What would I do if I didn’t have myself to plagiarize?
Essay C: What writing means to me
Write an essay, not to exceed 5 (five) pages (please number C-1 through C-5), in which you answer the following question: What does your writing mean to you? Discuss your writing, its importance to your life and everything else pertinent to this question.
I am the girl who won the all the creative writing awards in high school, who went to Harvard because of this, who became overwhelmed by living a life directed by her words. I am the girl who tried to be other things: counselor, orphan social worker, aerobics instructor, cook—but these were just excuses with health insurance. I am the 23-year-old who taped rejection letters from MFA programs onto her classroom wall, who taught Shakespeare to 13-year-olds at the most respected, academically rigorous school on the island (she knows; she was that 13-year-old). She was the teacher who said Don’t give up on your dream kids, but whose eyes said I’m lying. Be anything but who you think you’re meant to be.
I am the girl who thinks (sometimes) that dreams are chocolate bon bons of happiness, dangled just out of your reach, forever. I am the girl who keeps sticking her tongue out. Who wants her goddamn chocolate. I am the girl who is still searching. Who left Hawaii and moved to Bulgaria to be alone with her chaotic mid-twenties head. Because no one (your father) will give you hell if you’re in the Peace Corps helping orphans and trying to write, but everyone (your father) will give you hell if you’re back at home sleeping on his couch making $11 an hour trying to become a writer.
I am always becoming. I am the girl who wrote the greatest love story she has ever lived, words she sent across an intangible network. Waves. Particles. And black sentences were shot back, thousands of morphine-filled arrows into her heart. Words from a kindred non-writer writer. We wrote until there was everything left to say. Wrote until we got to the chapter where I left Bulgaria. Wrote until I moved into the bed of this stranger.
Writing gave me love.
We wrote after he was fired. We packed all our belongings into his Murano, and sped away from our fears, saying Screw jobs! We’re writers! Writers don’t work! Writers write!
So I wrote, my first entry on our brand new blog, Choose Our Own Adventure dot com:
Your boyfriend loses the job he would’ve quit before he started, if only walking away from paychecks was as easy as drinking red wine. You take your Nissan Murano with its hit-and-run dents to remember Philly drivers by—pack it with your life possessions, favorite coffee shop mugs, your mutt from the mean streets of Bulgaria and 1,000 bottles of Tabasco sauce and thongs from businesses that didn’t work—but hey—at least you got hot sauce and thongs to barter with for shelter and maybe a hot meal. You make sure to leave enough room for your dreams to sit bitch, ‘cause you called shotgun, you with your wide slanty-eyes, sensitive skin,
your hit-and-run mind.
Before you go, you learn to write all over again. You’ve been comatose, dreaming of orphans in post-communist countries, dreaming of grey. That was yesterday. Today it’s ?-to-?, writer’s rehab, no insurance, and you have to write. Write feeling the countdown of days, about to exchange the comfort of an address for stories you’ll laugh about later. Write until it’s 3 am and you’re nauseous with exhaustion, afraid to stop, because it might not come back tomorrow, these words and possibilities. You might relapse. You might sleep forever.
In the meantime, you buy a tent and 0 degree sleeping bags, and wonder if that’s enough to keep your family warm. Fill your duffle bags with 1,000 Places to See in the US and Canada Before you Die of Hypothermia in Fargo, campground books, AAA maps, Writer’s Market 2008, neuroscience books, old comfort novels, unread novels, the photo book Ryan made your for your 28th birthday. You backup your files, your photos, your dreams in case of a crash.
You never wanted to live in Philly–Philly never made your top… 50 cities… but you fell in love, lost and found your license there. Left and returned from your Bulgarian adventure, drawing a neat circle in your life, if neat circles can include Bulgaria without sounding ridiculous. You’ll miss the Wissahickon with its endless trails—feeling as though you were in Bulgaria, running alone on a narrow trail, dodging branches, minding footing, when—holy shit–you’re in America!, running down Kelly Drive along the Schuylkill to the art museum, flashing back to the Charles river, to Harvard, to watching crew boats gliding under underwater bridges. Wondering which reflection is real. How you can never know for sure. Here, you made Ryan drive you everywhere for months, too afraid to drive after three years of walking. When six months later you do drive, you realize it was nothing. It was just driving. It’s all just driving.
You’ll miss the Manayunk scene you watched from afar, walking your dog at 1:00am on Friday nights in your sweats, watching the Yuppie-Somethings do whatever they do in bars, talking about whatever they talk about, thinking it all matters, this shit we do. Loving the food, god, oh god the food, sitting outside at our every favorite restaurant on Main Street. (Yes, Main Street.) Montage clips picking up speed: Laff House on South Street, Ryan emceeing. Your mom visiting, driving to Amish country. You as stage mom every Thursday at the Wired station studio. Broad Street run, Philly Half-Marathon, every friend you love coming to visit you, in Philly, a ten-month parentheses in time with everything you never expected.
You hit the restart button on your relationship, because for the first time your boyfriend is free. The man you love who can talk for hours on neurophilosophy, who had to squeeze, squeeze himself down into five second punchlines, no pulp, just 10% funny from concentrate that left a fake taste in his mouth. For the first time you are a team, fighting for the same life, Saturday morning writing fest ’07 baby–we’re ready to do it all, and say we did.
We’re ready. Ready to burn the vision board for fire kindling in Montana, ready to start over in California, or Hawaii, or Sri Lanka, or anywhere with a little more sun.
10 more days. You don’t want to see life as just a series of countdowns. Years until degrees received. Months until Christmas. Days until next paycheck. Just minutes until dinner. I want to count up, eyes open, to 100,000 and yell into space, warning the adventures hiding off every highway exit–ready or not, here we come.
I am the girl who wrote those words one year ago. Who ended up back in Hawaii, out of gas, Ryan’s severance spent, doctors saying that’s a bipolar symptom, all this running away. We are more than our symptoms. We brought our do it later into today, hoarded free La Quinta Inn breakfast and made it last until dinner, chased Mati chasing prairie dogs in the Badlands, never got lost until we got lost, realizing the only thing we were missing was our inner GPS. All along.
Twenty-nine years, so many firsts. (She is 29 now.) First time reading on stage. First time applying for permission to be a writer. First time cross-stitching lines of poetry into her skin, each miniscule x part of her promise to live a life not still, but stretching as far as words can reach.
I am the girl who wants her hands to be defibrillators, grabbing the hearts of strangers and shocking them back into life. She wants to throw ice-cold buckets brimming with laughter onto the heavy-lidded going-through-the-motioners escalating down down down without a step to the contrary.
(I am the girl who hopelessly believes in happiness even though, like a firefly, she has never been able to capture it long enough to keep glowing. I am the girl who no one told to just poke holes. Let the air in.)
I am the girl who sleeptypes, who cannot live without her words, wherever they come from, electrical firings leaping synapses to hands to page to the world and back into me, a loop, a choke chain, ouroboros, a claustrophobic orbit that is sometimes galactically–slow and sometimes light speed.
I am the girl who donated 27 eggs for fast cash. Who knew it was strange to use her body parts to put food on the table, to pay life on time. Who injected herself with hormones and every other day went to the hospital and watched the little black dots of her DNA grow into massive globes, crowded into her ovaries. I felt like my own nature channel. Fish eggs. Jellyfish. There was everything in me except me.
All of this. So I could write.
(I am the girl who is first and third person.)
I am the girl who has taken sleeping pills in the morning, to take her dreams into the day.
I am the girl who stole a speculum to write an object poem.
I am the girl who has been a writer ever since her third grade teacher gave her a magic wand pencil and said, You Jenn, you are a writer.
(I guess I’m lucky–what if she said prostitute? Or—God forbid—American gladiator named “Xenon.”)
I am the girl who suffers from Borderline Thirty Disorder.
I am the writer who remembers having nothing left but this gift, this voice—who won this award because of an absolutely stunning essay that she wrote one fateful (and caffeinated) Starbucks session. Who told her story, told it to heal and be healed, whose books never became remainders, but were carried over ad infinitum, who showed limbless people how to throw caution to the wind and line dance, who reversed global warming by teaching every human being how to stop existing.
Who opened a writing center for children, and threw these children chocolate bon bons by the bucket full, laughing, saying Don’t give up on your dreams.
And she meant it.