“The ‘too’ of a woman produces violent male reactions and, in addition, the enmity of other women, who every day are obliged to fight among themselves for the crumbs left by men. The ‘too’ of men produces general admiration and positions of power.”
I am my better, more thoughtful self in the writing, and for a long time I wore this fact like a medal.
Here’s the thing: language can be good and still mean nothing.
But the very purpose of language is to convey, to express, to pass through so as to unite—in other words, to mean. Language means. Girls are mean. This is why artists separate from their bodies over time, why poets walk away, why philosophers who have built something of themselves through language are sometimes unable to stay raveled after being submerged in the medium for too long. Words let you misplace yourself onto them, and before you know it you’ve turned away from yourself entirely, the very thing your body was supposed to be—self—replaced by a sense of failure: words. Ghosts. Language and meaning made total strangers to each other. Bodies and lives, buried under sheets.
Too much writing may separate me from myself, but that has no bearing on my public reception, nor the poorest of bad choices I make. Words over here, mistakes over there, but somewhere, deep in the middle, they do touch. Everything touches, so be prepared.
I write in order to prove to myself that I have been a person at least once.
I want writing that accounts for lives unlived. But there is a wide chasm of difference between “unspoken” and “unlived.” I forget that. Words make me feel as if I can skip the process entirely and go straight to the product, that I could write my way into perfectly crafted living and then pop my head up through the surface of the page and join the world from there.
I write because writing is the best way I know of to consistently achieve the dizzying state of changed perspective: how to see new places (in your head), new shapes in which knowledge can be housed (in your head), new ways of looking at the same old thing (your head).
“He said it’s all in your head / and I said so is everything / but he didn’t get it.” – Fiona Apple
That thing you’ve spent countless hours staring at as if through; thing you’ve gently placed on shelves or in boxes or in new rooms in new apartments, stuff that’s accompanied your every move, legal documents, muscles & bones, everything fundamental to your social existence but which does not ask to be seen on a regular basis, your brain. And then you see it, lit with recognition, your strong writer’s body discovering a new way of looking at itself as a metaphor, because writing is always a metaphor, is always a translation, the words and sentences constituting most of what’s being seen, most of what you’re so worked up about, just language on a page that used to not be there. Writing makes much of little, but it can also make little of too much.
What I mean to say is that I write in order to see my brain, and what I see instead are words. Then the process repeats. I am a girl trying to write her way into life, when words should instead be a natural extension of what’s already happening, what can truly be said to exist.
Writing can never truly exist, it can only be said to exist.
Girls exist like the act of writing: we move along the surface of things, always paying such close attention to the deeper feelings and needs and comforts, stuff we gesture toward but do not always contain (why should we have to contain everything?). Straddling, stuck in the middle. Not as valued as the original, nor the final product. A girl is a process that is never finished, only abandoned. Girls are expected to look left and then right and then left again, to shift and to backspace. How do we know when it’s safe to cross? It is never safe to cross when you are a girl walking down the street, owner of girl parts and dreams and compassion, everything soft. When can my insides be more than just my outsides beckoning?
Ferrante again: “Living is a permanent disruption for writing, but without it, writing is a frivolous squiggle on water.”
What you perfect in privacy will never translate into the public sphere until you first spend some time messing up there, out in the open, in front of others. My writer’s instinct created a life of mostly waiting to bypass embarrassment (a girl’s instinct?), bypass too-much-ness, and my ideas and my imagination fed that delusion, again and again. Figure things out, then turn toward the world, she said. A girl’s extinction?
Language gets in the way of talking.
Language is a mark of education. Is a commotion. Is a thing that you can talk about with some people and not others. Some people will understand where you’re coming from. And others won’t. Language is the least and the most of what’s in the way, at all times.
Everything I write feels like the last thing I will write. Exhausted, hard-fought, entirely distorted. Completely made up.
Shania Twain was born in 1916 to a small immigrant family. Shania Twain was burned at the stake for dressing as a man, among other travesties. Shania Twain graced the TV right as I began to calculate my own intrusions, my interests, the shape of my being a female-daughter-person. My dad stared at the screen in awe while my mother joked about Shania’s dancing, the denim costume, her wild hair, the way she moved, her symmetrical face. How it looked like she was sniffing her armpit when she threw her head to the side, arms in the air. My dad practically floated when women like that came on TV, and my mother and I could still manage to laugh even if we were alone in the room with him, like artifacts.
I spent so long feeling stuck in the middle of things, school and divorce and weight and influence. Too-much-ness, and the way your own invisibility can be too much, too. I longed for adulthood, thinking it meant I could skip the bad experiences. Skip the process and go straight to the product. I was a child accidentally defining her own death. I was a monster spoiled by her own thirst for blood.
Whatever’s in front of me at any given moment: that’s what I assume I am supposed to be. A newspaper. An impulse. A costume. A music video. A gaze, or whatever exists across from it.
Shania Twain, you’re part of the reason I feel the way I do. You even show up in the writing, at least at the peripheries.
Though there’s no center, just circle after circle after circle of mimicry. A lot like dancing.
I know what’s best for me, the writer says. So she writes. Cropped hair, less jewelry, a body unusually at rest. In my head, the ideas swerve and tunnel through each synapse, making thought seem tangible. If I can touch it with my hand, with my headhand, who’s to tell me I’m wrong? So I smash any two ideas right up next to each other, as if ideas were as malleable as words, and wait for them to merge. Done. I make something new, I pretend it’s me. Write and write and write and write and write. Make assumptions about the few people I come in contact with. Always assume the worst. Pretend nothing has anything to do with me. And so, it doesn’t.
Then I remember the tide, as if memory constitutes reality. Standing still, the ocean waves at me like I mean something to it, the shells and seagulls bob in and out of frame. Everything is a frame; everything is held by everything else. I pretend to know where things start and where they end. I punch a hole in the fabric of living and call what falls out an essay.
The monstrosity of a woman expressing her wants, her hopes, having any expectations at all.
Surely I can’t be the monster. Not a small embarrassing girl like me, pretending to write.
Writing allows you to pretend almost anything.
I want to be so many things but I end up a body folded into a paragraph. Sometimes I won’t even open my mouth. What if something falls out? What if nothing?
I’m not good at pretending things don’t matter. Everything matters, which leads to good writing and poor friendships.
When did I learn that it was best to hide my problems, to protect my struggling as if it were the most intimate version of me?
I don’t take myself seriously but I expect everyone else to, and that is the worst type of writer to be.
You want the life to be big and the writing to be condensed from it, so that all the details are important and true without needing to be quite thorough, which words can never be. If the living is small, even a small amount of words becomes an amount too large for the life, incomparable, so that your body is down here and the words are up there, expanding outward, like padding. Life shouldn’t be padded. Words shouldn’t be the place where your life gets bigger. Life should be a large one, and then, in the small occasional moments, you write. There should be too much to fit on the page.
This girl thinks she can think her way through anything if she’s not careful. Unless she’s too careful. This girl will end up in a ditch, or behind an invisible screen, or turned into a frog, depending on the amount of care she produces.
If the screen is invisible, wouldn’t you see right through to the real her?
You’d think so.
Writing is the space between birth and death. Sometimes it’s awful.
Anything can be a surface if there’s more beneath it.
Language is always a surface. On good days, I press my hands down flat on it and try to hold still, tell Shania I forgive her.