Friday, July 9, 2010

Garage Man

I need to write about writing. And of course it's complicated. Like everything else in my life. Do I make things complicated? Probably. OK, then. Anyway.

So I've had a phobia about writing since I was in elementary school. Not sure what the exact assignment was or what happened, but somewhere along the way in my childhood, I came to believe that nothing I said or wrote was valid. Hmmm. That adjective was hard. Valid isn't right. Put it this way, making a declarative sentence back then was hard for me. Still is sometimes. I'm deathly afraid of being judged. And again, I blame my mom. Ha ha. Not really.

Maybe it was because I'd make observations to my mom, about all our lives, or about the lives of our relatives. Simple things, really. Like, "Cousin Patrick is drunk." "No he's not," she'd reply. "Cousin Delonde is a lesbian." "No she's not. Say hi to Samantha. She's Delonde's special friend." I guess it really peaked when we would go to Mississippi to see cousins, in retrospect.

Oh, here are some more good ones. "I don't like pink for my room." "Yes you do. I'm doing pink floral for your room." "I don't think Bethany likes me anymore." "What did you do?" "I want to break up with Jared." "You will do no such thing. He just took you to a dance. Call him back and make up with him."

It continues to this day. My aunt was telling my mom how my cousin Mary collects antique quilts and isn't that just wonderful? "Well, Penelope does too! That IS wonderful!" Needless to say, I don't collect antique quilts. I have two crappy old quilts that are falling apart, but I don't think anyone, ever, would say they're valuable.

My dad doesn't come out of this innocently either. He was a doctor and his things were mostly medical. "I broke my arm skateboarding." "No you didn't. If you want, you can go down to the ER, but you didn't." "I need stitches." Same answer.

The most scarring thing, though, which somehow while writing this I didn't think of til now was their response to my complaints about my sister. I think I've repressed it lately because my sister and I are getting along. Holy crap, this is pretty much just it. The whole thing. How stupid of me not to see it. "Mary scares me." "Don't tattle." "Mary hurts me when she babysits us. I get scared." "No she doesn't."

My sister was five years older than me and she fucking hated me. Hated. I can't say I blame her, she was a child herself, after all. The response from my parents is what shocks me now. Nothing. Periodically there would be a lecture to her, but she scared the crap out of them too. She was so angry. I quickly learned that telling on her only made her more angry, so I stopped. I became voiceless. Powerless. This went on for fucking years and years. Until she went away to college when I was 13. I used to have nightmares where I was being attacked and I would open my mouth to scream and no noise came out.

OK, then. Whew. Sorry to unload, had to be done, I guess. So just keeping a web log is extremely therapeutic for me. I do have a voice, goddamnit. I do have things to say. Smart things, too. Sometimes funny things.

OK, now we come to the second part of my writing phobia. Complicated, again. Involving my parents, again. But not my sister. We're great now, actually. It's kind of surprising, really. Has to do with my mom and dad.

So my dad is a severe alcoholic now. With dementia now. He's not that old, all things considered (72), but he pretty much is non-functioning. He used to be so wonderful, too - notwithstanding the ER things. I loved him with my whole heart. Worshipped him. He was smart. So was I! He loved science, so did I! He was sensitive, so was I! He was constantly berated by my mom, so was I! He wasn't a great dresser on his own (she picked out all his suits), neither was I! He was kind and loving, so was I! He had lots and lots of extra-marital affairs! So did, um, wait. He had a raging drug problem and a serious secret life! Yea, um, well. A very very flawed man. But I loved him. All of us kids did. When he was there for us, it was great.

He stopped drinking, because of an ultimatum from my mom, when I was 5 years old. For various reasons, he picked it up again when I was 21. In the interim he smoked a lot of pot. Good stuff. My sister and brother knew about this, but I probably just put my head in the sand. I don't honestly remember.

When I was about 30 he semi-retired. He also bought a house in Oxford, Mississippi, where he had gone to college. He spent about half the year up there. He went to so far as to take a couple of classes at Ole Miss then. One of the classes he took was Creative Writing. Oh, and he loved Larry Brown, the alcoholic writer who I think had a position at Ole Miss. And he loved Hunter S. Thompson and Hemingway. You get the idea. Not my favorite type of writing, let's say. But hey, what do I know?

So, since that time, he's been carrying around (literally) a story he wrote from that class called, "Garage Man". OK. Recently he came to visit. I had heard lots about this about 5 page story for a while. For years. I'd never read it, though. This last visit, he gave it to me to read, but then because he's so non-functioning, he forgot it. I still have it. I've read two paragraphs. It's a first-person story. About a man who talks about doing coke and about what a coke whore (is that one word?) will do to get coke. Involves blow-jobs (hyphen there?). That's when I stopped reading. That's when I became scarred for life.

Yea, it's fiction. Yea, people are allowed to write about coke whores. I get that. Not my dad. Or who I thought he was. Or who I wanted him to be.

What's also good are a few other things. First of all, apparently he's submitted this little story to serious literary magazines. New Yorker. Rolling Stone (I think because of Hunter S. Thompson he thought it'd be more up their alley). Second of all, there's a critique of it, handwritten on the back two pages of the copy I got. The original, I mean. Some girl named Renee, I think. She wrote, and I quote directly (I may have gotten her name wrong, btw, I really don't want to dig this thing out for this posting that's how strongly I feel about it), "You impressed the shit out of me with this story. Give me a call sometime this summer and we can get together." I think she drew a heart somewhere.

Something else I should say is that last summer, my mom wanted me to help her sort through all her photographs. When going through the photos from the sixties, from before I was born, I found some photos that I hid from her. It's not that big of a deal (don't get scared!), but it would be to her. They were on a ski trip in the Alps (my dad was drafted and was stationed in Europe) and I have no idea where my sister was, but I know it was the trip where mom was just pregnant with me. She had told me how miserable she was from morning sickness. Anyway, there was a picture of my sweaty, clearly drunk dad dancing very close with some woman with this look on his face. It was probably one of their friends. That was his m.o. I can imagine what he was saying, and no I'm not making this up. For a person with a pretty active double life, his face has always been remarkably easy to read. In this case that was helped a great deal by the alcohol obviously in his system. I truly truly truly will never understand my mother. Never. Turns out she was voiceless too. But by choice. I don't know, maybe she felt she had no choice. I can't know. That's complicated too.

So, once past my initial instinctive, self-protective voicelessness, now I have another problem with writing. I've begun a bad romance novel. Or romance short story, really. It's Twilight fan fiction, which means that I use the character names, and maybe the general character sketches, but I can do anything I want. Vampires, not vampires. Teenagers, not teenagers. Present, in the past. The Twilight stories are just a jumping off point, something my husband completely doesn't get. I asked him to read the first few pages and he said, "I don't want to read about vampires. When was this set? Who's this? I'm confused. Gah, I just want to go to sleep." And btw, it's loosely based on Phebe's story (I've given her an Edward! She would be horrified!), so I feel it's ok to unload all this crap here. Again, sorry.

Does this make me like him? Will I carry this story around for years, thrusting it on unsuspecting family members? Horrifying them? It's a very tame romance. Very tame. More melodrama than anything else. And I'm enjoying writing it, but I can't help feeling very very self-conscious. My mom will never know, I think. Still, it's in the back of my mind always. Like my childhood voicelessness, contributing to my generalized writing anxiety.

Forge ahead, though. I want to forge ahead. Maybe get past all that. Maybe when it's done I'll link to here. Probably not. Thanks for listening. Until next time, then.

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