n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

revenge writing

ChicksMan, just thinking of revenge writing brings up ol’ times.

First, I would like to add two elements to the “sexy-mofo” list, after having continued to think about it and contemplate my sexy factor, which on a scale of 1-10 I’d place at a 1.75 right now. The two new elements being confidence and mystery.

You know, in jr. high one of my colleagues in battle was given the task, or took on the task, of assigning everyone their very own adjective for the eighth grade yearbook. My friend Robin was something like “shy,” which was once word enough to tilt her into full-blown rage—an emotion that on her resembled the appearance of a mug resting on a countertop. Another friend, Heather, received “vivacious,” or some other great word that began with a V, and was on cloud 9 until she stupidly decided to ask about reasons from the writer (who was, I believe, Balika, a name that means “Place Between the Mountains” in either native Alaskan or Norwegian, and who I still feel a moderate degree of animosity towards even after all the years and even armed with the knowledge that everyone is a heinous bitch to at least one other person in jr. high and high school, so she can hardly be held responsible for being that one person for me).

Heather was informed by Balika that after giving away all the obviously complimentary adjectives to her crew of popular kids, Balika started drawing randomly from the thesaurus and “vivacious” is what landed on our sweet Heather—strangely not entirely inaccurate, nor entirely accurate either.

The whole thesaurus aspect can’t be entirely true though, because Robin was called “shy” by many (just keep watching that mug!) and I received “confident,” which isn’t really a thesaurus word, and is one of those words that could potentially cut both ways. I choose, however, to take it as a compliment that I at least appeared confident to my secret arch-nemesis.

So, once upon a time, I was confident. Or seemed confident, which is almost as good as being confident. I’m not sure I appear confident any more, but I do realize that every person I have ever found even remotely sexy exudes a fair amount of confidence. This said, I also realized how I am drawn to mysterious sorts within whom you feel you’ll never touch the blessed shore.

I do realize, by the way, that talking about sexiness is a bit like griping about an ex- because everyone is bound to get their feelings hurt in some bizarre way. So I will add that I find a great number of people sexy as all hell, even a great number of people who I am not sexually attracted to. I enjoy having sexy friends as much as I enjoy having sexy lovers because it means always having someone around to admire, which is one of those characteristics of life that keeps me afloat. So, if you’re reading this and feeling put out somehow by my list of sexy, you should realize—suddenly, like a flock of seeds bolting out the window on a breeze—that I find you sexy.

(p.s. I don't actually imagine my few readers worrying about this.)


After having skimmed over some of my past recent entries, I’ve decided to attempt to eliminate all actually’s, anyhow’s, and interestingly’s, while significantly reducing just’s, though’s, however’s, and other such qualifiers. [Actually,] They’re starting to annoy.


I promised to regale you with daily natterings about my chicks, but you should realize they are much better in person. In chickson.

ChicksThey are doing well, and thriving so far beyond my expectations. I find that I am a fretful mother prone to imagining their death a thousand different ways. The first morning they were here, I awoke convinced that they’d suffocated in excess heat overnight. This probably from having once had a kitten that suffocated in excess heat overnight, back when I was thirteen or fourteen, something that I blamed myself for years because I heard it crying in the night, all night, and couldn’t figure out what to do and so ignored the poor blind mewlings of a kitten whose mother and siblings had already died, who didn’t know where to find succor, and who was passed off to a girl too young to have figured out the patience needed to keep it alive. And so it died, hot and scared and lonesome in the night, and I get to remember it when I think about responsibility and defenselessness.

Back to the chicks: they are still alive. I sometimes have panic attacks, especially when I realize I am getting three more next week, and feel that I am far too young and irresponsible to have the care of said chicks. But then I realize I am pretty damn old, and most of my friends have taken care of their actual human children, and I wonder what kind of panicky fretful mother of humans I’d make. I know for sure I would stay up part of the night gazing upon the soft inhaling face of such vulnerability. It is remarkable how much life clings to life, whether it is in children’s capacity to heal and thrive, or in my chicks’ tendency to race around the alder chips after each other, especially when one thinks the others have something tasty to vie for.

That aside, their names are Octavia, Mary Russell, and Flavia—from a sci-fi writer, a mystery book, and another selected by my mom from a mystery book. Octavia seems to recognize me as mother chick and calmly goes with me when I am working on their “handling”—to get them used to people and being held. Octavia opens her beak wide next to my mouth and seems to expect me to regurgitate some tasty bit of worm or beetle, and is willing to cuddle under my chin and act positively fuzzy. Flavia, by contrast, starts bleating as soon as she is away from the others, and refuses to cease until I return her to their pen, where she seems perfectly at home bossing the others around and demanding to be allowed to sleep under them if she so desires (typical redhead). Mary Russell is more neutral—an observing kind of chick, with a tendency to fall asleep all the time, including when I’m holding her or when she’s eating, or when she’s being picked on by the others. She sometimes flops down across the chips, comfortably stretching her limbs in sleep. They are quite perfect, and so far alive, uneaten, and rather hypnotic in their extreme birdiness.


Oh yeah, revenge writing. Good ol’ times.

I’ve been thinking about it lately. NM’s ex-girlfriend just recently published a ‘nonfiction’ piece about her relationship with N, clearly and overtly about N. I mentioned it before, because I reacted the wrong way when N told me about it, defending her ex’s right to write about her experience.

I was totally defensive, truthfully, considering that I had written on this blog about what happened, and also struggled with what was right to talk about here, and had even taken things down and put them back up in the difficult self-discussion about ethics and family/friends—a discussion that so often disgusts me when it shows up in the academia, when it seems to restrict what writers and artists are ‘allowed’ by politics and morality to imagine and produce. It is a part of a discussion that began when I was nineteen and sitting in a bathroom stall, responding to genuine concerns with a sharpie and carefully honed whetstone. And apparently it is a discussion that will never be laid to rest...

But with N, I realized I responded wrongly because it was out of my own selfish concern, rather than just saying “oh shit, I’m sorry” and letting her figure it out. I imagined, I think, N returning to her illness due to the pain of another betrayal-- returning to her mountaintop, returning to monologue and the attempt to control other people’s impressions, versions, and interpretations. None of which happened.

So I was all prepared when N brought it back up again, because the ex’s piece is out and readable, to say the right thing. To say “fuck her,” whether I meant it or not. But as it turns out, I meant it. I read the thing and it reads to me like clear revenge writing. How sweet to write a piece of revenge writing against someone who was sick and had a mental breakdown and then put her shit together with the help of doctors and friends, only without you, without the person who said they loved, not to say that it wasn't hard, but still... not so clear as that.

But then I started swirling… Just what makes something a piece of revenge writing? How do we recognize it? How do we avoid writing it?

Okay, so, I have written revenge writing. More than that, some part of me enjoys the idea of the pen being more powerful than the sword… the idea of you fuck with me here, in the real world where I am weaker and liable to cry when angry, and I will fuck with you there, where words are my companions and my fingers expressive in ways my lips will never be. I like the idea of formulating, over time, precise objections, ironic and sarcastic dressings down, ornate descriptions of ridiculousness, and so forth… revenge writings.

However, over time, I have developed varying ideas about revenge writing. Certainly anger is a powerful locus for inspiration. Certainly I imagine Martin Luther King Jr., sitting in his jail, feeding his anger into the word machine in his mind, feeding his outrage and powerlessness and, also, hope. I think that’s it—what one hopes to achieve with the revenge writing, what other emotions come together in its creation. Hopefully the good ones, like hope, to mitigate and transform.

But to speak to the different types and results of revenge writing I myself have written, in random order:
(1) Sometimes revenge writing is motivated out of a desire to prove a point about writing itself, to prove a teacher or critic wrong—a revenge against form, or prescription, or even criticism itself. As my friend AR, a writer who likes to break every last rule, might point out: this encourages us to the heights of revenge-creation because with anything less than the heights, we are proving nothing, except that our critics may be right. You have to be nearly perfect, nearly spot on, nearly completely innovative to get back at a person for something they’ve said about your writing.

(2) Sometimes revenge writing makes you resemble a pustular wound—spurting all kinds of toxic, infected pus that makes people cringe and avoid you.

(3) Sometimes the edge that revenge and anger gives you is like a whittling knife—a tool given to take the soft extra off the sculpture. But without an appreciation and perhaps love for the wood, for the sculpture, for the right amount, that knife can keep on carving until there’s nothing left—no truth, no lie, just nothing.

(4) Sometimes justice is trammeled, and writing about it allows you to give the issue air. To vent the reasons, the logic, the long suffering. To help start the process of healing.

(5) Frequently we really don’t understand. What happened was a knockout, a butt-kicking anti-miracle—seemingly explicable, unforeseen, and undeserved. Sometimes our revenge writing is revenge against fate, or entropy. It is created from a desire to understand, oh please god, understand what happened, and why me, and how can I avoid that ever again.

(6) But what happens when you don’t want to heal anything, but instead want to make someone else feel for you? You want to inform them of all the fucked up shit they’ve put on your doorstep. You want them to know the unknowable pain. You want them to take it all back, to repent and show up at your bedroom doorjamb, pulling at their hair and moaning in self-flagellation. You want them to justify your own decisions and responses, to tell you that you did it all right, or at least mostly right—you’ll give them that ‘mostly’ out of the selflessness created by the rigor of your suffering. What happens then?
Well, it seems like this works out for some people. It seems like some people get published and are given that gleeful howl at the moon: “Told you!” But for me, two things happen when I write revenge writing of the latter sort:

First, I feel wracked with shame. And that shame turns to humiliation and regret. I always know right away if I’m going to feel this way, I always know when what I’m doing is not-quite-right—like when I went with a crew of petty girls to talk to the school counselor about a ‘disturbed’ girl. But the shame, humiliation, and regret takes years to develop, and even more years to release. Only when I’ve shed enough of my skin cells, can I ever feel different enough from the person who did that to not feel like crap.

Second, it turns my writing to shit. It can, honest to god, take a good piece that was doing interesting things and automatically make it a big steamy pile, which is always liable to happen anyways, so why give the writing one more incentive to decay?

Let me give you an example. Really, it’s the only example of Revenge Writing Gone Totally Fucked in my life, although I’ve dabbled in other ways.

It’s not actually all that complex. I was friends with this girl in grad school, DS. She was odd, dark, critical, [a mysterious, confident writer], and often mean in a number of clever and insightful ways that made me laugh and frequently turned out to be so true you had to wonder if she was telepathic. I was drawn to her, interested in her, admired her, and yet still a little repulsed by her—that mean streak had bite. So D was a lesbo like myself and though we weren’t the type to regularly go for each other, she had just broken up and decided she needed to sleep with pretty much everyone, and I had just broken up and decided I needed to sleep with pretty much everyone… If it hadn’t been for a previous flirtation-gone-wrong I had recently participated in, I probably would have jumped and found myself in some back alley in Kazakhstan three months later. But said flirtation made me cautious and so I deferred sleeping with her, which sent her into a rage. This rage was… how shall we call it… an ion storm—fundamental, yet invisible; I didn’t see it coming and had never faced this sort of thing before, and so I totally bleeped out when it caught me.

ChicksYes, as you might have guessed, D—in an email—compared herself to Jesus, told me she was coming with the ‘sword’, and then went on to tell me that all the world was divided into vampires and angels (I am supposing it’s a metaphor), and that I was a vampire. She then wrote a three-page email describing how I was a vampire. The thing is, I was devastated, but too confused by the angel-vampire metaphor to admit I was devastated.

And so I fell into the pit of revenge writing: pustular wound first, then sneaky bullshit snark after, then turned a potentially good piece of writing into shit, which nobody ever told me about so I had to find out about later through reading from the skin of my new, still ashamed, self. The biggest ethical fuck-up was not that I wrote it, but that I took it to school, to a workshop that D was in and thus found myself in the kind of revenge writing that attempts #6 most directly.

And it never friggin’ works. You know why? Because crappy, shitty, humiliating, self-centered, defeated writing lacks the power to move people.

The epigraph to my tale is that I suffered for my revenge writing. Because I brought #6 to school, I was known as a girl given to pathetic revenge writing, and then when I had perhaps genuine cause to be writing revenge writing—when I was taken apart and barely held together at the seams—all my writing was perceived as revenge writing, whether it was or not, and it was mostly not. Letters I wrote that were meant to speak to #4, were #2. Stories that began at #5 became #3. Elements of entire coincidence became all forms of misread revenge. And then everything would shift to #1, simply because there was nowhere else to go—nowhere safe, nowhere loved, nowhere whole. Nowhere for writing to not be revenge writing.

Phhhhhhhhhrpt. The worst?! All over being called a "vampire," and being totally upset about it, for bat's sake.


To get back to N’s ex’s writing: I smell it. It is revenge writing, a la #6. It is not very well written—taking a horrifying experience and not seeking to explore its complexity, which kinda makes me mad. That experience was so hard, and hard to understand, huge, and so... normal in a way, it should remain complex—in form, in totality. Instead, this version removes outside characters who tried. It removes N trying. It doesn’t seek to understand or heal. Worst, it venomously gives out information about N’s childhood, traumatic experience, and life that are not the writer's to tell. And it uses second person, as if simplifying an experience with mental breakdown into a “handbook” experience will get at the heart, and take the heart out, make it less prone to hurt. But it doesn’t. And I felt sorry for N’s ex that this would be her try, her attempt to climb out of the experience. And I felt sorry for N that her past was stolen from her, her trust betrayed. And I felt thoughtful, about where I’ve been, and why I’ve written.

However, I realize, in principle I’m still not against revenge. Heh. Well, that's not actually true.
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