Monday, November 2, 2015

Express Yourself

Books have been an escape mechanism for me my entire life. I started reading sometime around 3 or 4 years old, and I've inhaled literature since those tender years. The first book I ever read was called Elmo Gets Homesick, wherein Elmo goes to visit his grandparents and misses his family, but ends up having a fantastic time doing things like baking cookies and picking apples with his grandparents. I had my mom read it to me every night for weeks; then, one night, I told her I could read it myself. I proceeded to read the book to her in its entirety; but as she quickly found out, I couldn't actually read. Rather, I had just memorized the entire little story and recited it to her. Silly tiny tot Nicole, flipping the pages at the wrong times! I got my first library card at the age of 5 (I think, sometime around then), when I could barely write (but I still signed my own name, dammit; I remember my father insisting, one of a handful of awesome things he's done for me in my life). At that point it was mostly books on tape with accompanying paper books, but I quickly progressed to actual short story books and then young adult novels, and thenceforth.

I was reading far beyond my years from a young age. I was about 9 when I first read Shakespeare. Yes, 9ish. My godmother was over visiting with my mom (they've been friends forever), and she mentioned something about Macbeth. My godmother is a huge literary nerd; she's the head reference librarian at a community college now. I don't remember why they were talking Shakespeare; all I know is that I proudly announced to them, "I could read that." I'm fairly certain they laughed in my face, and understandably so. I went to the bookshelf and found a copy of Macbeth. In the following few days, I read the play. When she was visiting next, I proudly announced that I had, indeed, read Macbeth. She said, "Well, maybe you read it, but you didn't understand it." I had her quiz me. I had, indeed, read and understood Macbeth. She was aghast, and told me a lot of people find Shakespeare challenging. My smug little 9 year-old self just ate that shit up. 

My parents separated when I was young; I think I had just turned 6. My first ever memory is of them having a terrible fight. Actually, that's bullshit; my first ever memory is my mother sitting at our kitchen table, sobbing, while my father screamed at her. At the time, I remember feeling bad for my father, because obviously my mom must have really deserved to be punished! Clearly she fucked up badly. I still feel guilt over that; but children don't have the capacity to process that scene beyond what they've been taught: if you're bad, you get yelled at. My mom was getting her ass handed to her; clearly she deserved it. I'm so sorry, mom. It took me a long time to admit that was my first memory, even to myself. I had to be about 3 years old. That's probably not a coincidence with when I decided to myself, fuck this shit, escape into another world. Look at the shelves full of worlds around you! My mother had already been reading to me regularly at that point (I'm sure my dad read to me then, too, but I have no memories of that). I remember her reading The Hobbit to my sisters and me on car rides. I remember Elmo. I remember my dad taking us to the library a lot, particularly after they separated, back when he was cool dad. I will say this for him: he encouraged my reading. He had a rule that he would always buy us books, no matter what. And he did. There was many a night spent with my dad and sister(s) at those big chain bookstores, where I ran around like a glutton, reading short books in the store and making my dad buy me at least five books at a time. And I would read them all, usually alone in my room at my dad's place, or in the room I shared with my sister at my mom's place. Until my other older sister had to go to the home for troubled teens about an hour away; then I had the room to myself.

I remember going to visit her and bringing her books, because I thought, if they comforted me, they must comfort her, right? Even though she was 15 or 16 and I was 7 or 8; Little House on the Prairie is for everyone, yes? It's okay that she had left me alone that day when she was supposed to babysit me; I had had books to read until my frantic mother showed up from work to call the police and find my runaway sister. I distinctly remember that day. When I realized I was home alone, I ate a bunch of Oreos before I called my mom to say she wasn't there. I felt so free! Look at me, eating cookies at 10AM! Who cares if I'm alone; COOKIES!! And then I read until my other sister and my mom came home, and then the police, and my eldest sister.

My mother is an amazing poet. She's also dyslexic, and not much of a reader. But somehow she is a gigantic Tolkien nerd. I love that about her; I think that's where my innate love of Harry Potter came from. My father is a big reader. Neither of my sisters were big into reading or writing. I'm just a natural-born nerd. I was always envious of my mother's poetry. My mother went back to get her Associate's Degree when I was still quite young; I used to go to daycare at the community college. I had my first boyfriend there, Phillip. We would lie on cots next to each other and hold hands. We would whisper through naptime. On more than one occasion, two bratty girls tattled on us and we had to end naptime early, because we were talking. I wonder if he remembers me. My mother had her poetry published in the school's newspaper and literary journals on multiple occasions. I'm still envious of that. I thought she was famous.

What I'm trying to say is that I've never thought of myself as a writer. I've always been a reader; a devourer; someone soaking up the information around them and using it to try to organize the ridiculous day-to-day situations they were living. I've never had a story or novel idea kicking in the back of my brain. My ex was a writer. He wrote poetry, short stories, had ideas for novels, etc. He tried to write every day. I just consumed as many books and magazines as I could get my hands on. When I was in high school wondering what to do with my life, what to study in college, my sister told me that I could study books. What?! Please! When I was about 8, I was in a talent show as part of my summer recreation program. We just called it Rec. What was my talent? Reading. I read a story to everyone, like Mother Fucking Goose. I'm a reader, a consumptive. 

So why am I now feeling this burning, intense desire to write? The first poetry I ever wrote was during high school. Fueled by the first guy to ever break my heart, I wrote feverish, angry poetry that I published on Myspace. I took a school day to write one long poem that I cleverly titled, "One School Day." I entered some poetry into competitions; I think one got published on some random poetry site. But I'm not a writer. I don't view myself as an artist or writer or particularly fantastically talented person. Or, rather, I'm a writer when that passion flares in my chest; when the heat takes over me and if I don't put words down and out into the universe I feel as if my heart will actually stop beating, or my limbs will fall off, or my head will explode like I shoved it in the microwave. (Yes I said microwave; read Infinite Jest, please.)

So, I'm writing. November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month); but, as mentioned, I do not have a novel. What I do have are thoughts, feelings, and a lot of crazy shit to work out from my life. I also have a blog. Yes, I know, originally this started as a "whoa listen to my crazy dating stories" feelgood funtime happypants blog. It will still contain those stories. As you may have noticed, though, the title of my blog has now changed. It's now Nicole In Tinderland (And Other Adventures Of A Modern Mermaid). Thank you, Ashera, for that perfect new title. In lieu of a novel, I will be writing on here. Every day. About whatever the fuck I feel like. There will be more dating posts; there will be posts about books; there will be angry feminist rants; there will be posts about nothing; there will be posts about family, friends, lovers. Whatever the fuck I feel like saying, I will be saying. I still don't feel like I'm a writer; but I'm writing anyway.

Reading has always been my escape. It will always be my go-to. I still think books are better than people; because, in my experience, books have always been there for me when people mostly have not. I do take some blame for that, as I would rather shut down and enter a different world than deal with the one in front of me. Whenever we were being yelled at, usually by our stepdad, my sisters would yell and fight and scream and curse. I would completely shutdown. I just sat, eyes unfocused, trying to imagine I was anywhere else in the world. When I heard fighting but wasn't directly involved, I just stayed in my bed and read until my eyes couldn't focus and I had to sleep. When I didn't have many friends because I didn't know how to express myself, I read. When I didn't have many friends because I didn't want them to come to my house and see/hear what I lived with, I read. Alternate realities are so much easier to deal with than actual reality. Maybe now is the time I face the facts and deal with my actual realities, instead of escaping. Maybe now, although I will still consume voraciously, maybe now I'll actually let some things out. Maybe I finally have enough confidence in myself and in my voice that I won't be afraid to speak. I won't just withdraw into myself, fall into that emotional vomit pit. No more bottling up. I'm writing.

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