This is not an instance of communication breakdown but an example of wounded pride. I am the type of vengeful, petty wraith who is at her most compelling when she’s scorned, a shiny new convert to the scorched earth policy. You think that the act of writing is an easy, thoughtless pastime, a hobby that does not require the fried mechanics of an exhausted, Möbius strip imagination and fraying patience. You think that the act of writing is an exercise in the ego’s masturbatory need for proof of life, the unquenchable hunger for outside validation. You think that the act of writing is a symptom of a space-bound dreamer, that the process of reading and comprehending literature in order to form a cultural dialogue is as fruitless as shouting in an empty, padded room.
You fail to realize that I am writing for my life.
Remember me as I am: a girlchild of the modern world, one who will gladly drown in the River Styx if it means salvation through art. Sylvia Plath’s fig tree is aching to be plundered.
I am not free.
At the end of each day, I shuttle myself back to our cramped apartment and I sit alone in the living room where the red walls feel as though they are getting closer each and every day. I wait for a trickle of inspiration to trigger artificial genius, attempting to unravel the bundles of nerves that block my motivation to create, waiting, waiting, waiting like a gawky school girl perched by the telephone with militaristic obedience. I was never adept at the grace of tight-rope walking; I have trouble balancing realities and I’m afraid of heights. When I was younger, I was an expert at pulling rabbit holes out of thin air. I moved through life using writing as a defense mechanism and, when necessary, a form of therapy, believing that words spilled onto a page offered magical, transcendant powers like the cold water of a newborn’s baptism. Whenever I sat down to write, I’d fall into a soft-filtered trance, and the sentences were slick efforts of bullet speed streams pumped plump with mass, with matter. Now that I am older, it takes longer for the words to reveal themselves. They are half-formed shadows that live on the periphery of my consciousness, night-born creatures skittish in the daylight.
Some voices are like rocket fuel. They paint my confidence with metal, encase that fragile shell with double-coated steel. Some voices are like the piercing screams of a woman chasing after a runaway baby carriage. Some voices are like the feel of my mother’s small hands when she touches my forehead for detection of a fever.
Your voice is like the other boys and the men I have encountered along the way, the boys and men who refuse to think beyond the parameters of black and white, the emotionally and intellectually stunted hordes who feel much more secure when they bed caged women.
Words do not possess any sort of fantastical surprise or bone-shaking enlightenment. Once they hit the page, words are simply a tribute to a carrion, some mangled and coarse altar to feminine frivolity, a deity that takes a wrecking ball to the emotional dam. Books are the cheapest of American religion, temporary like the stale gum in a twenty-five-cent vending machine. Books are not sports or beer; they are rarely a preferred outlet of male-bonding entertainment, of Gladiator-style bloodshed. And thus, for you, my identity as a writer does not fully exist.
(Was I ever real to you?)
It’s always about what you want, never what I want. It’s always about you. You’re not writing anything, anyway. You’re just staring at a blank page!
It’s not about me, per se, it’s about learning new ways to stay alive. I used to be enthralled by witches, of an otherworldly calling, of majestic divinity, like a comic book superhero. I went on the Internet, manically copying laughable spells into a composition notebook. I wanted control. I wanted the authority, not the respect, that fear invokes. I wanted to be bigger than life, some spinning, whirling dervish vortex that could obliterate and compartmentalize years of depression and hurt and pain like a black hole.
At thirteen, I didn’t know what else to do.
One last thing before I leave you, love: Alice Munro is eighty-two. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature. She published her first short story collection when she was thirty-seven. In your eyes, dear Alice should have given up the first time she tore open her first formal rejection letter.
I am five years shy of thirty and you gave up on me even before I could blow out all the candles on last year’s birthday cake.