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I’d like to do an erasure of my life

I should probably clarify what I mean. This is not meant to be any type of reference to suicide, although after titling this post, I contorted my face in recognition that it might appear that way.

We’ve discussed how erasures can take away unnecessary words, how they can boil things down to their essence. This can be freeing–I believe someone made a comment about how it showed them they didn’t need so many words to get the same image or point across. Although I would say that erasure can serve a wider range of purposes, this distillation is certainly a legitimate one.

Last week, we also responded to the writing prompt Christine gave us, to describe what each of our memoirs would look like. I briefly thought about the possibility of doing an erasure of all of my journals and personal writings; rather, I thought about what that would look like, or how I would go about doing it. I never really seriously considered it an option, as I didn’t want to take anything away from all I have experienced and written about.

Now, I am reconsidering that. I think it could be a really freeing experience. Because really, why should I let the details of a middle school feud continue to clutter my memory? Why should I retain the wholly awful writing of Lydia circa 2007 remain untouched, when a future me could mine the rare gems and transform them into a beautiful collection? I am still unsure whether this project would be a positive or negative experience, but I do hope I eventually do something with my scattered and neglected journals/diaries/records. Tomorrow, I may change my mind, and think that these things are better left untouched.

I’d also really like to erase all the unimportant tasks and responsibilities from my schedule, and leave the beautiful things, but that’s a fantasy more difficult to execute.

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The ember 19,186

I really enjoyed doing this erasure, though I probably obsessed over it for way too much time, and I think that’s where I struggle the most with things like this. Making permanent choices is rather hard. Yet I can always simply find this speech online and reprint it if I want (or take a quick photo before I erase). It makes me wonder what this act would have meant 30 or 40 years ago, when it was not so easy to find and reproduce whatever the original piece was. I actually ended up blacking out a couple more lines after I took this photo which I think I like better, but my phone died before I could take a picture of that one.

Additionally, congratulations to Meredith for placing 2nd in the R. Windley Hall writing competition for her hybrid piece! While I’m talking about you, Meredith, I’ll go ahead and comment that I really loved your interpretation of the white out choice!

 

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Sometimes I Lose Faith

I want to write this in numbers, but I’m really resisting that right now. Numbers are easier to read, and they work for our hybrids. However, what I need to say doesn’t need numbers, so I guess I’ll refrain from list-making.

Writing is painful. The Hybrid was painful. I am convinced that the only things I hold inside my brain that are worth writing about are painful. I can’t be certain that is true, but it has been so far for me. and fuck, I write a lot.

So sometimes I lose faith. I lose faith that it matters. If I keep writing, does it mean anything? It requires so much vulnerability, which is beautiful to read–I am grateful to Maggie Nelson and Claudia Rankine and Halina Duraj and all of these amazingly generous people. The thing is, I’m not them. I am not a prolific writer, and I can’t hope to attain their level of ability. I don’t even think I want to be a writer, so what am I doing? I feel like a criminal every time I inadequately try to capture my memories and thoughts, recreating false imitations and compromising their fidelity. Every time I write down a memory or an emotion, I inevitably tame it. I try to convince myself that it’s better that way, because other people can understand it. At that point it has lost it’s truth–at least, the only truth that mattered. The more I write, the more I show others my writing, I realize that I’m even more isolated in this brain than I thought.

A brain who, if writing this tomorrow, in a different emotional place, would claim that writing actually creates community, and allows us to connect more fully. because fuck it, Emerson was right, “our moods don’t believe in each other”. Should that not bother me? It does anyway. At least if I don’t write, I could start to feel a little more sane, right? Life is beautiful, but I think tragedy is beautiful too. That doesn’t mean I want my life to be tragic.

So please, if someone can lend me some hope, I don’t know why I lose mine so much. Talk me down from the (metaphorical) ledge. Even though I’ll be okay tomorrow, lie to me and tell me that it matters that I’m not right now. Tell me why the pain of writing is worth it.

 

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Chapel Hill Writing Prompt

Hey guys, I wanted to share what I wrote during the class exercise today. (By the way, wonderful exercise and overall presentation! Thank you Joey, Grace, and Cassidy.)

 To the Media and Police in Chapel Hill

“Muslims–who’d grown up in America” as if that really matters?

result of a parking dispute? why are you all white? where are the Muslim voices? Where are the students’ voices?

what do you know about religious persecution, about hatred for your misconceived identity?

this is another “fiction of the facts”–

the fact that there was a parking dispute

the “fact” that Hicks’ white wife was so incredibly sure this had nothing to do with religion, though her white husband’s homicidal actions took her completely by surprise

How much do you know?

How do you know?

Do you know?

You know? Because the only ones that can prove this a hate crime motivated by religion can’t make it to court.

Will you speak for them?                                                                                                       Or will you continue speaking                                                                                                for Charlie Hebdo

though you are not even French.

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The Pain of Anger and its Brother, Resignation

I have a confession. Several previous posts from classmates addressed the question of what to do with the information and emotions evoked in Citizen. It’s a good question. It’s a really really important question. No one really had an answer. I found myself (already in a hungry and irritated mood, sorry) reading these posts and just saying to myself, “Okay, but that’s not good enough.We have to do something. There are already things being done and I feel like no one here is serious about it.” I feel terrible about this critique, honestly; I respect you all a lot and you brought up really salient points in your posts. It says something that this effected all of you so deeply and strongly.

But right now I feel angry. And not just right now. Almost all the time. Since Thursday’s writing exercise in class, I just can’t shake the pain and the anger welling up inside me. I try to keep pushing it down but at a certain point I’m just too tired. For a while it was about the experience I poured onto the page, but then it became more. It turned into this deep sadness that tries desperately to hold onto some kind of hope. It became the exhaustion in the realization that anything I can do is never enough to change something, and no one else seems to care. I want to believe that all of you care, but at the end of the day how much are you willing to give? I’m not even sure I can answer that honestly. I know I can’t give everything, but every day the temptation to turn away, to close my eyes to oppression and marginalization and institutional racism, becomes more attractive. There will always be things I can’t run away from: being a woman, having a mental illness, growing up in a lower socioeconomic class. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to embrace and forget the privilege of being white, of having a good education, of growing up in a wealthy country with freedom of religion, of being able-bodied, of being cis-heterosexual. But the best version of myself remembers to open my eyes and fight against the things I have been born into. I can’t help that I’m white, and I never asked for the privilege I have, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t my responsibility to do something about it. The system I live in is racist; it gives me advantages over people of color that I do not deserve; it allows me to walk without fear; it stinks of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

This is only a small amount of the frustration and anger that I met from the reliving of one painful memory. I can’t imagine how Claudia Rankine dealt with the entirety of reliving the pain of the stories, the collective memories she wrote. I don’t know what she did with this anger, but I am in so much debt to her for the pain she endured for Citizen.

 

You remember one thing and everything comes back and it feels like you’re drowning in your own memories and people keep telling you to keep swimming like they can’t see that the water is crashing onto your back again and again and again, each time reminding you that you are in the middle of an ocean and no one is coming to rescue you. Each time reminding you that as surely as there is salt in the water, another wave will push you back down. All you can hope for is that the waters of your memory will calm the fuck down enough so that you can float for a moment on your back, staring up into the skies of an unfulfilled future that you can dream will not disappoint you.

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Cat Ladies and Valentines

First, I’d like to talk about the poem “Believing Green.” I loved that poem. Like Alex mentioned, Kyle, he and I all read each other the Wiman poems aloud. I read this one. It was beautiful (not because of the merit of my reading, but of its own accord). I didn’t understand, and I reread,reread,reread, but not because I wanted to understand it. I just keep reading because it sounded so beautiful, because it transported me, and that does not often happen when I read poems. At first, it was just the sounds, the alliteration, the language that flew me away, and later it was the visual scene of that eccentric house. I won’t presume to interpret the poems meaning, because I’d rather leave it as it is in its strange beauty. It makes me long for an old grandma with cats, with a life’s worth of experience that somehow brings together knowledge of cooking, animals, lawn decorations, and the growing of grass. It gives me cravings for those cryptic words of wisdom, those people that you look at and wonder, “Where the hell did this person come from, and how did we even become friends?” I feel a glimpse of the “nuances of neverness” after experiencing this poem, and a longing for more.

Second, although I have long aspired to become a permanent cat lady living alone in a cool house, Valentine’s Day kinda stings. Like, if you don’t hate it because you’re single, you hate it for its commercialism and shallow creativity in selling boxes of chocolates that all look the same and usually taste like shit. I’d rather receive a nice set of pens or a nice avocado, honestly. However, my most cherished Valentine is a poem. Poems don’t poison my body with sugar, nor do they end up in a Goodwill box within months (like the stuffed animals holding hearts). They remain, and if they’re good, they remain true. I really appreciated the exercise we did in class, and I’m excited to give my friend a poem tomorrow. Another thing I do every year (since last year), is make paper valentines for the homeless neighbors that come for Room In The Inn. Last year, I figured, they probably don’t usually get valentines. I made some, and the reactions I received were affirming.

I bet there are a lot of people who spend Valentine’s Day without receiving any gesture of love or kindness. Maybe the woman in “Believing Green” spent it alone, mourning a lost loved one or the lack thereof in the first place. Look for someone you can reach out to; give them a poem, or a heart cut out of construction paper, or a flower. Tell them they matter. I think it can really lift someone’s spirits.

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“Seriously Injured”

excerpted from The Davidsonian, Vol. 107 Issue Two, Official College Statement on a mechanical accident with an employee.

 

employee Joe Steele

was repairing the steam water heater

in Watts Residence Hall.

Upon re-energizing

the water heater, the tank

released [scalding] hot

water from a pressure relief

valve. Steele suffered

first and second degree burns

from the hot water. Medics

responded to the call Steele

was transported by

helicopter to Baptist Hospital Burn Center in

Winston

Salem

Steele

remains under the care of the medical staff

at Baptist Hospital Burn Center

and is alert

and is communicative.

 

 

He was

conscious and coherent during

the entire incident.

 

 

 

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Character Disclosure in “La Vita Nuova”

I wish time didn’t run out in class so quickly on Tuesday, leaving us with so many interesting conversations unspoken, but alas, I suppose that is the purpose of this blog. I loved “La Vita Nuova” by Allegra Goodman. I found myself thoroughly entranced, and upset when I had to stop reading momentarily to go to an appointment. As I read of her family and friends’ reactions to Amanda’s situation, I screamed for her. I yelled “Fuck you!” to characters while sitting in my empty room.

“I waited all this time because I didn’t want to hurt you, Amanda’s fiance had said,” “you’re going to realize that this is a blessing in disguise,”[her parents] remembered that they had had doubts all along.”

Their cliched encouragement or excuses sickened me. Oh you didn’t want to hurt me? How sweet, poor you, thanks for stringing me along! Is any of this believable? I honestly became enraged as a proxy for the feelings and responses (that I perceived) she left unspoken. Amanda’s co-worker laments for “beautiful curls” after Amanda cuts off all her hair. For obvious reasons, that one really rubbed me the wrong way.

At a time of such devastation, you can feel pain as numbness, unable to speak or respond or react normally. You feel so powerless, and that translates to feeling silenced. Every word, every sentence is courageous and difficult, and you feel fear that your words will be rejected or dismissed. I know not everyone experiences this, so perhaps it is presumptuous of me to postulate that she reacted this way. We can’t help but insert our own stories and experiences into others, to relate them to each other. I felt all the useless advice and suggestions and demands, and understood her isolation, but presumed that she was feeling the way I feel at such frustrating conversations–seething and annoyed that everyone focuses on the surface, rather than acknowledging and working with the real pain, the real needs she had to deal with.

During times when I am silent, it seems obvious to me that others should intuitively know how I’m feeling and what I need, or at least that they will make an effort to ask me. Of course, I’ve had to realize that others can’t do that–I have to establish an intimate relationship with someone such that I feel comfortable enough sharing those inner pains and problems. I think many people operate in the same way. The main character, however, doesn’t really seem to have that intimacy or trust with anyone in her life, especially after losing the person she thought would be her most intimate companion for  the rest of her life, and therefore doesn’t have that vulnerability with the reader.

 

She desires the ability to just “be” and nothing more, but knows that real life and adults expect tangible things from her. Even though her parents probably have her best interest at heart,they are quick to reminder her that they “paid for Yale,” and nudge her in specific directions. Nathaniel’s mother nags about her tardiness. His father directs unwanted attentions towards her, expecting reciprocation. With Nathaniel she is able to be herself, to be accepted without the pressures she feels from others. At the same time, it is her job to protect Nathaniel and help him grow; she can’t use him as a confidant because he’s too young to offer the help and encouragement she needs.

 

la vita nuovaAmanda definitely also touches on the nature of artists needing to be tortured in order to create great works. The title of the story ensures we notice that peculiar component. The work by Dante (La Vita Nuova) encourages poets, writers, and artists to create tragedy (real or simulated) in their lives (especially relating to love) in order to produce better art/poetry. I haven’t thought much about it, but I was wondering how all of you interpreted this in the story, and your opinion on the nature of making art?

I’d love to hear other thoughts or reactions on this. To comment on my post, go to hybrid.lydiabickell.com where you will find this under “Posts.”

Photo source: https://archive.org/details/lavitanuovadidan00dantuoft

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XO by Jennifer Egan: Character Development and Letting Go

We discussed several layers of the story XO in class on Tuesday, as well as the protagonist’s motivations, conflicts, and attitude. While talking with other students, I realized we all had very different and strong ideas about what these were, what kind of person Scotty is, and what the closing scene communicated about resolution inside of Scotty. I find it interesting that people felt so passionately about whether Scotty truly experienced positive change or if nothing changed in him at all, whether his kind action was selfish or altruistic, and whether his perceptions are at all reliable. Usually we are content enough with ambiguity (at least I am), but in this case I really wanted to know, and needed to be right in my reading of Scotty. This puts an admiring smirk on my face, because it means that Egan really achieved the goal of making the reader invested in the character and his life, as well as making the character complex and fluid enough that he can be interpreted in several ways.

Like real people, he has certain quirky and unique characteristics, but they are just one facet of a wonderfully complicated individual who is identifiable and relatable, but holds so much more than can be discovered in a story, because he is not static. He will continue to develop from past and future experiences. (I am whole-heartedly of the opinion that once a *good* character is created, that character exists outside of the story, and theoretically continues to develop).

Now to how I interpreted Scotty. After thinking about the story more, I really feel Scott’s ex-wife plays a larger role in his internal conflict. The opening sentence references her in a significant way: “wondering (as I often did) how my ex-wife had managed to populate New York with thousands of women that…brought her to mind” (Egan 140). From the very start of “XO,” Scotty clearly has unresolved feelings about Alice (his ex). He rarely talks about her, and doesn’t share many thoughts with the reader, but it became clear to me that there was a latent conflict in which she was a central element. He can’t seem to move on from her or losing her. We see a lot of bitterness from Scotty, shown in the lines, “I noticed, to my infinite joy, that he’d had a hair transplant” in reference to Jonah, and “You didn’t get her. I did,” in reference to Alice.

I’d be interested to hear a story about Scotty in earlier years, when he had Alice, before Jonah had made it big-time professionally. I think that bitterness wouldn’t have been there, regardless of Scotty’s socio-economic or career status, because he understood then that being with Alice was more important than working towards professional success.

The turning point for him in the story is when he allows himself to think about Alice and appreciate his memory of her, to remember his happiness. It gave him a sort of peace that I think allowed him to let go of that bitterness he harbored toward her or Jonah or whoever. For him, whether or not Jonah truly did feel it, Scott had regained a power–not in a traditional sense, but one in which he  realized the X’s and O’s were internal. It wasn’t about who seemed the happiest externally, or the material X’s and O’s, but the ability to have a contented attitude.

At that moment in Jonah’s office, he forgoes bitterness over what is unfair for an internal strength and peace. Ultimately, this internal shift allows him to help others, because he is not so attached to bitterly holding onto his past or conventional power, symbolized by Jonah’s business card. While following a woman who his buddies falsely identified as his wife, Scotty’s “eyes held her so tightly that I didn’t even notice the junkie couple heading my way,” but he let’s go of that gaze to help the junkie musicians out (152). In this scene he simultaneously lets go of Alice and Jonah internally, and allows his life to finally move forward: “the freckled jogger was gone; she’d vanished while I looked away” (152). He sees himself as more than what he has or how he earns money, but as the way he treats other people, which gives him the power to determine the outcome of his life.

 

 

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