- The Atlantic: It sounds like you're saying that literary "talent" doesn't inoculate a writer—especially a male writer—from making gross, false misjudgments about gender. You'd think being a great writer would give you empathy and the ability to understand people who are unlike you—whether we're talking about gender or another category. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
- Junot Diaz: I think that unless you are actively, consciously working against the gravitational pull of the culture, you will predictably, thematically, create these sort of fucked-up representations. Without fail. The only way not to do them is to admit to yourself [that] you're fucked up, admit to yourself that you're not good at this shit, and to be conscious in the way that you create these characters. It's so funny what people call inspiration. I have so many young writers who're like, "Well I was inspired. This was my story." And I'm like, "OK. Sir, your inspiration for your stories is like every other male's inspiration for their stories: that the female is only in there to provide sexual service." There comes a time when this mythical inspiration is exposed for doing exactly what it's truthfully doing: to underscore and reinforce cultural structures, or I'd say, cultural asymmetry.
I’ve never wanted to be a teacher.
I suppose it sounded okay in the abstract, being someone who inspires and educates. But that assumes one has any knowledge, or skill at imparting it. I lack in both departments.
So I scramble to find something like a curriculum, and I leave my classes shaking and sick at my stomach, painfully aware that these kids are receiving what is supposed to be the foundation for their academic careers from me and it is shit. I lie awake at night trying to figure out what to lecture on the next day, or the day after that, and nothing sounds right.
I don’t know what I want to do with my life. But I’m growing more and more certain that teaching isn’t it. I don’t think writing is, either.
My window to escape is closing rapidly, and the thought of doing this for three or four more years is… horrific.
n. a phenomenon in which you have an active social life but very few close friends—people who you can trust, who you can be yourself with, who can help flush out the weird psychological toxins that tend to accumulate over time—which is a form of acute social malnutrition in which even if you devour an entire buffet of chitchat, you’ll still feel pangs of hunger.
Selfish, they said, and murderous;
You wouldn’t be so flippant if. Give the child
A face, they said. Not some faceless foetus
Not some faceless fatal flushing
Red in the hospital nappy-pads, giddy
With the general an.
You’ve had a few faces, all of them
Mine and some of them his, and
We’ve all named you, absurd, sentimental
And once, for Light’s birthday-
You are, ghost, a joke.
(waving a cake-encrusted knife, Light),
That’s what we’ve done with you,
Kid. We made a joke of you.
Selfish, they said, and callous;
For the sake of arguments I shouldn’t
Have to have, you have had
Names and faces you did not earn;
I have tried to care
I have tried to mourn
I have tried to imagine
How I would have felt
Were you born.
Selfish, they tell me, selfish and immature;
I share my body for hours
Ticking off the clock, my secrets safe
From fingers, tongues,
You wanted it for months, your
Happy hiding cave; then years
Your feeding place, your climbing frame
Your carriage, your bodyguard.
I was never his. And I will never be yours.
Selfish, they said, because they do not know
Who my real children are.
Your siblings outclass you
Their faces outlast yours-
-these hands have made universes.
These lips speak legions, multitudes
Upon whom greater deeds than
A parent’s imaginings can be pinned
(your corkboard skull would take years
To fill and frame, doubtless, only
The least of thoughts).
- these hands are my creation
Not the uterine tyranny
Caught in cotton hospital pads.
Selfish, they said, and murderous.
Greater for never having been:
You are a goat.
And I am murderous, and selfish, and mean
And this poem will live longer
Than the fruit of their loins.
I have no problems that could not be solved with a time machine and a gun.
Received my first rejection letter today. The first of many, I’m sure. I think I might wallpaper my room with them. They’re marginally less depressing than the pepto-bismol pink currently on the walls.
Have actually been writing again; turns out that if I host an open mic night, I write a poem (sometimes two) while others perform. And if I sign up to take two massive tests in a month for which I am totally unprepared, I start churning out poetry like crazy because every minute I spent writing is a minute I’m not studying. As always, nothing inspires me like needing to do something else.
Some days, I think, you should call him. You’re so much less crazy now. Then I remember that I kept waking up, heart racing and cold sweat beading on my forehead, panicked by the thought of my own graduation ceremony. Maybe not that much less crazy. And we probably have little in common anymore; the last few times it was more or less a case of each of us being desperate to feel safe. That’s how he described it; I was ‘safe’. He could show up and I would always let him in, let him vent, let him be. He could talk about whatever he needed to, and I would stroke his hair and just love him. All my flaws, but I do love people well. I don’t get to often—love, not sex, though it’s not as though either is generally an option. It’s god-awful draining, loving someone who doesn’t return it. But I kept turning back to him when even he said he felt as though he was using me. I was desperate to be needed, or at least wanted.
I sometimes think that’s all I got out of sex in the first place; that I don’t even like it, but being wanted is just so fucking novel to me and that’s what I crave. Sex with the lights off, I’ll blow you in the car or give a handjob in the back of the theater, just say you want me and don’t ask me to take off my clothes. I’ll love you beyond words but I can’t bear to be naked, even with you, because when you leave (and you will) and I still love you (and I will) you can’t return a box full of the vulnerabilities I left scattered around your apartment.
These days I can’t fathom being comfortable enough with someone to so much as kiss.
Because fuck you I will post about my dreams.
I have had several dreams about my time in San Antonio.
At least, I think they were dreams. Much of my time in that city was spent in what was, in retrospect, some sort of drawn-out breakdown, and due to being fairly isolated there, I have no one to corroborate my stories and so I have very few concrete memories that I know actually happened. I assume this particular instance was a dream, as I was extremely shy and introverted and this sort of behavior was entirely unlike me.
San Antonio’s highway system is built like a doughnut—the small, 410 loop in the middle, and the much larger 1604 loop on the outside. They are criss-crossed by a number of streets, and I-10 comes in from the east and abruptly turns at a right angle more or less in the middle of the city to head north.
The bulk of the city is within the 410 loop, with most of the more suburby-type areas encased in 1604. Past the outer loop, there’s a lot of developing areas, some small clusters of homes, and a whole lot of farmland and pretty scenery. Good place to dump a body, I always thought.
In this dream, it was that over-saturated purple of dream nighttimes. I was driving around aimlessly, which was something I did on a fairly regular basis because gas was much cheaper then. But I drove beyond the 1604 loop and got a bit lost.
This was not something I did, as a rule. Having no friends or contacts in the city meant that I couldn’t call anyone but a tow truck for help, and this was before the prevalence of smart phones, so I had no access to anything like a GPS. I might venture a short ways out from the outer loop on a decent-sized road, as I had a fairly good natural sense of direction, but only in the daytime when I could use the sun’s position to figure out where I was going. I was not well-versed in navigating by stars, having grown up in a city where they’re not always visible.
I had gotten myself turned around one too many times to keep it straight in my head, and was driving around in an undeveloped area full of trees and fields. I hadn’t seen any building in a long while, and was beginning to worry that I would run out of gas. I stopped when I saw a modern-looking house alight with life and people despite the fact that it was in the wee hours of the morning, with several cars parked out front, and a number of folk standing around chatting. It was not in my nature to approach people, but they all seemed fairly mellow and in a good mood, and I desperately needed to know how to get home.
I waved to the people standing outside with their beer and cigarettes, and they all smiled and said hello, then returned to their conversation. I trudged forward and went inside, where I could see a large picnic-table of old, beautiful wood in an airy and well-lit dining area through the huge windows facing the driveway and front yard. The man who was hosting looked up and smiled when he saw me, beckoning me to take a seat in one of the comfy chairs scattered about the living area, and offered me a drink. I shook my head; he didn’t push it. Everyone inside (it was between four and ten people) was dressed in fine clothes, drinking wine, and discussing the beautiful paintings and sculptures throughout the house. No one asked my name, or gave theirs, and I remained silent. I gathered from listening that this was an after-party of sorts, a post-celebration in honor of the host’s wife, who had just had a gallery opening. The artwork was hers. The host was very proud of her, and had a genial, intelligent manner* that made me feel quite comfortable. This was no easy feat, as my life at that point was marked by constant unease and anxiety. I listened to them discuss the artwork and admired it myself until the sky began to streak pink and orange. The other guests started to say their goodbyes, and I stood up to leave as well, turning to the host in hope that he would be kind enough to help me. I hadn’t even opened my mouth when he patted me on the shoulder.
“Go down this road, and then turn left. You’ll drive for a while, but you’ll hit the main road soon enough.” He smiled at me. “It’s the same to come back. Now you can find us again.” I climbed into my car and left.
Months later, I dreamt again. Overcome by loneliness in the wee hours of the morning, I set off and once more found the lonely house full of light and celebration. This time there were no cigarette-smoking stragglers outside. The large picnic-table had been relocated to the driveway, and surrounded by gentle lights and flowers. A smaller crowd, about seven people, were seated at it, talking and laughing. I recognized the host, again, and surmised that the plain-looking but lively and happy woman to his right was his wife. They were all in slightly odd garb; influenced by historical periods, but not full-on outlandish costumes. The host rejoiced to see me again, and had me sit at the remaining seat. I was again offered something to drink, and I again declined with a silent shake of my head.
This time, they were celebrating a play in which they had all had a part. They laughed uproariously at silly things that had gone wrong, and things that had wound up going bizarrely right. I couldn’t get a sense of what the play was about, but I smiled and enjoyed the stories nonetheless. Again, no one asked my name, and I said nothing. At the creeping pink of dawn the guests again departed, myself with them.
Last night, I dreamt that I was once more looking for this house. I drove through field after field, past acres of trees, but I couldn’t find it. I kept waking up, thinking “I have to go back and find it,” only to return to sleep and once more remain lost.
I awoke for good when my bedroom door that leads to the outside patio flew open. There was no one outside. No one had pushed it, and it can be difficult to budge even when unlocked (especially in humid weather, when the wood and doorframe swell).
I hope to find it again.
*Years later I was to be struck with a sense of deja vu (I loathe the term, but it’s all that fits) upon meeting my screenwriting professor at UST. I couldn’t place it then, but I can now—while his appearance is only slightly similar, his demeanor is exactly the same as the host of these dream parties.
Actual (and Ridiculous) Titles of Poems I Have Yet to Write:
- In Case of Rapture, I Will Be Taking Your Stuff
- September 23rd and Other Poor Decisions I Have Made
- I am Probably Not Helping
- Serious Contemplations While Wearing an Octopus
This may be updated as more occur to me. These are actual working titles of as-yet unwritten (or mostly unwritten) poems. I should probably also include a number of poems already written and going in my thesis:
- Opening Prayer of The Agnostic Hymnal*
- … Like I Like My Coffee
- Did You Bring Your Bat?
- There Is No Reason For Iceberg Lettuce to Exist
- This concept of ‘Wuv” Confuses and Infuriates Us
*the thesis itself is titled “The Agnostic Hymnal.”
I am struck, as I always am in that span of time when nights are long and days are gray-tinted, with the urge to withdraw. Pull away from everyone and everything. Abandon classes and longstanding rituals, spend my days in a bed that smells too strongly of Human from being unwashed, creeping out only to refill my trusty water jug, pee, and occasionally find something to eat (always terrible; as cooking becomes far too complicated, and why bother to cook anything nice if I’m the only one who’ll eat it, anyway). I have done this before, for still-hazy months in 2003-2004. I don’t remember most of it; I’m still not sure what percentage of the memories I have are accurate, and what my mind made up. That nightmare where you go to class and there’s a midterm but you’ve never been to a lecture, I know I did that. At least twice. Once was on Valentine’s day. I wrote something on the test (it was a philosophy class) and walked to my car. It was a wet and ugly day, and my boyfriend at the time—the first one I’d ever had, and with whom, I was beginning to realize, I was not in love—was in another city, attending classes of his own. I remember leaning against the door of my car, looking down at my feet, and realizing I’d forgotten to put socks on. I more or less stopped going to classes after that first year, and by the time my parents said “maybe you should come back to Houston” I had essentially stopped leaving my apartment except to visit my family and go on meandering drives around San Antonio at 2 AM when the politely-worded letter that I read as screaming saying things like “Academic Dismissal” arrived in my mailbox. In my two years in there I made two friends. One vanished after a few months and to this day I’m uncertain whether he is alive. The other was a fuckbuddy about a half-year after the boyfriend, but once he asked me “why aren’t we dating” I started pulling away and stopped initiating contact. I never brought him back to my apartment. I preferred no one knowing where I lived.
I have changed, I think. For one, I get up and get out of bed nearly every day, I shower and dress and go to class and run errands and do what I am supposed to do, mostly because not doing it means the threat of medication and therapy and I swear I would rather eat glass than deal with therapy. I’ve set down some roots, established patterns. People, infuriatingly, know where I live and have my phone number and would likely be able to find me with minimal effort, should they wish to do so. And yet, the pull remains.
It would be a gutless move, but it tugs at me on a regular basis (proof, perhaps, that I have not really changed so much). It would be harder. But with graduation comes the breaking of many patterns, and it would be so convenient. Heartbreaking, certainly; I love many people and would miss them. And I couldn’t get away entirely, due to family obligations—most nights I lie awake, half-panicking at the realization that I will be taking care of elderly family members for most of my life, and I cannot die until they do. I could not leave the city, and for the fourth-largest in the country, Houston can be lung-crushingly small.
I am supposed to be sending work into this nebulous “out,” which means I am wary to post it online. Not for fear of it being stolen (I honestly believe my poems about zombies, the church I went to when I was six, and oh, yes, the eight billion poems about my ex are pretty safe in that regard), but because most magazines and journal-type publications want first crack at anything you send them, and apparently LiveJournal passes for “publication” these days. This makes things tricky, as it means my only feedback comes from the
victimsfriends in whose faces I manage to shove my writings enough times to get them to read it. Since at any given point, I’m fairly certain most of my friends can’t actually stand me, I am hesitant to inflict poetry upon them. It just seems cruel. We will not even speak of fiction, where I ramble aimlessly because I have never met a plot I could wrangle into anything resembling a chronologically-sound storyline.
I cannot, for the life of me, find anyone among these literary journals (whose websites often have examples of published work of the sort they seek) who writes like I do. This is not a good thing; there is “having a unique voice” and there is “being generally awful” and given that I am inexperienced at this whole poetry game, I would wager I am closer to the latter. I am slowly starting to actually read poetry (I am the worst English student ever; I have barely touched the stuff after years of being so repulsed by the entire concept of poetry that I couldn’t read it without feeling ill) and that may see a shift towards something more recognizable as I begin to inevitably steal from better authors. In the meantime, I am never certain where to send anything.
All this is, of course, based on the assumption that I actually manage to write more than two poems a month. I am marginally less than optimistic.