Sue

 

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For Ezra,

Are we still to laugh at the gilded butterflies or have you joined them in flight?

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I.

YOU KNOW THAT PART IN THE BELL JAR about the Fig Tree and how Esther Greenwood wanted to get all the figs but could only pick one and in her indecisiveness all of them started going black and falling off the tree, raining hopelessly, sadly down on her? Well, it’s kind of like that…

        I decided after graduation, after four years of putting in so much hard work and getting exemplary marks enough to catapult me to the Dean’s List consecutively and making it to the top of the Honor Roll, that I was going to throw all my deceased parents’ ambitions for me to the wastebin and just go after what I truly wanted-writing. This was the only ambition I ever had, the only dream that stayed real enough for me to grasp and it’s been with me since I was six years old so I thought, fuck it I’ll give it a go. Sometimes I wonder why I even chose this program but then I started to think about  how enthusiastic I was about losing weight and getting all haughty and stuck up, telling other people how to lose weight that I thought I ought to make a lucrative career out of it only to make the worst mistake I had made. I know, it’s only been 23 years but I have (hopefully) a grand many more days to come that would welcome any sort of change of mind that I was prone to have. What can I say? I hated staying in one place and my mind craved for spontaneity.

            I guess after years of deluding myself into thinking that I was some intellectual with a wide array of interests, I guess I was just some fickle minded small town girl, wide eyed and detail allergic.

            Life’s hard alone but it’s doubly hard when you have nobody to share your interests with. I mean, imagine taking a pre-med course and having absolutely nobody to share your passions with. I could remember still those four years I spent in the university trotting about in halls I despised, in the most uncomfortable white uniform studying lessons I couldn’t hecking understand-all the while sneaking a Garcia-Marquez book underneath the wooden tables with the vandalisms most of which were done by the upperclassmen bored out of their wits-they were the usual mundane, brainless scribbles you’d find in your typical university. Of course, I did the next user service and scribbled something intelligent from a book-it got crossed out the next time I came around.

            I joined this organization of writers that kept on posting their ads all over social media and on electrical posts. I guess they wanted to turn back time and make things a little bit more old fashioned by posting the bills on the posts to see if anyone would notice. They were known as the Guild. This Guild you see was a creative writing group that specialized in all things literature-from novels to short stories to poems and sometimes article writing mostly organized by Literature and English students. It sure felt weird to be the only one from a technical field partaking in their interests and though they never judged me or treated me differently (if not intelligently though I would always beg to differ-I was at the bottom of my class!). Everybody was seen as a writer and not as our day jobs or the degrees we graduated with.

            I often heard from my more creative friends who took up bachelors in arts that they felt smaller when in the company of the more technical ones especially the legal ones and the medical ones. They wished to have their smarts, their analytical talents, their drive, and that ability to just memorize all the formulas and anatomy. Coming from a covert creative camouflaging in medical school, I often felt the same. Countless were the times when I was in awe of my fellow premed school classmates who could figure biochemistry out. I could never for the life of me get through that goddamn subject out so I was determined never to become a doctor for as long as I lived. But you know people only look on the surface and once they find out that I’m a premed student they automatically assume that I’m an expert on health know-how. Ladies and gentlemen-I was a leech throughout my college years. I learned absolutely nothing so lay off on the “how many pounds do I need to lose” and the “can you make me a weight loss diet?”. As someone who was inundated with scientific facts for the past four years and who barely had time to squeeze in anything aesthetic in her time, yes it can also be daunting to stand in the presence of the creative geniuses, the wordsmiths that were my fellow Guildmates. Just to be able to write something as beautiful and intricate, with stellar imagery and moving rhyme as they could would make me the happiest, proudest little squirt in the world.

            How I even ended up as a premed student, not even Jesus knows I guess (if there was a Jesus) but everyone from high school expected me to become a writer because when I was in high school it basically all I did-the only thing that I was good at, better than anyone else at. Two of my fellow writer friends from high school, gazette editors were they, were often chiding and questioning, judging my choice to take this program. They couldn’t for the life of them fathom that I had taken up a program that was legions away from who I really was. To be honest I really did delude myself that I would carry it on to medicine and that I would become a doctor but if I was going to be honest with you I knew I never stood a chance. I only said that because Christopher Raines, my ex-boyfriend was set to become a doctor and around him I just felt so inadequate that I decided that I would take up medicine just so that he would see me as an intelligent, sensible girl. Good thing he was gone from my life. I always knew that during those times despite my frequent repetitions of that lie something wasn’t right-like that whole med school thing was never meant to be and that I wasn’t fit to be seen in a white coat working in a toxic hospital. 

            The Guild had its president Sandra who was kind and at times too passive for all of us. There was an ethereal aura to her, fleeting and gentle, an icy touch to her pale white fingers. Even the way she spoke was enough to soothe you, relax you to the point that it could get too uneasy. Still, her gentleness drove all of us to write better as we looked up to her as the greatest writer in the group. The way she wrote prose was alive, eclectic, the kind that grabbed you by the neck and strangled you with emotion til you couldn’t feel it any longer. If there was anyone better than Sandra of course it had to be our mentor Mr. Saunders. Mr. Theodore Saunders-this politically inclined literary enthusiast whose wife he met at spoken word poetry sessions back when political turmoil was boiling hot and the two of them had a marriage filled with poetic protests and literary litany. I swear this man knew everything there was to know about writing and books. He was the best mentor we ever had so far and he focused on each and every one of us. his optimism was something to hold on to, really. Just the way he spoke to us with so much zest and belief and the sheer faith that we would all make it as good-no-great writers in the future, that one day when he would be old and wobbling with his cane he would hunch over the ye olde bookshops and see our names, each one of us. He was certain that we’d have been published authors by that time and mighty rich and successful.

            On the note of ‘mighty rich and successful’, he discouraged us from turning writing into a business and this was a belief that I actually shared. Of course, it would be nice to earn from your writing, to have acclaim and wealth and have people love you for what you do and sustain a living doing what you love but times as these, people have become more business minded and have seen writing as an opportunity to earn money. Recently there has been this exploding trend of tarty pop fiction which mostly were hack job novels aimed at young adults. Same old story: rich guy poor girl or vice versa, get caught up in shitty shenanigans, end up with each other, and insert cute, corny little poppy lovesong here. While most would argue with me and just right out tell me that “at least it’s getting the kids to read”, we also have to take into consideration what kind of material we’re inputting in their young, impressionable minds. Look, children and teenagers have sponge like brains that quickly take up anything that’s given to them so if we’re gonna give them anything, let’s make sure that we give them the best, the most evocative, the most educational, the most eye opening. That much at least we owe them.

            Of course, in line with the concept of yin and yang, where there is good there would always be evil so no, we cannot fully eradicate these “noises” that are standing in the way of the true message. Lots, lots of these heap novels masqueraded as “works of literature” inundate the bookshops fooling the sheepish young  children into thinking that if they start picking it up, they’d think they’re actually reading something of quality. So what Mr. Saunders would do was he’d let us read thousands upon thousands of volumes of books. It was like your high school English class where the teacher would force you to read a particular book and each day was a chance to report it only this time we didn’t report any of it rather we discussed it. Mr. Saunders knew we were sick and tired of the book report formats and the powerpoint presentations forced down our throats. We would all bandy ideas, get into little heated arguments and eventually Mr. Saunders would calm us down and we would resume our professionalism.

            The majority of us preferred poetry, prose or song. I was the only one I knew who actually preferred to write novels and essays as poetry didn’t really come naturally to me. I wasn’t too much of a romantic though I did dabble in it during my youth. When it came to writing, honestly, poetry was my Achilles heel but everyone, especially Sandra seemed to do it so well. Poetry was the reigning language and I was lost in translation.

            “How do you write poetry?” I would often ask them. While I wasn’t totally imbecilic in the art of poetry, I just didn’t know where to start.

            “Just write what you feel.” Natalie, one of my closest, dearest friends and perhaps one of the best radio presenters of her generation that I have seen (I don’t listen to the radio but her talks on air are spot on, eloquent and witty that I just can’t help but listen). Natalie too was a spoken word poetry enthusiast and often whenever she performed she accompanied it with a fiery show of theatrics that were usually dramatic in nature as she held a Bachelor’s Degree in Drama.

            The dilemma with all this “writing based on how you feel” I had was I didn’t feel anything. I was a hollow shell, deep and echoing without any sort of emotion. Having been bullied as a kid taught me how to numb my emotions and to not give away what I was truly feeling. Since then I had viewed a display or an honesty of emotion as a sign of weakness and I didn’t trust anybody as I was privy to what quick trusting could lead to. Every chance I had to obscure my true feelings, especially when I felt them coming, I took. I would cover them up mostly by talking in a cynical, deadpan manner, making self-deprecating jokes that masked my crumbling self-esteem. I hated honesty but to be real with you right now, I also deplored the very thought of me.

            If there was one thing that I actually got emotional about (and there aren’t that many, I promise you) it was about myself. I felt that I was ordinary as a piece of cardboard that was washed up in the tides after a long time of going along with it. Everywhere I went I paled in comparison to everybody I met. There wasn’t a single person I knew that had nothing to be proud of. In my high school and in my university I knew tons of people who were in the honor roll consistently, who performed and were starting to perform in venues outside of the country with great, commendable, laudable talent, and I knew some who were money making wizards and social media savvy that they made their own money by their own means. Comparison is unhealthy and is the demon that drags the self-esteem to the pits of hell but when you see someone your age making it further in life-much further than you are it just instantly fills you with the dooming sense of failure that was to come in your future. I didn’t know if I had legitimate clinical depression or if I was just too lazy to make anything out of my life.

            I was never good at anything except writing and my talent in which was still questionable but I held on to it with every part of me that could because I legitimately was passionate about it. The power of words and how you could translate the contents of your imagination to such provoking, evocative prose just struck me and it was a way of releasing steam and anger piled up by years of bullying and oppression. There was truly nothing more powerful than the pen and not even the sword could come near it. This saying was repeated to us constantly in high school and though I knew it, it wasn’t until the tormenting got worse did I fully grasp it.

            The pen is mightier than the sword and forever will it be.  Time and again they would hurl paper balls my way or try to trip me or shove me while walking but never would they be ever to take away from me the one power I had over them and that was imagination and the ability to write. God, if only you knew how obsessed I was with Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allan Poe as a teenager. Man, that was a dark era of my life that fills me with embarrassment whenever I think about it but there was no use being ashamed of it, rather I had to learn how to be proud of it. Horrible experiences like this shape our psychology as human beings and either enable or disable us from progressing and creation. In my case, it helped me realize the creative power I had hiding within me all this time-all this time that as a child I loved nothing more than to make things up.  Fantasy play and imagination were coping mechanisms when reality became too harsh to deal with and if the reality that you are moving in is too hostile, often you’d resort to a fictional world and assume a fictional existence, hence the beginning of my love affair with fiction and all things macabre. Yes, that meant I spent hours upon hours poring on books that were on the deathly side of things-murder, crime, death, dead bodies. They fascinated me all of them. I guess I associated them closely with the death of all my tormentors as it was frequently the stuff of my imagination.

            Going back, Mr. Saunders told us that the best way to channel our inner poet was to channel our inner demons-the bullies that dwelt within us. Summon the demons that pricked our hearts and tugged our nerves with their shiny red tridents and face them-face them and let them tell you all the things you don’t want to hear and respond to them with poetry. Use the language they used against you against them and watch them melt away as you bravely confronted your fears using the power of words.

            “Maybe you should stop being so afraid of your emotions.” Natalie said which made me stare into the distance. Was I really that afraid? And I thought I was the bravest person I knew.

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