikipedia page, I learned that he’s also an important character in that book as well. Stephen is interesting to me because he struggles with his faith and being human at the same time. He doesn’t want to sin, and beats himself up regularly for doing so. It’s not my theology, but it’s interesting watching him evolve into his own. I can’t decide whether I want to break my rule, though. My rule is that I read a different author with each book that I start so that I don’t pick up their style. I want my voice to be unique, and I can’t decide whether I’ve been writing long enough that it won’t happen. I went through quite a Dooce phase, but I didn’t steal anything. I just started to imitate her style in a way that it showed in a transparent kind of way. Next was my love of Ernie Hsuing of little. yellow. different. Those were the people I emulated the most when I first started blogging at Clever Title Goes Here. It’s still around on the Wayback Machine, but I let it go when the lease ran out and I was too scared to continue writing. That’s because I have to have an inordinate amount of bravery to keep writing, as Dooce has said over and over. It’s hard when your friends don’t like you because they can see themselves in your mirror. But that doesn’t mean you should shut down. It means that you have to know within yourself that you are not trying to slam anyone, but to tell your own story. Sometimes people do negative things, and of course, they don’t want to read about them. But what I have to get across is that even when people do negative things, I am not shining the light on them. I am shining the light on my reactions to them, whether positive or negative.
I have written extensively about the ways I manipulate people because it is what was modeled for me as a child and it is something I need to work on with a therapist so I can stop it cold. I do not want to be underhanded. I want to be as pure as snow, the way Argo lives her life and tried to model for me, but because so much damage had already been done to me, I could not hear her over the sound of my own rebellious voice. I kicked her ass into next week…. and for it, I got the exact opposite of what I wanted and needed, which was a friend to kick my ass into next week so that I could stop being such a jerk. I pushed her away because I knew it would work, because in some sense, I thought it would bring Dana and I back into equilibrium.
I chose……………………………. poorly.
Dana and I had developed patterns over time that were going to destroy us, anyway. I will not tell her story, because it is not mine to tell. But what I will say is that when she said I would never amount to anything, I felt she was pushing her own lack of self-worth onto me… that she was telling me what she felt about herself. I could be Hector Projectering onto her, but I never got the sense that she was doing so much better than me that she had the right to hand down that judgement.
I feel that the difference between us is that my friendship with Argo proved to me that something was desperately wrong with me and I needed to fix it. She was right, and I listened. I will remember forever when she said, “why do you think it’s everyone else’s job to fix you?” It provided me the much-needed ass kicking to get myself into gear. It was that moment, that very day, that I checked myself into the psych ward at Methodist hospital to try and deal with the emotional issues I should have taken care of at 15, but didn’t know enough to even see what questions to ask. It astounded me when I went to occupational therapy and everything I thought was Attention Deficit Disorder was actually 20 out of the 30 signs of emotional trauma. I wasn’t ADD. I was reliving my abuse over and over, every single day.
For instance, my grades were terrible in school because I just could not keep it together. All of the staring at pictures of Diane in my notebooks, all of the signing her signature all over my book covers, all of the staring out the window and ruminating about what was happening to me were not signs of inattention. They were signs that other things were more important than my own life, and I let it go.
I am also not sure that I wasn’t raped as a child, because the same trauma reflexes that I exhibited as a teenager were present in elementary school. Perhaps I genuinely do have signs of ADD, but at the same time, I had a great uncle come on to me sexually as a teenager that I am not sure didn’t get away with something in my childhood that made him come back for more when I was 17. It’s a wild stretch, but at the same time, it is not something that I can ignore altogether. When I was two or three, I was terrified of men with moustaches. I would scream and cry every time someone with a moustache wanted to touch me. My mother says that I was never alone with said great uncle, but this is untrue. My body clock was off when we went to London and stayed with this great uncle, and I came downstairs in the middle of the night. I remember being creeped out because something was happening under the blanket where he lay next to his wife. I tried to go back upstairs, but my feet were planted with fear. I finally went back upstairs and back to sleep between my mother and father, but the feeling in the pit of my stomach never went away. I do not remember being abused, but I do remember seeing something I thought was not supposed to happen in my presence. However, these two memories together lead me to believe that Diane was not the first to cross a line with me. When my mother confronted Diane about ending our relationship, she asked my mother if I’d been abused. I remember thinking what in the hell made her ask it. I wonder what she saw that would lead her to believe it. I cannot say for sure, and I never asked her. But in retrospect, I should’ve. As a music teacher that worked with hundreds of middle schoolers, I cannot believe that she didn’t see something.
The only thing that saved me from that time in my life were the teachers that encouraged me to read. I could get lost in a story, and I had three particular favorites at that age. The first was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. The second was Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The third was The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. Incidentally, the last one was not recommended by one of my own teachers, but given to my sister, Lindsay, by one of hers.
When I was a junior in high school, one of the books assigned to me was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Junior year was my first at Clements High School, and after having been out at HSPVA and going back into the closet at Clements, it was a lifeline of epic proportions. It was the one time at Clements that I could be myself in some small way, because I found someone with my own sexuality at a time when I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I am sure my book report gave it away. Every lesbian in the world knows what happens on page 52 (yes, I did type that from memory, thank you). I was so thankful to my teacher that we became friends of sorts. I used to help her out in her room after school, helping with bulletin boards and the like. Then, on my birthday, Diane sent me flowers. They were innocuous. She was dating someone at the time, and the card said, “Love from the Moms, Diane & Jeri.” My teacher transferred me out of her class so fast my head spun. She put two and two together and her insidious prejudice just couldn’t take me anymore.
I seriously hated my new teacher, because I didn’t think she was as smart as my other one. She also ripped off ideas from my other teacher, and all of the sudden, my old teacher was interested in me again as a spy. She wasn’t prejudiced as long as I was useful to her. I got my peace years later, when said teacher became a patient in my stepmom’s practice. My dad thought she was a total bitch, and said he was sorry for the way she treated me if the way she treated him was any indication.
Again, it was books that saved me. My senior year, I was completely enthralled by Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It immersed me in an environment so far away from my real life that I was ensconced in escapism. It was also about that time I became interested in The Bible… but not in the way that teenagers studied it. Because my dad had been to seminary and had been a minister for 23 years, most of his criticism books were still in the house. My particular favorites, and still are, the works of William Barclay. They opened up a world that I’d never seen, because it gave new breath and life into something that I thought I’d have to have a brain transplant to understand. I also read one of the best criticism novels of my life… so called because it takes all the facts there are to be had about Jesus’ life and death and ventures into fiction to fill in what might have happened. It is called The Day Christ Died, by Jim Bishop. What makes it different is that it is written from a journalist’s perspective, so the chapters are divided into hours. The tone is very Woodward & Bernstein, and it changed the way I viewed Jesus’ life immensely. It was that book that changed my focus from the way Christ died to the way he lived. While some Christianity is focused on being washed in the blood of Christ (ew), I am focused on the political structures Christ managed to dismember, a humble shepherd murdered by the state. The most interesting character in the whole book is Pontius Pilate, because he bent to peer pressure and at the same time, really doesn’t understand why. His internal struggle is, to me, the apex of the conflict which begins the denouement. It is one of the saddest moments in history, but I choose to “always look on the bright side of life.”
High school was also where I discovered James Baldwin and Richard Wright. Go Tell it on the Mountain, Native Son, and Black Boy got me through the roughest patches of high school. I was bullied, but nothing compared to the down and dirty shit they went through just to stay alive. They got me out of bed in the morning, because if they could do what they did, the least I could do was show up for high school regardless of who I needed to fight. I think I told this story before, but it is apt here. In my freshman English class, a group of people showed up on the lawn of the school where I was eating lunch and screamed Bible verses at me. One boy kicked my side as I was drinking Dr Pepper and it went everywhere. My sophomore year, my English class ganged up on me and said they were a family, and I was the dog, making me bark every day until I got tired of it. The class was on the second floor, and the railing was on top of a large checkerboard linoleum floor. I picked her up by her jacket and threw her against the second floor railing and told her I was going to throw her over if that shit didn’t stop immediately. I don’t think I was actually strong enough to have thrown her over, but my eyes clearly went to my nothing box and she knew I meant business. If it didn’t stop, I was going to do something. She at least knew that much.
It stopped. Immediately. The bitch of it is that my dad thought it was best to treat bullies with kindness, and this girl didn’t have a horn. It was stolen or something, so he let her use his trumpet the entire school year. She still treated me like crap, maybe because she didn’t know how to accept such a large gift. But at least the barking stopped. That was the important thing. I could deal with everything else. Just because she was a total bitch the rest of the year didn’t mean much to me. I was too busy to care.
In English we started reading Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, and I was again lost in a world miles away from my current reality.
And that is where I sit right now. Trying to be miles away from my current reality, because I have been through the shit once again and am trying to bring myself into wholeness by becoming more educated by the things I choose to read. I haven’t chosen anything easy. Even Outlander, with its wild ride through history, was heavy in places… many of them, actually. The words of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and George Washington and all of the people who founded our country are giving me words of peace to ponder. Stephen Dedalus is a conscience builder if ever I saw one. I also need to finish Argo as Tony Mendez reaches the end of his life, because it would be nice to send him a piece of fan mail whether he responds or not. It is the same with Oliver Sacks. I truly loved The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
All of my books are helping me to release my own Argo, the great ship in which I sleep deeply in the belly, for which I know my passage is safe. I wrote that line years ago, and even though she has taken the life raft of apart, that doesn’t mean that I do not travel the seas in my dreams.
All I can say to that is amen, may it be so.
No late fees included.