Sunday, February 13, 2011

Writing, In and Out of Alcoholics Anonymous--or--Out of AA and Into the Night

"...and the stars winked at her like perverts in the night."

I wrote avidly in college. My backpack and little farmhouse apartment were piled and stuffed with: personal essays, poetry, stories, and lists. I was usually awake way past midnight writing critical papers about women’s history, the idea of poetry being “the present,” American literature, and about my little 21-year-old life (most of which was lived in my mind). I was a pitiable, self-important, annoying undergraduate who fantasized that I was way more brilliant than most people. I thought I had been the second or third person to read about heteroglossia. I spoke about this to anyone who would listen, offering clumsy definition and discussion on the topic.

It is astoundingly difficult to look back at the writing I produced then. Hardly any of it still exists. All of it is embarrassingly imitative, totally stupid and obtuse, and really does not say much of anything. I was in AA back then. I was a “newbie” in a 12-step cult. A place where I was told, daily, that I had a disease that told me I did not have a disease.

The amount of work my brain did to believe these AA people so I could fit in with them eludes me. Simultaneously, my still developing brain was trying to preserve itself. I think, at least on some level, I knew the AA community was lying me to. I was: learning a new, cult-y way of thinking, thinking to preserve original thought, then thinking in a denial sort of way to cover up all of this sick, complicated thinking. Does this make sense? Could I use the word "thinking" one more time to confuse you and I both even further? Partly, this muddled description of my thinking, is my inability to articulate myself well in writing. This takes more skill and time than I have. Also, I am out of practice. I used to write, as I have mentioned, all the time. Now I just fling random responses into various blogs' comment sections, rarely rereading what I have hastily typed (w/four fingers) on my adorable mac's wireless keyboard.

Also, I still do not have a lucid handle on what this cult really did to my mind. Still. And I left AA about a year ago (I was there from ages 21-35). But the amount of work my mind was doing was in addition to actively writing. While writing, I tried with my whole heart, to come up with lyrical, original, metaphorical ways of articulating ideas. Yikes. Please note that AA tells you those original ideas, thoughts, and the like are not possible. AA tells us we are not unique, we are "bozos on the bus," and that we are, ultimately, forever un-special. This was a hardly a nurturing, supportive writing environment.

Every writer and wannabe writer faces astounding writer's block, sometimes daily. This normal obstacle, coupled with AA’s ability to make one more paralyzed than normal, is a recipe for some shitty writing. Ideas and images carved out of experience and intelligence are frozen, sometimes never to be discovered. I believe there are artful, perfectly crafted phrases and words hovering in the air, outside the doors of every AA meeting. They are beautiful red headed orphan girls smiling in spite of their horrific situations.

These captive lyrics are waiting for you if you leave AA. It is not the big bad disease of addiction that waits hiding in the parking lot, behind a sedan for you. While you spend your life at meetings, littered with mediocre minds, it is your art, your solution, and your ability to breathe the air that waits for you in the parking lot. You will discover this, and you will find that it was never really too far away. You just need to leave AA. You can come with us!

My essays and stories from this 12 fucking step epoch are littered with AA catch phrases, slogans, and are also often borderline plagiarized shares from meetings. The one aspect of my writing I remember as not totally sucky is my ability to create images. I cringe though, because even this was pretty bad. As I was on an imitative role, I read literary texts, classic literature, and American poetry voraciously when I was not actually doing assigned school work or at an AA meeting. (Or, at another lame AA party. Or on the phone for hours with a sponsor or other random AA member.) Everything I saw in literature, appeared, partially disguised, in my writing. I was a big, fat, well, tiny, little, borderline anorexic imitator.

I remember reading another AA’s poetry. She had an MFA, was a former English teacher, and was writing at home when she was not going to AA or Alanon meetings. I think she probably averaged at least fifteen meetings a week. This woman was initially an Al-anon member only, entering AA to deal with her “sleeping pill addiction.” No one had told her she was an addict of any kind. However, in AA's sister program, she heard enough to become convinced that taking sleeping pills to deal with night terrors was an issue. And this issue was that she was an alcoholic, um, as yeah, she was maybe an addict of sleeping pills. I am not sure how become dependent on sleeping pills makes you an alcoholic. But if you've ever been in AA for more than two weeks, you will get this on the same, sad level that I did, for years. Her night terrors were so excruciating that she often spent the night with Alanon or AA friends, camped on the coach. Sleeping pills helped assuage this decided hell. But, as a self proclaimed addict, alcoholic actually, and one whose survival depended on fitting in with the group, she tossed her pills, inserting the 12 step solution as the better way.

You might assume that her writing was like I described mine from this epoch. But this was not so. Her writing was lyrical, like a lullaby even. Her images were spun from a sort of magic that I will never be able to wrap my head around. She wrote a poem about a friend who had died. I wish I still had a copy. The poem, really, was this big, long list of white images. These white images were offerings for her dead friend. I clearly cannot do the poem justice. It is nearly impossible for anyone really to explain this sort of poem, as the poem, its form, images, and the like are really what propels the reader into another state. And explanation is reasonable and does the opposite.

I copied her poem. No, I did not go to Kinkos and make a photocopy. Nor did I retype this singular, white lullaby, adding my own name. I copied it in this way: I echoed her explanation of offering white things to her dead friend. I did so with very different words and images, and these were not white images, as were hers. But the germ of the poem’s intent was the same.

My poem, I cringe to tell you, was an offering of moments seen in my landscape. I also offered images of what I would give to a particular person (it's true!) who I was in love with, um, if he were in love with me, too. The images and offerings, unlike the white things, did not share a central theme. Juxtaposed, they were actually sort of ridiculous. A mustache comb and then, the very moment the a local Bridge rose to let a tall ship through.

Imagists actually believe that it is this juxtaposition, if done well, that propels the reader right into the poem allowing for the reader to participate in the same way that the writer does. This occurs when and if--and only if--this is done skillfully and artfully. UM. Here is a poem by Amy Lowell that exemplifies imagism at it best.

And, I cringe deeply to tell you this: I actually read this image cluttered poem--out fucking loud--during an AA poetry reading at one of those AA apartments after a meeting... The man who I did love (or, was so fucking fucked up I was projecting my creepy Daddy need onto him) told me that there were maybe too many images in the poem. You think, Daddeo? Now, I have this as a very special AA memory as well as a writing memory. Though I cringe, I am removed enough to be somewhat OK with this.

Out of AA, and as an older adult, I have a more reasonable way of looking at myself, my life, and mostly my writing. Really, I am *not* a writer. I am a wannabe writer. I think in some ways being a wannabe, and having the ability to admit this, is almost as cool as the real deal.

Before I entered AA, I enjoyed writing without this neurosis. I remember one of my short stories was about a girl who has an incestuous relationship with her cousin, fucks him finally, and then, well, that's it. It is littered with autobiographical, creepy fantasy, my feelings about my real family, and is an embarrassingly unskilled practice in metaphor. It no longer exists.

I remember showing this incest-filled short story to my father. My father, like me, is a wannabe writer with whom I no longer speak. We have issues that span thirty-six years. This is an entry, a long one, for another time. I will say this: my father read the story, cleared out all the god damns (but Salinger's Holden says it!!!), and told me it had promise. He told me to keep writing. My writing, pre AA, though bad, very bad, is honest, there is no double talk, newspeak, nor are there images three times removed from what they really are. It is direct. And it really did have potential. I believe that this writer still exists. And I am going to find her.

I remember this one line from that silly fictional exploration, that story about incest, death, sibling rivalry, and an unavailable mother. It is this:" ...and the stars winked at her like perverts in the night." I *like* this line. I like its shy, insecure, totally skinny yet totally adorable 19-year-old writer. I remember her inability to talk with guys at parties, no matter how drunk. I vividly remember her ridiculously unsexual, but decided crush on her best friend, Anna. You could make fun of it, or me. You could tell me I am the dopiest, lamest wannabe of all times, but I think it was a tiny little gem, that line. And this girl, under those stars, she and I, we are going places together. She and are a getting up and getting out. We are out of AA into the night.