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…
Wow. I won a Gold Award in that contest. I’m going to Washington D.C. to read an excerpt from my story at the library of congress. June 17 (Saturday) there will also be an awards ceremony. The awards will be mailed to the winners by the early summer. I think that means moolah. A scholarship maybe. I still can’t believe it. This is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, winning a National award in a writing contest. Maybe this means I’ll have a good shot at Emerson’s writing scholarship. It’s so great how my parents are leaving this entire college thing to me. I have yet to find a more perfect school for me than Emerson. I think it would be a cool place for Tim too.
The writing award was a pretty big deal and just the affirmation I needed as an aspiring writer. I don’t remember whether I got any scholarship money, though since I was light on extracurricular activities, it was a nice thing to add to my college applications. But I cared less about that as much as this was an indicator that writing was something I was decent at and should stick with. I’ve gone back and forth on that matter in the years since, but at seventeen it was an unexpected and flattering accolade.
It’s funny how I glaze over the parental college issue, because while my mother supported my liberal arts trajectory, my father wanted me to apply to Ivy League schools and refused support unless I was either pre-law or pre-med. As a struggling immigrant, he wanted me to pursue a lucrative career, whereas my mother wanted me to pursue what made me happy.
I told Anita that when the Cure tour again (and since there will be a new album in September that may be soon) we will dress up as major goths and go (It will be so great I can’t even wait!). It will be even more fun than doing the stuff for the NIN-turned-Killing Joke show. I’m getting a lot more into the Cure (talk about them more, want more albums), I’m beginning to also get that feeling again, the same one I had with U2 and NIN. I think that Tim has (at least partially) converted me. Well I have to wait a while to see the effect it has on me.
“I’m bent out of shape desperate to whine screaming so loud that I don’t make a sound
strung out on speed maxed out on lies I know you’re to blame but I can’t say why.” – Moist
I love that quote and wrote it down even though its sentiment doesn’t express my current mood. I feel kind of hyper.
(What I really love is how I totally missed the reference to methamphetamine in the song lyric, while saying it didn’t match my own hyper mood.)
The musical evolution was well under way, as was the continued flirtation with gothdom.
I was fascinated by the punk and goth subcultures much more than the grunge scene that was emblematic of the 1990s, but I had long since realized I didn’t belong with the punks. And while I loved the goth aesthetic, I was naturally an upbeat optimistic person, and I loved colors, so I didn’t think I’d be suited to the black-black-always-black gloomy world of the gothic people. I also wasn’t familiar with the music beyond the popular bands that fell into the genre’s fold like the Cure, Nine Inch Nails (more industrial, but related) and Cocteau Twins. I also didn’t want to come across as a poseur like I thought Claudia did to me with the punk scene, so I was cautious making any firmly committed affiliations.
I also had it in my head that being goth meant listening to nothing but gothic music, and I still had numerous other bands I listened to (apart from U2) like Belly, Radiohead, Afghan Whigs, and more obscure gems I was happy to discover, like the Canadian band I quoted above, Moist. Terrible name, but their album Silver was an immense discovery to me, full of sharp guitars, vocals on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and lyrics worth scrawling on classroom desks. Being a fan of such an unknown band was both a blessing and a curse, because on one hand they felt like my special secret, but on the other hand, I wanted them to find wider appreciation so that they could tour and release more albums.
And there was also that ambivalent desire for a band to be popular, but not too popular. Belly struck the right balance: they toured small enough venues but had a decent following. But Radiohead… well, I don’t need to tell you about them.
I got Marilyn Manson’s CD, which is great (listened to it twice in two days). The music isn’t half as scary as they are visually. In fact the song lyrics are very interesting. A sample:
“You want me to save the world
I’m just a little girl
pseudo-morals work real well
on the talk shows for the weak
but your selective judgements
and good guy badges
don’t mean a f$%# to me.”
That one is from “Get Your Gunn,” one of the best songs on Portrait of An American Family.
Right now I’m listening to the Cure (Head on the Door).
I have some random lines for poetry. Might as well put them down here… my thoughts collide with tomorrow, wait, I had more. It’s not as inspiring writing on ordinary paper. Plus I have the Cure blasting in my ear so that doesn’t help much.
Hey, today is Neil’s birthday. He turns the big 14. Haven’t been hanging out with Claudia that much lately. I don’t know if we’ve been actively ignoring each other or what. Oh well, I’m not all that upset, people drift away and sometimes it’s a good and natural thing (Geez, I sound like a shrink. What is my problem?).
I remember seeing Marilyn Manson open up for Nine Inch Nails to a hostile/indifferent crowd. Before the lead singer became the pseudo-subversive spokesman for disillusioned alterna-goth youth, he was still in Trent Reznor’s shadow, being booed at by teenagers waiting for the main event. In light of that, I felt like I was supporting an underdog when buying Portrait of an American Family. The shock value was obvious but some of the songs were catchy to me (and yes, I was a sucker for some of those lyrics; hey, I was the target audience to a degree). When I went to college and the second Marilyn Manson album was released, the band became huge, and I lost interest, casting them out of my musical canon. By that point, I was cultivating more obscure musical (let’s say, “organically goth”) interests and was quick to disdain a celebrity that was so obviously pandering to a certain type of demographic.
But since, at the time of this entry, I was still part of that demographic, let’s take a moment to cringe at the “random lines of poetry” bit. Just… oy. The “ordinary paper” refers to the fact that I used to draft a lot of poetry on top of photos in magazines; but yeah, let’s blame the “ordinary paper” and loud Cure music for not being able to craft a better line of poetry.
As for Claudia and Neil, I was pretty much over my inappropriate crush on the latter, and continuously uncomfortable with the former. Aside from my irritation at her becoming what I perceived as a phony punk, Claudia was getting more involved with drugs, which was a bigger problem for me. I realize a lot of teenagers experiment with drugs, but in high school, apart from alcohol, I was pretty much a goodie goodie. And it wasn’t just the fact that she was smoking weed more; I witnessed her becoming a different person as a result of it. She made foolish choices, her school work declined, and she behaved more like a spacey degenerate. The sharp, funny girl that I initially became friends with was evolving into someone I couldn’t relate to anymore and didn’t have an interest in knowing.
But who knows, maybe Claudia saw me as a square, evolving into a “spooky” girl who wrote cheesy poetry. Maybe she would view my buying that Marilyn Manson album as a foolish choice.
My story “Happiness in Slavery” got a Golden Key in the contest I entered. That means I’m being considered for an award or something and am going on to a national competition. Wow, I thought I would have been notified already and that I didn’t win anything.
A little while ago Anita and I had this in-depth conversation about the meaning of “Past the Mission” (we talked a little about “Cornflake Girl” too but that’s besides the point). We couldn’t decide which one of the girls killed the guy or if he committed suicide. Anyway not less than 2 minutes after I hang up I turn on WSOU and what song is playing? Of course! I just wish you could hear more of Trent on it.
When you’re a teenage girl on the phone with your best friend for at least an hour every day (but usually longer), you need a lot of conversational material. Seeing as we were both consumed with music and had a number of overlapping tastes, we did a lot of speculating about different musical artists lives, the meaning of their songs, and other things I hesitate to mention for fear of embarrassment, but which will probably get covered in later entries anyway.
As for the writing award, while I stole the title from a Nine Inch Nails song, the story itself was my own. It was written from the first person perspective of Mary, an awkward 9-year-old who gets taken under the wing of Aislinn, who exerts an unhealthy and eventually violent dominance over her. Here’s an excerpt:
Aislinn and I were in a jump rope marathon for charity. It took place in the high school gymnasium.
When it was Aislinn’s turn, she got tangled up in her jump rope and fell on her butt.
She saw me laughing and later brought me into the girl’s bathroom.
She took her jump rope with her.
I shouldn’t have laughed.
Basically, I took elements of a happy childhood friendship I had and twisted it around to make it as dark as I could. In retrospect, the title was probably too heavy-handed (in the hard copy I still have, it has “With thanks to Trent Reznor” in parentheses at the top). I should have called it “The Gypsy and the Spy,” a game my elementary school best friend and I created and would often play, often referenced in the story. In the game, the spy (Mary) crash lands on the gypsy’s (Aislinn’s) island with a suitcase full of secret items (a re-appropriated backgammon set). The gypsy nurses the spy back to health, while being suspicious that the spy will steal her diamond (actually a giant crystal) while the spy is suspicious that the gypsy is poisoning her. Various snooping and surveillance on both parts ensues. In real life, the game took on numerous permutations, but often had a happy ending in which the gypsy and the spy become friends and remain on the island together. In the story, I used it more as a device to show Mary’s increasing isolation. The last two lines of the story are:
The rescue ship was speeding away. The spy would not be leaving the island.
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?
[The following journal entries are sponsored by great big globs of disdain.]
“This is the first day of my last days” – NIN
Roller coaster is beginning its slow descent. At least I might be able to write something decent again. The writing activity helped a little. Actual interesting ideas would help more. Maybe one brilliant line that just sparks an entire story. The first day of Creative Writing we just wrote anything that came into my head and the first thing I put on the paper (which turned out to be a quote) ended up being the opening sentence for Raphaela.
Here I am in Physiology watching a ridiculous film on muscle. I can barely see this as I’m writing.
Had a dream with Wonderfully Random, don’t care. There was a round candle lit and I was looking through a couple of CD’s (that were Anita’s friends’ or something) one of which was an old Lemonheads, one of which was an old Killing Joke CD. On the way back to WR’s house we mentioned the amazing way in which the radio switched on.
The mood I’m in now would have been the perfect time to write a letter to Tim, but I already mailed it.
H.S. is so much like “The Breakfast Club” it makes me sick.
Keeping this log is not helping me at all. I hope Ms. Donaldson reads this.
THIS LOG IS NOT HELPING ME AT ALL!!!
[note from Ms. Donaldson in green pen: “This is pretty hard to miss. Perhaps you need to alter your expectations of what you should get out of writing a journal.”]
I stopped keeping a diary for a reason, I hardly ever wrote about nice things. For the most part, it was a depressing read. There are some things I’m glad I wrote about, like events that I want to remember.
Right now I’m listening to “Just Like Heaven,” I never realized that the Cure could in any way be uplifting. Just ordered Disintegration from Columbia House (nasty scam artists). This will have to be my last entry now, seeing that I’m sitting outside of Creative Writing.
“’I wanna be just like you. I figure all I need is a lobotomy and some tights.’” – The Breakfast Club
Writer’s block is the worst. You can try to discipline yourself as best as you can as a writer (never something I did effectively) but if the ideas aren’t there you just can’t force it. When inspiration struck, I could spend hours lost in putting words to paper/word processor (it would be a few years before I got another computer). When it wasn’t there, I endured a limbo fraught with frustration and insecurity that I wasn’t cut out to be a “real” writer. I still get that way today.
Social divisions in school were getting to me, which meant I probably had a crush on a popular boy. Again. The fact that I can’t remember who it was today could only mean he wasn’t that special or worth all the agonizing I did over him, but really, how many unrequited crushes really are? My depressed penpal Tim was another crush, even though I knew he was too gloomy for me.
As I mentioned before, the headline for my high school experience was John Hughes Lied to Me. While the films accurately portrayed high school to an extent — especially the cliques represented in The Breakfast Club — I was growing more dubious that an 80’s magical makeover and/or happy ending was in store for me. I had given up on popularity and tried to take ownership of my misfit-but-not-quite status and develop my own identity. Which would have been easier if I was able to channel continuously channel all that teen discontent into creative outlets, but I was being failed on that front. I had nothing new to articulate, and the journal we had to keep for Creative Writing wasn’t providing any comfort or catharsis.
Ms. Donaldson had a good point. My expectations for the journal were unrealistic, much like my expectations for lots of other things (love and life, to name two). I thought the log would be some magical source of insta-inspiration, but it often became a chore to fill those lined pages. Much like writing of any form can feel like a chore. It didn’t dawn on me just how much discipline — and even tedium — was involved in being a good writer. It’s something I still struggle with.
Luckily, I was still expanding my pool of musical muses, with the Cure, patron saints to angsty teens everywhere, entering into the rotation. Nine Inch Nails was my gateway drug into goth/alternative music, but the Cure was another catalyst. Robert Smith provided a musical prism of bipolar despair and a catalog a less agressive than Trent Reznor’s, but more nuanced in its emotion. It was still taking me some time to adopt the classics, but slow and steady I was getting there.
And a film on muscle? 17 years later and that still sounds ridiculous to me.
“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.