30 November 2010

4 meaning



there was a time when i genuinely believed God intended i be a poetess.

it is a time upon which i do not look back with great fondness and which was the direct result of a prolonged encounter with t.s. eliot and sylvia plath in a lower level 20th century american literature survey course, the release of the downward spiral, and a break-up with my high school boyfriend who had recently, permanently, become gay. a potent combo at any age, this cocktail of emotions was stirred further by The Novelist then teaching my creative writing class.

i was not attracted to The Novelist. he was not an attractive man. he wore silk shirts through which he sweated profusely.

i did not know who he was and i had not read his books, but i am a girl who loves words and, though i fancy myself tough, my heart is easily captured by romantical sounding sweet nothings.

i was 19 and i did not know any better. that is why i thought there was nothing more enchanting in all the world than The Novelist's repeated assertion that, as artists, we must craft "verbal word pictures of opaque transcendency."

let's spend a moment with that phrase because it is important.

verbal word pictures of opaque transcendency.

look at it closely. breath it in.

verbal word pictures of opaque transcendency.

ignore the fact that "verbal" and "word" are totally saying the same thing. YOU ARE AN ARTIST. do not be sidetracked by trivial details. cut them loose and take everything else in.

pictures of opaque transcendency.

close your eyes. repeat it once or twice.

pictures of opaque transcendency.

pictures of opaque transcendency.

imagine you are a 19 year old girl. imagine the only word in that phrase for which you know the definition is "pictures." remember, YOU ARE AN ARTIST. you do not need what you already know.

now look at it again. stare deep, deep into the mystery of the great unknown.

opaque transcendency.

opaque transcendency.

OPAQUE TRANSCENDENCY.

wow.

that's magical, right?

i imagine this is the exercise thomas kinkaide uses to psych himself up to paint.

The Novelist incorporated this phrase, in its entirety, into the beginning and end of every class. clasping his hands in front so his fingers formed a steeple, with the patience of a preacher he would evoke the power of verbal word pictures of opaque transcendency as beads of sweat fell steadily from his silk cuffs like rain from the easements of a church.

we would meet in his office, The Novelist and i, to discuss my Future in Poetry. we both of us seemed to sincerely believe i had one.

The Novelist would look at me in all earnestness and say my Poems would take me far. he would push me to do better. the pieces i submitted in class would return with marginalia like, "you are opaque. TRANSCEND!!!" at the time, this seemed excellent advice. i wonder now if he was on drugs.

opaque transcendency. i did not know what the hell it meant, but by God, i was going to do it.

i would waste an entire semester striving towards this.

The Poems are not all bad. there is one. it is satisfactorily mediocre. it is framed and hangs in my living room as a reminder of how far i have come- as a woman, as an english major, as a destroyer of the written word. this poem is, as they all are, about my high school boyfriend being gay.

the problem with adolescent poetry is that there's a relatively finite field of topics to mine. the only thing that had ever happened to me that seemed remotely poetic was that my high school boyfriend had come out and that is a limited well from which to draw.

not that this deterred me. it was my only poetic experience and, believe me, i sucked that thing dry.

this is probably as good a time as any to confess that The Poems are violently sexual.

yes, i was a virgin comically ill-informed on the mechanics of sex and our physical contact had consisted of the simple holding of hands, but The Poems paint an altogether different picture. had i purposefully set out to assess every aspect of this relationship through the context of the "closer" music video, i could not have done a better job.

i had never been molested or abused, but i had listened to a lot of tori amos. and so, with the presumptuousness one can only have when enrolled in an undergraduate creative writing course, i figured this must be what that was like. because being dumped by a gay man is so clearly analogous to rape.

there's a u2 lyric. "every artist is a cannibal/every poet is a thief." bono didn't write that. he stole it from someone else. at the time, i took that as verification that Real Artists must steal and therefore stole everything i could find.

collectively, The Poems are a tempest of high/low brow. i'm not going to position myself as an innovator but i dare say no one else has brought together trent reznor, t.s. eliot, andy warhol and rock master scott & the dynamic three in a matter of eight lines.

and i'm not saying they would want to or need to. just that they haven't.

perhaps the most galling aspect of The Poems, aside from their obvious dreadfulness, is the fact that i shared them with everyone i knew.

in those heady days of the early internet, when sharing was suddenly so easy, i emailed them to my closest high school friends, virgins all. when boys expressed an interest in dating me, i insisted that they first read The Poems, so they would know who i really was. like, on the inside.

i had mistaken an aping of the work of other people as an expression of my true self.

in class, where i had quickly gained a reputation as a teacher's pet, i would lean back in my chair with the self-conscious pride of a poet laureate, secure in the belief that i had found my craft and it had been mastered.

i had done my research. i knew what being a poet was supposed to look like. taking a cue from sylvia plath, i would wake early on cold mornings and tiptoe barefoot across the cold floor into the hall, to slip early drafts under kbg's door. i did this as though i were leaving tender love notes, but there was no tenderness here.

i wrote 115 Poems in the span of 39 days. they were the literary equivalent of napalm. i was scorching earth.

but i did not see it that way then. i thought i was being avant-garde. i did not know enough to know that i was following in the footsteps of every broken-hearted teenage girl from all of history since the beginning of time. and i did not imagine how hurtful the extravagance of my grief could be.

because this was back when there was still a small chance that the internet might be a passing fad and we would one day return to paper and pens, i sought to preserve my work, The Poems, through the most enduring means i could imagine.

thus, i spent the night before christmas break of sophomore year alone in my dorm room printing all The Poems on my lexmark dot matrix printer. with "fake plastic trees" on repeat and four forbidden candles lit, i loaded the tractor feed paper one sheet at a time. when all 115 were printed, i tore all 230 edges clean and bundled the pages with a yellow ribbon tied in a perky bow.

following an impulse not unlike that which compels lovers to carve their names in trees, i packed The Poems in a box and walked to the post office, where i mailed this package- this emobomb- to my high school boyfriend who was now gay.

as i placed it on the counter, the mailman asked what it was, presumably wondering whether its contents were combustible. consumed with self-satisfation, i smiled knowingly and assured him they were not, saying, this box is the best christmas present in all the world.

in reality, it was the meanest. my high school boyfriend and i didn't speak again for the next six years.

i'm oversimplifying. this wasn't entirely the fault of The Poems but The Poems played a part. because, The Poems, they are haunting.

though we didn't speak for all those years, my high school boyfriend kept them. he had them bound and stored them in a trunk. they moved with him around florida, onto an island and then up into tennessee.

when my high school boyfriend came to visit in the fall of 2007, The Poems came with him, the yellow ribbon still tied in its bow.

we sat on the floor of my bedroom as he read them aloud.

i had no Future in Poetry. my Poems did not take me far. but as my high school boyfriend and i lay rolling on the floor like penacostals with each Poem sending us into renewed gales of laughter until our faces were streaked with tears and snot, somewhere in there, in the spectacle of my high school boyfriend reading The Poems i wrote for him in an undergraduate creative writing course upon the discovery that he was gay, i realized that wasn't entirely true. The Poems had taken us somewhere.

The Poems are a horrible, dead thing written by a girl i no longer am. an adolescent relationship as taxidermied beast.

but, all these years later, when i close my eyes, when i let everything else go, when i remember I AM AN ARTIST and stare deep, deep into the mystery of the unknown and give in to the power of the verbal word pictures of opaque transcendency, The Poems make me laugh harder than anything else in the world.

and when my high school boyfriend looks at me and asks, do you think we'll still be laughing at your verbal word pictures when we're forty? i say, God, i hope so. i want to be always able to laugh like this.

4 comments:

Acer Negundo said...

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.

Also, I love the photo. It looks spectacular.

oline said...

you do look quite hip in it.

Linda said...

heh heh. verbal word pictures.

oline said...

i do love it when you heh heh. makes you seem like such a dirty old man.