Dear Jackass

I’m in the process of moving. Like most people, I hate the idea of packing everything up because it requires a lot of time and energy. I do, however, love the necessity of going through everything to see what objects I once deemed necessary to hang on to. I found that I had made nice folders containing old syllabi, class readings, writing exercises, and manuscripts from classes I took at UW-Milwaukee. The class folder I just went through was from my Intro to Fiction course. Me writing fiction is a silly thing when I think about it. The true fiction that I wrote seems very silly. I never have a clear picture of where I want my fiction to go, much less a greater moral or deeper truth to the piece. Anything readers claimed to have found in my fiction was a product of their active imaginations and literally nothing I had intended. I sort of felt like I was playing a joke on the readers. “Haha, this piece is about nothing. Good luck finding meaning in it!” I wonder if I’m the only writer to feel like that. It’s been a while since I’ve written fiction, but I remember just letting the story go where it wanted to. 

I was a moderator on a fiction board for a writing forum. I had posted a story about a guy who kept pacing back and forth on a street, popping quarters into parking meters, only to be deeply disturbed when he saw his ex-lover walking in a scarlet dress with her fiance. The penultimate moment was when he dropped a red bead from his pocket onto the street. Readers in the forum claimed there was this deep significance – lots to do with the Catholic church (seriously?) and a wandering soul. I was just like, “Yeah, that’s an interesting read on it.” In reality, I had just thought it was a cool image – this crazy guy obsessed with saving people, however little the action was, then finally casting aside the woman he never could save.

Okay, that’s actually kind of a cool concept. I still don’t know how they got the Catholic church involved.

Other than the joke-fiction I wrote, most of what I tried to pass as fiction was really just personal narrative. This gave a lot of the pieces really emotionally-charged details and anecdotal side notes. For instance:

You turned on music – The Shins, most likely. We were always listening to The Shins. How many playlists and mixed CDs did I try to make in the months that followed, just trying to create the perfect blend to capture that damn summer? I have sifted through all the evenings to pick out the music that captured us (that romantic notion of “us”). Owen, Broken Social Scene, matt pond, Sufjan (Soof! Come to Wisconsin! I have the tallest man with the narrowest shoulders! This man of suburbia will not steal your heart!), Bob Dylan, Eisley, Psapp (remember I laughed? I said it sounded like a zoo? I’m not laughing anymore. They suck), Josh Ritter, the Weakerthans (those damn underdogs! I loathe you for this!), The National Splits, Tegan and Sara (I’m no longer walking with a ghost, you pompous piece of shit), and for Christ’s sake, who could forget Radiohead? You were obsessed with Pablo Honey that summer. That album sucks as badly as a Radiohead album can suck. Thom Yorke sounds like a high school sophomore on that album. The only halfway decent song on the damn CD is Creep. And maybe Ripcord, but the rest suck – especially the one you loved some much, Thinking About You. That has to be the worst Radiohead song ever. Upgrade your taste to OK Computer and quit it with your elitist bullshit. 

Many of the details were fabricated ones – ones that don’t apply at all to the relationship on which this piece was based, but there was a lot of bitterness I was attempting to work through with this piece. I accomplished this too. I did a full-class workshop on this piece, and it gave me a sense of closure and retribution when it was all said and done. Airing out the dirty details and humiliations was electrifying.  Reading the piece, I can point to the areas where I changed the details in a cheap attempt to fictionalize it (instead of pesto pasta, we made marinada, instead of blue raspberry popsicles there was ice cream bars, etc), and it’s funny, because with a little editing, the piece functions almost perfectly as a personal narrative, which is what I intend to do with it.

Since I’ve matured since that class (it was in 2008. I’d like to think I am no longer as whiny as my 20 year-old self), I didn’t think I would find anything of worth in the folder. I figured all that I wrote then could and should be regarded as dribble. However, it gives me great pride to see what I was capable of creating. I was brutally honest in that piece, and I see now that I am capable of such honesty; I am able to forget about that somebody looking over my shoulder while I write.

I remember feeling caught off-balance when I first had an advisor ask me if I was a writer. I didn’t know how to answer at the time, because I didn’t know the qualifications. I posed that quandary to the readers of my blog at the time, and they responded with answers that basically amounted to “Yes, you moron. You are a writer.” In this moment, I don’t feel I need the outside affirmation. I can say with the utmost certainty: Yes, I am a writer.

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