In an attempt to expand my creativity (and use up paper in this thing to start writing in this other notebook I got), I’m going to write down the exercises I do from Rivers of Writing, this manuscript I took home. Here goes…
Hear: The ringing in your ears after a loud show, chimes from anywhere, the wind howling and pounding against the window…
Touch: The hard plastic of CD cases slipping through your fingers as you flip through, the shiny surface of a postcard, the raised letters of a typed page…
Smell: The incense on the corner of 6th Ave and 8th St, hazelnut coffee, the rain on the asphalt…
Taste: Mocha frappachino, melted cheese on eggs, salty mushy fries…
See: My silver satin skirt, glittery purple lipstick, a clean snow-covered city…
Wednesday it snowed, a gorgeous powdery snow that clung to everything and made living in such a dirty city euphoric and lovely. I grabbed my camera, all set to capture the postcard-ready scenery and daydreamed about the romantic possibilities of the lush crisp weather. Perhaps I should have heeded the bad omen of a snowball sailing hard into my right eye. No. I would quickly heal and assume prettiness when casually visiting my love (though he doesn’t know it) that afternoon. Besides, my camera was hungry for the images of a tranquil early winter. Then all the snow melted from the trees. My purposes of going downtown had whittled away to basically one: yes, him. But a busy store prevented much interaction so I was stuck with soggy hopes, praying I don’t come to despise the snow.
The writing exercise obviously called for descriptors for the five senses and then a paragraph expanding on one of them. I actually wish I did more of this kind of exercise to offer a more concise and interesting snapshot of my life-at-that-moment than my usual teenage blathering (I’ve edited some of the more redundant entries out of this blog).
So yeah, I was haunting Record Rabbit, and while I guess visiting a record store two-to-three times a month does not technically constitute stalking, the care and plotting that went into each visit was maybe a wee bit frightening in retrospect. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for Anita, my best friend at the time, to hear me go on and on about him. It’s one thing to share a mutual obsession (U2, in our earlier teen years) but another to be on the receiving end of the minutiae associated with someone else’s fixation. Sometimes I had to have Anita stop from paying a visit too soon (like more than once a week) for fear of appearing suspicious to Nathan. I was sensitive about saturating him with my presence, so I didn’t hound him with phone calls or leave notes or do anything super-creepy (though I confess I did sometimes call him when I knew he wouldn’t be home to hear his answering machine message, which is utterly bizarre because it wasn’t even his voice but a recorded clip from a Charlie Brown cartoon). This made it all the more disappointing if I timed that biweekly visit poorly and didn’t get to talk to him much or at all.
Being as impatient as I
was am, more decisive action would have to be taken soon. A plot was about to be hatched…
I’ve been listening to WSOU a LOT lately. Got this ‘zine “POPsmear” that has celebrity phone numbers (including Lisa Loeb’s! Ooh! Maybe I’ll give her a call.)
I really like the word silverbitch. If I get a band, maybe that’s what I’ll name it. I’m working on a poem called “silverbitch smitten” all about Mercer. I hope it comes together, gels.
Oh, I saw Sandra Bernhard in the Village today. She was going one way (with some guy she was walking with) and we were going the other (Anita didn’t see her).
Oh god oh god oh god. This entry provided me with a special double dose of shame, once for believing I was so clever by coining a word as utterly ridiculous as “silverbitch” and a second time when I dug out and read the ensuing poem. But more on that later. First up, Lisa Loeb.
For those who are too young or need a refresher, Lisa Loeb was a bespectacled singer-songwriter and one-hit wonder whose song “Stay (I Missed You)” was featured on the Reality Bites soundtrack and, much like the movie, represented a special blend of irritating-but-not-wholly-unlikable ’90s angst. Except in Lobe’s case, there was a dose of perkiness mixed into the angst (let’s call it “pangst”). The video was directed by Ethan Hawke and couldn’t have had a budget of more than $20, because it just shows Loeb walking around an empty apartment. See for yourself:
If I ever had the guts to call Lisa and leave her a truthful voicemail, it would have gone something like this:
Hey Lisa, it’s Damiella. Listen, that song “Stay” was ok the first few times I heard it, but it’s getting pretty played out now. Since the damn thing is your handiwork, is there any way you can tone down the air and video play a bit? Seriously, I am starting to get a twitch every time I hear the words “you say.” Thanks, Lisa. You’re a peach. P.S. Nice glasses. Years from now, I’ll date a guy who’s still a big fan of yours and say to him ‘Lisa Loeb seems smart.’ And he’ll say, ‘you just think that because she’s wearing glasses.’ And he’ll be right. Anyway, that’s all I got. Peace.
And now for the part that we’ve all been dreading…
Let’s face it, no blog about about a girl’s diary is worth its salt if it doesn’t include at least one poem penned by the diary’s author. And while I’ve resisted sharing more than a little bit of the creative writing I did back then here and there, that changes now. The poem I wrote about my crush on Neil (AKA “Mercer”) came together alright, for
better or worse. Here it is in its cringe-inducing entirety:
thirteen years to confusion
and you take a turn into the
(thank you and hello).
here i float
on the cusp of madness
pushed along by a flow of
creativity and delusion…
i want you
to take me to that dysfunctional whirlpool
behind your flaming blue eyes
i love to watch you
lash out at the bastards, sinking your fangs
into their papery skin
rage on, baby
(it’s part of your charm).
now you are the only one here
who can save me from
my stagnant corner,
my dissolving thoughts,
my pretentious poetry.
slap me asleep.
Well, at least I had enough self-awareness to actually call my poetry pretentious… in one of my poems… does that make me meta-pretentious?
[I started including more and more writing exercises in my journal as my junior year creative writing class continued to develop my passion for crafting poetry and prose.
Some All of my work had an element of autobiography, including the writing exercise below. Our teacher gave us the first four lines and told us to use them as the jumping off point for our piece.]
It’s been a long time.
Yes, a long time.
Is this it?
I guess it is.
We stood in front of the Waverly inhaling the smell of exhaust from passing vehicles and incense from a table loaded with the stuff a few feet away from us. A rollerblader with turquoise hair speeded by. The store nearby that sold t-shirts, patches, lighters, buttons, handcuffs, and a vast array of bongs was still in business. And this was one of the more ordinary blocks of Greenwich Village.
“When was the last time we were here?” I asked Billie, again admiring the lizard she had tattooed on her temple.
“It’s been…I don’t know, a while.”
We were headed for Bleeker Bob’s, to pay our respects. It was the first record store we ever visited in the village, and even though we never buy anything there anymore, we always go in, spend a long time flipping through the 7”’s and 12”’s then go on our way. I also go in hopes of one day meeting Joey Ramone, who is rumored to frequent the place. Unfortunately, we keep missing each other.
A man who could pass for Henry Rollins’ younger brother, same hair and facial structure, though slightly less bulkier build was working the counter. He wore a long army jacket over a Marylin Manson T-shirt.
“Do you have anything by the Virgin Prunes?” Billie asked him.
“Try Gothic, V.”
“I did, nothing there. It isn’t easy finding stuff by them.” She signed then tilted her head to the side. “Is this Nick Cave?” Billie always had to know what was playing.
“Don’t know,” he rummaged around for the CD case and held it up for her “I guess it is.”
We left the Red record place and after a few similar places Billie found her Virgin Prunes CD.
Riveting stuff, I know.
A few notes:
1. Before i became the IFC Center, the Waverly Theater stood at Sixth Avenue and West Third. I don’t know if I ever actually saw a movie there when it was The Waverly, but I did love it as a meeting place. It was right outside the West 4th Street subway stop, which made it convenient, and there was just something highly appealing about saying, “Let’s meet outside The Waverly.” It was also the perfect spot to begin a record store outing.
2. Despite the fact that most music these days is downloaded and that major chains like Tower Records have gone out of business, both Generation Records and Bleecker Bob’s are still around today. I know there will be a day when both are gone, and I hope I’m not around to see it.
3. Pretty much the only fictional things about that writing exercise were the names, the tattoo, and how easily Billie (based on Claudia but with my music taste) found that Virgin Prunes CD—it took me years of searching through countless CDs in record stores in at least three different states before I found one of their albums.
“See faces frozen still against the wind” – U2
Ellis Island was not the huge bore I expected it to be. Mom and I had an… interesting train adventure on the way back. The blind leading the blind.
“Glitter Over Disintegration” is the title I decided upon. I made it an acronym on purpose (sort of). This one moved along fairly quickly. It’s relieving to know I can write outside of life experiences.
Anita and I have already scheduled our first trip to the Village, this Friday. I want these next 4 days to be over with more than anything. Anita heard that Larry Mullen Jnr was at the DRE acoustic Christmas concert. It’s a little frustrating, yes, but it just wasn’t meant to be, like with the backstage passes.
I’m in the process of dying my hair (reddish-blond, so the box says). “That tingly feeling means it’s working.”
“Destiny protect me from the world” – Radiohead (one of the bands at the DRE thing)
WDRE was a fantastic radio station based out of Long Island that used to be known as WLIR. It was known as the listening destination for alternative music, but balanced the more popular bands at the time like Green Day, Pearl Jam, and Stone Temple Pilots with 80’s alternative that was rarely heard on other stations, like The Smiths, early Cure, and Madness. Back in the day, radio stations used to give out concert tickets, usually to the caller that corresponded to the station’s ID (i.e. Z100 awarded its 100th caller). I wore out my phone’s redial button trying to win all kinds of tickets, but unfortunately, I was never lucky when it came to shows I really wanted to see, like the DRE Christmas concert. Instead, I won tickets for artists/bands I had no interest in, like Barenaked Ladies and Paul Weller. In fact, I won Paul Weller tickets twice and didn’t go to the show either time. I listened to DRE in the last years of its heyday, because a couple of years later it switched format to adult contemporary, which made me pretty much give up on radio.
“Glitter Over Disintegration” was about a couple, Rob and Tera, trying to have a picnic on a boat, except for the threat of “shadows” which periodically appear to Rob and slowly drain his humanity. It was my none-too-subtle metaphor for depression. Here’s an excerpt from the last page:
I sank my teeth into my lip to hold back the rising bile and hysteria. Each time the shadows came they took a little bit more of Rob, leaving me with less to look after. I hated compensating for this gradual annihilation.
I reached my arm out but he wouldn’t let me touch him. The gnawing of my frustrated teeth cracked open my thin skin and blood poured over my lip and chin, leaving both wet and sticky. I sat back and lifted my tired eyes when—
It was as if ink was slowly staining the sky, pretty blue being eaten by darkness. The trees shriveled, becoming ash, and the water coagulated into murky gelatinous lumps. The boat spiraled into different directions, pieces of it chipping off and flying into the blackness. I started to scream then abruptly stopped when Rob took my hand. The sadness in his soft face became a resigned fear as he placed his other hand around our wrists.
We kissed as the pandemonium crashed down on us.
Reading that last line so many years later makes me chuckle at all the intense drama I was trying to invoke.
The story was inspired by Tim Wunderlich, a pen pal whose acquaintance I made via a friendship book. Tim was an alternative kid living in a small town full of people who were intolerant of him. Whether it was circumstance, biology or a bit of both, Tim had some pretty intense depressive episodes. His negative rants at the world worried me, but also added to his mystique. And also made me determined (let’s say it all together now) to be the one to save him. Of course, sometimes my optimism just couldn’t withstand his pessimism and his letters left me depressed, but the good kind of depressed where I was able to channel it into fiction, even if it does read more than a bit melodramatic today.
10/24/94“Some days it all adds up
And what you got is enough” – U2
I’m writing this on the train which means bumpy writing. Today was a great day, one of those times when the little things go right. I swear I wouldn’t be surprised if I was diagnosed as a manic-depressive. Mood swings indeed.
Hozumi gave me a tape I once considered getting, Dig. It was really nice of her, just came out of nowhere. She’s very cool. Well, some people actually understood my second story which made me happy. I don’t care that everyone didn’t, but the people that mattered (the teacher, for one) got it. Yeah…
“Too much is not enough” – U2
In retrospect, I do wonder whether my oscillating moods were caused by teenage hormones or whether there was something a little bipolar going on back then. The swings were usually provoked but not always,and small events could set the pendulum in motion to either extreme. If I had to guess, considering the moods did not negatively affect my grades or social life, I’d say it had less to do with manic-depression and more to do with being an angsty teenager.
Hozumi was someone I always liked at Hunter, because she defied categories (though I initially pegged her as a metalhead), got along with everyone, had her own style, and didn’t take any shit. In other words, she was different from just about everyone else at the school. I wanted to be friends with her, but we rarely had reason to interact, and I think I found her too intimidating to feel comfortable enough around her to really be myself. Or it’s possible that we just didn’t have the right friendship chemistry to form a true bond. It happens. Even so, throughout high school we had a few pleasant interactions that I look back on fondly and her giving me this tape was one of them. Dig was a grunge band with one minor MTV hit, “Believe.” They weren’t memorable, and neither was the album, but it’s the gesture that I appreciated.
As for the short story, it’s called “cut adrift but still floating,” and is about a high school girl, Nina, who stops talking, which elicits a variety of reactions from her teachers, family, and classmates. The story is written in alternating vignettes of her teachers, classmates, and family offering their opinion about her, with excerpts of letters that Nina writes to T.R., a famous musician who killed himself. Kurt Cobain had killed himself six months earlier, and while I was not personally affected by the tragedy, it did make me wonder would be like if a musician I really adored died. Considering the important role music played in my life back then, I think it would have been pretty devastating to me. At the time, I practically had a shrine devoted to Trent Reznor, so T.R. was the natural choice for the object of obsession in my story. To make my love of Nine Inch Nails even less subtle, I also named the protagonist Nina. Here’s an excerpt from the story:
It’s hard to function without you. You helped form me, create me. You terrified me, initially, but you forbade my fear. For a while there, I was under the impression that I was immortal. But then you disappeared, leaving me alone with my black thoughts. The bravery you instilled in me immediately decayed. You were supposed to complete me. Now there are pieces missing from me, pieces that were never formed. I was almost powerful. Now I’m nothing.
Just a wee bit overwrought, I know, I know. I’ll spare you the rest.
[“Raphaela Smashes” was the first short story I wrote for my creative writing class. It was about a teenage girl who hates high school except for an art class where all she does is sculpt clay angels. A few angsty excerpts:
I used to be so much more tolerant of this place—no, that’s wrong. It was never the place, always the people. I can’t see how I’ll be able to conform to their blueprint of an average, non-interfering girl anymore. Molding myself into their empty smiles has taken its toll and my tolerance of them has gone dry, leaving me raw and bracing myself for their sharp neglect. I wonder if maybe I was better off sugar-coated.
* * * * *
I haven’t decided which version of me to be this year. I think I have outgrown all of my old masks, the nice, pretty ones. The silent, claustrophobic ones. Maybe I can dig a new one out of the gutter.
* * * * *
I’m alone up here. I don’t cry, it just makes the hole deeper (and it’s already becoming hard to crawl out of). I practice breathing, doing it normally has been giving me trouble lately. I’ve been feeling like something invisible is trying to strangle me, some thought or emotion lodged in my trachea.]
10/4/94“You didn’t hurt me Nothing can hurt me You didn’t hurt me Nothing can stop me now” – nine inch nails
We discussed Raphaela Smashes in class today and I was incredibly happy with how much people liked it. I don’t think cut adrift… is going to be as well received. I haven’t decided how I feel about it yet. I’ve read it over a lot, but I don’t know what I’d change about it.
Oh well, I should focus more on my next story. I really want to call it My Empire of Dirt and am almost ready to construct an entire story on that title. I want it to be about little girls. Around 9 years old.
I was really touched (and a little surprised) with how many people identified with my first story. It was really nice, felt good.“And in our world a heart of darkness A firezone Where poets speak their hearts then bleed for it.” – U2
So much for holding back my feelings. My fiction was rife with them, brimming with enough teen anguish for a dozen Angela Chases and Brian Krakows.
This short story was published in a literary journal at the end of the year, which was a point of pride for me, because I was approached to submit a piece by someone who had shared the writing class with me.
Funny that I couldn’t believe that my classmates were able to identify with the alienation I portrayed in this story (a theme that would appear over and over and over in my writing). It’s hard to imagine others feeling that sort of isolation, especially in a school full of bright, accomplished kids. And yet so many of had our own personal cocktails of misery brewing within us, blind to the fact that we were all going through variations of the same thing.
It terms of inspiration, I wore my influences on my sleeve. Raphaela was the main character in Faraway, So Close! the sequel to Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. I suppose I was going through a bit of of an obsession with arty movies about angels (who hasn’t, right?… right?…). I knew I’d never top Wenders’ interpretation of celestial beings, but I tried to work in some kind of homage anyway.
Music continued to be the biggest inspiration, though. “Cut adrift” was short for “cut adrift but still floating” (a U2 lyric) but I decided to change “my empire of dirt” (a nine inch nails lyric) to “Happiness in Slavery” (a nine inch nails song title). Nowadays, whenever I see a book or movie title based on a song, my first temptation is to get irked at the lack of originality, but then I have to remind myself I used to do the same thing, and it was more about paying tribute than anything else.
One upside to having a journal where I didn’t gush about my feelings as much was having fewer entries devoted to boys. Mind you, the crushes were undoubtedly still there, but putting my passion into music and writing seemed like a better outlet than unrequited love, and more fun to reminisce about years later.
[Red Spiral Notebook with the following band logos drawn on the front:
U2, Bauhaus, PWEI, NIN, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, Christian Death]
September 13, 1994
“Into the flood again…” – Alice in Chains
I’m back in school and just as I decided I would no longer continue my diary, we have to keep a log for creative writing. Great. Well at least this is my free space to do what I wish. Went to Anita’s on Sunday and watched “Faraway, So Close!” (the same name as my fanzine. Though the movie and song came first). What a great movie. I wanted to pause it every other minute to write down what they were saying. I still think I like the “prequel” “Wings of Desire” better. It was more…philosophical.
I’m eagerly awaiting my next trip to the village, don’t know when I’ll get the chance to go. I want to get some more written material on U2 for my ever-expanding collection. Got an idea spinning around my head for that short story due Friday. Think it’s pretty good. We’ll see.
“Wish there was something real in this world full of you.” – nine inch nails
Funny, because as much as I grumbled about it at the time, the red spiral notebook I kept as a journal during my junior year of high school ended up being one of the most comprehensive records I have of any period of my life. Yes, it’s full of frivolity and quotes and stream of consciousness entries written for the sake of completing the minimum number of entries required by the class, but it’s also a personal time capsule that chronicles a pretty pivotal time in my life, when I was discovering not only music and movies and other sources of inspiration, but also developing what would be one of my greatest passions in life: writing. The creative writing course I was lucky enough to be in that year is the single most amazing class I took in all of my high school (and even college) years. It not only gave me an outlet of expression for all my turbulent adolescent thoughts and feelings, but it made me want to be a storyteller, to put down words and refine them and share them.
What made the class so stellar was our teacher, Ms. Donaldson. She not only offered the perfect balance of freedom and guidance with respect to our writing, she was also incredibly insightful and damn cool. Ms. Donaldson resembled Jodie Foster, had multiple ear piercings, and rode a motorcycle. She shared hilarious stories from her younger days (“did I ever tell you about the flaming diaphragm?”) and created an atmosphere in her classroom that was nothing short of illuminating. And it wasn’t just me. I recently met up with a couple of classmates who had the same reverence for Ms. Donaldson that I did.
“We all had a girl crush on her,” one said. “That class was magic.”
Despite the different shades of teen angst I’d continue to experience at 16, it was an inspiring time. That summer, I saw Wings of Desire, a movie I loved so much I made my best friend Anita watch it with me the very next day. The Wim Wenders masterpiece instantly became my favorite film, and still is to this day. The story of angels watching over the people of Berlin circa the late 80’s, shot in black and white, sepia, and color, in several languages, was unlike any film I had seen before or since. If a movie can be a muse, then this would be mine for a long long time. In college, I saw it in revival houses several times, once with an orchestra providing a live soundtrack. It is the only movie I have ever purchased on DVD. I would tell people it’s the closest thing I have to religion.
That summer I also discovered Greenwich Village, which was already starting to get gentrified, but at the time still retained much of its bohemian charm and was filled with tiny record stores/memorabilia shops that Anita and I frequented. The East Village in particular still had an alternative grit to it, since starving artists/musicians could still afford to live there. The Village became a Mecca for me, where I could satisfy existing musical obsessions and cultivate new ones, where I could ogle the outrageous hairstyles, piercings, and outfits that would inform my future style, and where I could escape the blandness of my Brooklyn life.
Something else that helped me escape that blandness was in fact a new musical obsession. But that’s a whole other story, for another time…