Monday, March 5, 2012

The Canvas Alive: Pages for You from Sister Outsider

I find the erotic such a kernel within myself. When released from its intense and constrained pellet, it flows through and colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all my experience.

Lorde, Audre. "Uses of the Erotic: The erotic as Power." Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984

I never got a chance to take an LGBT/Queer Literature course in college, would ya believe that? It's more a function of having transferred four times than of opportunity. At Hampshire, I KNOW there were (and are) loads and loads of opportunities for queer academic work. At Niagara University, even though it is an institution of the Jesuit orientation, I would guess that Jeanne Laurel and the English Department offer some sort of queer lit component of an ethnic literature requirement (a book by a queer writer or about a queer character appearing here and there), and at the University at Buffalo and Western Illinois University queer literature is built into the ethnic literature curriculum but also dependent on the interests of the individual professor. If I were a professor, I would exclusively want to teach about feminist and lesbian literature, poetry and theory. I would probably go Mary Daly on The Academy, and only allow students who identify as Outsiders to attend!

As a student, I was able to make all of my academic work somehow revolve around minority issues and social justice. My undergraduate education was queer - it was experienced through my queer mind, seen through my queer eyes, translated into my queer questions and written down in my queer voice. Queering my little part of the world, there is nothing I would rather do. Now I bet, if the circumstances were different, I could have ended up at a place like Smith or Cornell, seeking a PhD and writing a dissertation on some very obscure yet very transgressive subject in Gender Studies or Queer Studies or Feminist Studies or G/Q/F Literature.  I could have gone down THAT wonderfully moonlit and different road-not-traveled, even at a public institution like WIU; but then I would likely have ended up being a professor, writing scholarly articles and poetry and spending my nights a-wired with grading. That's just too terribly traditional for me! Instead I am heading to try to queer the land of Clinical Psychology and to try to swim against the great tide of the language of illness. I will traverse the pathologically terrestrial lands of labels and diagnoses in the hopes of transcending language and disease altogether (or trading them in for a queer utopia of art and love where the contents of our brains are poured out before us as though on a canvas alive with the changes of day and night).

In a few years, I anticipate I will again have some spare time for reading. I have a lot of reading to do. So much so that I don't bother with a list. I want to read as much lesbian and feminist lit as I can get my hands on, when the time is right. Not now. The time is not right, for that. For now, I use all my spare time (when I'm not caring for the kids, being with my family and taking two on line courses) writing poetry, dabbling in a bit of blogging, thinking up ideas for children's books, editing my Book of Witch, and trying to come up with a You Tube project that is going to get more than fifty views in my lifetime. Once I am in grad school, I worry that I will only have time for two of those things (when I am not doing what it takes to stay afloat in a 17credithour semester with, I hope, a graduate assistantship): caring for the kids and being with my family. I may end up making You Tube videos at midnight -and that might work out okay, as a break from studying. Shhh, top secret YT project in the works: One Woman in the Tub - yes, I am considering doing poetry readings from my bathtub...maybe at midnight while I am a graduate student. Everyone needs to unwind. Even graduate students (but only at midnight). Poetry is my wine. You bet your bottom dollar I am excited and anxious (about grad school AND the bathtub). What else is new?!

I have books in my nightstand drawer waiting for me right now, as I write this. They have been there for over a year, but I have to abandon them for a while longer. I have so much going on. All of my writing professors emphasized the MONUMENTAL importance of being a reader FIRST and a writer second (yes, you have heard it: Reading makes you a better writer. If you want to write poetry, then read poetry). I agree. But when you don't have time to read poetry, then read whatever you HAVE time to read. Lately the only things I have time to read are my Behavior Modification and Abnormal Psychology textbooks (as well as articles that I come across on Facebook). Technically, I'm not reading "poetry." I am, however, reading poetically. I think reading ANYTHING is better than nothing. And, actually, I think reading textbooks is as helpful if not more helpful than reading poetry. My poetic voice is always evolving and changing shape. I don't think I need to worry about deliberately shaping it too much. I think the best way to shape my poetic voice is simply by LIVING. It will evolve on its own through the process of living and learning.

Because a lot of the jargon of "disorder" in Abnormal Psych and the one-dimensional step-by-step protocols of Behavioral Psych tend to either annoy or bore me to no end, POETRY is my saving grace. I read everything with an eye for inspiration. I have Ps written all over the margins of my books (well in one of them more than the other...), marking the subjects or phrases that I want to use in a poem. I also have lines of poetry written in the margins. I swear, poetry in the margins is what is going to be a huge part of what helps me to stay sane-and-creative during my graduate career in Clinical Psychology. I think poetry, or better yet - inspiration, is everywhere. While feminist and lesbian literature are hugely inspiring to me; classic literature, detective fiction, how to manuals, Consumer Reports, and even the bird poop on the window of my car provide me with moments of tremendous inspiration. Walking out to the mailbox at night, I'm always saying something aloud to the moon. Tonight I said, upon seeing a third of the moon hidden behind the clouds, "Oh you. Keep yourself hidden from me, why don't you."

If the moon is alive, poetry is alive, too. If I want to write poetry, all I have to do is take a moment after dinner to walk out to my mailbox. In the past when I was enrolled in a creative writing course, I felt anxiety over writing poetry - I felt PRESSURE to think creatively and cleverly. Ever notice how pressure kind of kills creativity? Or kills its product? This is one of the benefits that I see to NOT pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing - the pressure to make my work into SOME THING will not be there. Then again, maybe that actually sucks. Maybe the pressure kindles creativity. I did write one of my most-liked poems while in a creative writing course (it's not my favorite, but it's probably the most mainstream-publishable one I've got). Would I be more successful if poetry was my LIFE (the way that I was told at NU that theatre had to be MY LIFE if I wanted to "make it" in "the biz")? I don't know. I don't want any single thing to be my entire life. I want a degree of balance, I want the pressures to shift from one form to another - from one degree to another. I LOVE writing. I know I could be better. I know I will be better. I don't think any pressure in the world could take away my love for writing. If I am working as a Clinical Psychologist by day, then I have the night for Other Endeavors - for sharing time with loved ones, for writing, for acting, for whatever. I guess I want to be able to do it all. Yes I know that is impossible - as I said, I have not had time to read ANY book in ages. I had to give up reading novels in order to do the things I am now doing. I know I want to read everything Virginia Woolf ever wrote. I know I want to reread every single one of the Shakespeare plays that I love so much. I know I want to read and write about what I'm reading. For now, I read the world (yes, life itself, I suppose), and write about what I read.

A few weeks ago, before I decided to jump into Graduate School and complete an application in a week and a half; I read a book in one night. I impulsively ordered Sylvia Brownrigg's Pages for You (not from a Kindle, I find I don't enjoy having literary sex that way) when I was doing a little amazon-searching. I wish I could tell you I was searching the moist broadleaf forest, but I wasn't - I was searching the independent-bookstore-killer for a moist broadleaf forest.  (My modestly sincere apologies, but I didn't feel like asking our little honeycomb of a local bookstore, Copperfield's, to search for lesbian erotica and lesbian youth literature on my behalf - I don't know why, maybe it's because the place is full of cat hair and I'm allergic.) I didn't find a broadleaf forest in Pages for You, but I did find a moist basin in it. And, as a matter of fact, I was in a moist basin while I read a good portion of it. I began reading the book in the tub on a tea and reading rack that my wife bought me for me when I turned twenty-six. I had started Pages a few times, but was unable to continue for one reason or another. However, reading it in the tub -with the bathroom door SHUT- for thirty minutes was enough to engage me enough to stay up late and finish the book that night instead of futzing around with myself (the weird little ways of me).

To cut to the chase: I read Pages for You in an attempt to live out one of my fantasies -  to take LGBT lit. This fantasy is so appealing to me that I could almost go to graduate school to be a high school English teacher just to be able to teach in an LGBT classroom. Well, of all of the mediocre reviews I read in the dry narrowleaf woods for LGBT youth literature, Pages for You stood out to me as something I should read. I thought it might help me with my own "Pages (for Shrew)." I think my expectations for Pages were based on Judith Katzir's Dearest Anne. I don't know why they would be. That was the last s/witch-inspiring book I read (maybe even the last book I read). I found the title (and cover) of the Pages for You so enticing that I left the book on my dresser as, as much as I hate to use this phrase, mind-candy. I enjoyed the book. It was a quickie. I may have even ended the romp-of-pages with a collar-bone hickey. I would probably read it again, in the bathtub, in one night. I enjoyed its foreplay, but I couldn't climax. I require excessive amounts of oral foreplay for that. And I am very selective when it comes to what kind of oral tradition will bring me back for more.

While I almost climaxed in my reading of Pages, I didn't quite make it. I realized too soon where it was heading, I realized too soon the short-lived nature of it all, I realized too soon how it was going to end. The ending killed it for me. I enjoyed the writing, but I did not NEED my pen as I so NEEDED my pen in my hand for Dearest Anne. I did realize how Dearest Anne was going to end, but I believed so much in the character of Michaela (and probably Rivi, too, even though she did not know herself) that I didn't care and went on deluding myself that somehow something satisfying or profound MUST happen. Well, I was right to follow my intuition: the whole novel was something satisfying and profound. Its ending was merely a part of the whole incredible work of love-art. Katzir's text was so beautifully crafted and so unmodern that I felt it was my own heart that was at stake while reading it. I was merely a bystander while reading Brownrigg's words, in contrast. And that's not to say I wasn't a delighted observer, I was just not clinging to its words and characters with all of the tenderness and desperation inside of me.

A book that moves me internally and makes me want to weep or shiver in delight or in despair - THAT is the kind of book I NEED to read. When I read Michael Cunningham's The Hours, I was at the edge of my soul at all times. I was underlining in madness. Every sentence I read was one I knew I wanted to read again - and again. It was a trip back to high school. And I don't mean it was a trip back to my actual High School. It was higher learning, higher feeling and higher education. It was bringing my soul to new heights. I know I evoke a language of erotics in my review of literature, but I do so with purpose. A life-changing novel, like Love in a Time of Cholera by Gabriel GarcĂ­a Marquez, moves with a life-force so strong that we go to it with a sense of utter abandon and addiction (the way we go toward new romantic love). I know the common element in Katzir's, Marquez's, and Cunningham's novels that moved me so powerfully: it is that they write with the sense of conviction - that they know they are conveying something that is so true and so in need of expression and so moving to the core of their living existence that they can only assume (or not even consider, because it is so obvious) that others will be so moved.  It is my hope, as I edit my own book, that my own conviction and deeply erotic feeling will speak to someone else as a work like Sense and Sensibility spoke to me in high school. There is something there, in my spirit as a person, that forces itself upon the page and lets nothing stand in its way with such urgency and intensity that I couldn't stop it if I tried. Thank heavens I gave up my power to Eros a long time ago...

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