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why i write about you.

July 30, 2013

i’m working on a blog post for puritan magazine’s the town crier blog. it’s a short blurb about the poem i wrote for them, which was published back in spring 2012. there was a little bit of drama surrounding that publication, because i had written a glosa, and instead of using a renowned writer’s already-published work, i picked four lines of a poem that i had not explicitly been given permission to use. it was a poem that i had edited, and it was written by somebody that i had been involved with. now the involvement was over, and i had need for catharsis, and i borrowed (errrr…..) his writing and wrote my  “own damn poem” around the quatrain. i workshopped it in poetry class, and got professional opinions on whether or not i could publish it if i didn’t have his permission, and i went through with it. of course the reaction was poor. my reaction would have been poor if someone had done that to me.

it’s a tricky thing, isn’t it – writing about people. so much of art is focused on people. the art that is not – wordsworth, pastoral scenes – is not at all interesting to me. i remember seeing a picasso exhibit at the AGO, and being almost repulsed by his crying woman painting. i knew that he was painting it without permission, and i knew that he was painting the pain he had caused her. it felt voyeuristic and cruel, and yet i will turn around and do that same thing in my own art. artists, songwriters, poets, fiction writers, actors – we all take inspiration from the people who have meant the most to us. we borrow from people who have hurt us. in friends’ work, i can read and identify characters who are based on the people who ripped their hearts out. for me, it’s a strange combination of tribute, of catharsis, of a tiny dash of revenge, of reassuring myself that i can still write even after getting my guts stomped on.

the older i get, the more i think about how i may have hurt people. even though i’m only still in my later-mid-twenties, in my younger years i just did not give a shit about who i wrote about. in a way, it was freeing. i published things that i would not have published today. i said things that i would never say in present times. at the same time, i don’t think i was very tactful. there’s a shark-toothed wildness to being that age and just being on the cusp of discovering how much fun and how powerful writing is, and i was taking advantage of that.

not that this is an expose, but i find that as a writer i do get questions about what was influenced by who. and i’ve started to run into emotional upsets after publishing things, which is still, to this day, distressing because deep down i don’t like conflict as much as some. i don’t want to hurt, or to cause anger, but i find that it’s inevitable. as chris urquhart told me: “people don’t like when you turn the mirror onto them.” at the same time, people like it even less when you don’t write about them. and i know i’ve written about this before, but as the months pass my points of view evolve.

when i write about someone, i’m trying to write from a place void of malice or mania or deep sadness. it’s not always easy to do this, and so i usually give myself a wide berth of time between the inception of the heartache and the time when i deem it appropriate to write the piece. sometimes i don’t always accomplish this. those poems are almost immediately shot down by my colleagues or the editors of magazines. they don’t ring true. they sound hysterical, and looking back at them always makes me cringe. pure emotion doesn’t seem to translate so well to the written word, which seems counterintuitive, but there you have it. it’s like how a toddler can only really feel one emotion at a time because they are so tiny and maniacal – when i write from a place of insane emotion, the poem is flat and one-dimensional.


i write about you because sometimes i feel so frustrated in my day to day life, or so anxious when i can’t vocalise something in person, and so i take to the page to make it right, or to help myself feel a little more powerful. i write about you because you made an impact on my life – i write about you because our interaction meant something, and because humans interact in weird and funny and wonderful and lizard-brain-like ways, and that with my memory i have remembered every eyebrow raise, every half-stopped sentence, every tactile experience or leg looped around another leg or the way fingers plait together loosely when the brain is not involved. this is not because i am crazy. this is because i have a near-eidetic memory and because i give a lot of gravity to the weird and fantastic ways humans talk with each other or touch each other or shove each other away, because i have studied it both in my psychology degree and my writing degree. this is because i am storing it away, without being aware that i’m doing it, to write about it later, whether it’s for something that is focused on you or as a character in a story, or the let one of your traits get the airtime it deserves. i write about you because i really liked you, or because you made me laugh, or because you hurt me really badly and i couldn’t breathe for a few months after the fact or because you are my friend or because we had a night out together where i laughed until i thought i was going to lose it or because we stood on the desert playa together and shivered arm in arm while we watched people dance with fire.

i’m not crazy. i’m giving you the platform you deserve, because you made an indent in my life in some way. you might react with anger, or fear at the level of emotion present, or you might be flattered. in the end, it doesn’t so much matter how you feel, because while i’m not trying to offend you, i’m also learning how to stick to my writing guns, and trust in my gut, and my gut won’t let me write anything awful or malicious or untrue about you. i’m really writing for me, as trite as that sounds, so you’ll be along for the ride.

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