It’s a Sunday night, and I’m sitting at my desk with a poorly timed cup of coffee, typing. Writing something Stream-of-Consciousness, or at least that’s what I’m trying to do. But is it really Stream-of-Consciousness if I’m doing all of it with the intention of eventually posting it somewhere, giving other people a glimpse into my organic, unfiltered thoughts? How natural could my thoughts really be in the glare of the giant marquee scrolling behind my eyes that reads WELCOME TO MY DARK, TWISTED MIND?
But whatever, right?
I continue until I’ve typed a whole paragraph. At the end of the paragraph, I decide I’m not wording anything correctly and abandon the thought entirely. I break the line to signal a shift in focus and confess, “I don’t know if I’m saying exactly what I mean.” Then I wonder if that sentence sounds like I’m trying too hard, if people will read it and think I’m just performing Stream-of-Consciousness rather than recording my honest thoughts as they hit me. Which I really am doing. Right?
Back when I was first getting to know my boyfriend, I became interested in a blurb Bud Smith wrote for his book, Zeller’s Alley: “B. Diehl isn’t just writing phenomenal poetry. He’s using a sledgehammer to break apart a wall so you can look in his room.” Really, I shouldn’t say I felt “interested” in this blurb. I felt jealous of it. I wanted people to read my poetry that way, wanted people to feel like they knew me after they were finished reading it, wanted, perhaps, to come across like “The Real Deal”, somebody who was sitting next to you on the curb commiserating with you about your life and not trapped in some kind of aesthetic or rhetorical cloaking device of their own making.
My fascination with this project of authenticity ultimately led me to read and admire an entirely new crowd of writers. In stark contrast to the writing I’d been encouraged to emulate all through college, these writers were often mundane in their subject matter and direct in their delivery—qualities that suggested, as I might have previously assumed, a lack of attention to craft but instead a refreshing lack of reverence for the old gods of Timelessness and Universality. Suddenly, I was reading books that said what they needed to say in the only way that it made sense to say it. Unlike me, these writers weren’t getting distracted, tripping over themselves to needlessly salute long-dead men and poetry professors, and their work was better for it. More than ever before, I was reading books that made me go, “Wait, am I allowed to do that?” and then resolve to do it.
The pitfalls of this have become obvious to me over time. I read a book and the book expands my perception of what a book is able—or even allowed—to do or say. I want to do the same thing these books do, and I attempt to do so through imitation. If I write in this style, with this delivery, about these things, I will have achieved something just as groundbreaking. But I’ve forgotten something essential here. What makes the writing I admire so great is that it’s doing what’s vital to its own project, and in order to achieve the same kind of gut-punch I so envy, I must do the same. If I’m being overly vague or abstract here, it’s because the question of what’s individually vital to your work – is complex and deeply personal, and answering it requires bravery as much as it does a willingness, to be honest.
I say “bravery” because time and time again, I’ve encountered this belief that to pursue honesty and the reflection of your own inner life above all else is vapid or selfish. I reject this idea completely on the grounds that,
a) it’s reductive of what honest and vulnerable writing can evoke in a reader and
b) is often trotted out along the lines of gender, race, class, etc.—who can be authentic and honest?
Whose honesty is viewed as brave and powerful, and conversely, whose honesty is viewed as insular or divisive or whiny? But in the interest of brevity and maintaining some semblance of focus here, I’ll just alienate any naysayers and go extra-tasteless by discussing a very telling interaction I had when I was in high school.
As a teenager, I was very good friends with this guy who also fancied himself a writer/poet. During one conversation, to illustrate the perceived superiority of his own artistic pursuits, he said, “I write to make art. You just write to communicate.”
Allow me to say to that guy what I didn’t feel able to say then: Hell yes, I am out here trying to communicate. But more than that—I want to drill a hole in my skull and siphon out the brain juice and bottle it and pour it down the throats of everyone I see. Sometimes I wonder if I would even still write at all if it were eventually possible to just directly capture my consciousness and Project it somehow for other people to consume.
My favorite thing I’ve ever published isn’t a poem. It’s also not a piece of nonfiction—or at least not really. It’s a selection of my Google searches from a brief period in late 2017, when I was living alone for the first time in a small apartment in the heart of Pittsburgh. My time in Pittsburgh was ultimately a failed experiment that culminated in a dumpster-fire breakup, the complete dissolution of my social circle, and a throat infection/mono double-whammy that probably could have killed me, all before I left in a hurry to live with my new boyfriend in New Jersey and (unsuccessfully) escape from myself. When I read this incriminating list of Google queries, which includes,
“nervous breakdown,” “i hate living alone,” “get butter stains out of comforter,” and basically every permutation of the words “chicken bone stuck in throat.”
I see the initial rumblings of the disaster that had yet to take place. But that’s not why this publication is so important to me. It’s an accurate reflection of what it felt like to be me in a very specific period of my life that was otherwise marked by very intense denial. The nights spent dehydrated and crying, either utterly convinced I was about to die or wishing for it. The mornings spent straightening my hair and painstakingly curating some kind of “Hot Professional Girl” outfit and then flouncing to my cubicle like I wasn’t going to run down the hall in a few hours to hyperventilate in the bathroom. I’m positive that I wasn’t writing poems.
In short: if you gave 2017 me an enema, my husk would have fit in a cigar box.
This fact was inaccessible to me back then, though, because what we really feel, what we really want, is often hidden from us. If we want to say what we mean—to even attempt the paradoxical project of capturing a moment of real honesty—we must continuously circumvent ourselves. We must choke down our fear of being navel-gazing or vapid and search the places where we won’t see ourselves coming. We must dig down below what we say and even what mean, as far as it takes to stop seeing our footprints.
If we’re quick enough, we can bottle something pure in the second before we turn to look over our shoulders.
Kat Giordano is a poet and massive millennial crybaby who lives in New Jersey. She co-edits Philosophical Idiot and has had work published in Maudlin House, CLASH Media, Soft Cartel and the Cincinnati Review. Her debut full-length poetry collection, The Poet Confronts Bukowski's Ghost, is available now. She is also the author of many highly embarrassing social media meltdowns.