Okay, wait--mawkish, rambling, unedited

One of the pieces of advice I come back to most often is something that Professor Edmund White told a creative writing class of mine in one of his characteristically long, personal, name-dropping, brilliantly-worded-yet-inevitably-off-topic rants that make his classes so excellent:

He told us a story about a particularly painful break-up he had experienced in his younger and more vulnerable years (one of many, many, many); and yet this, unlike most of his stories, was one with a moral. Here's a paraphrase of that moral:

If you want to be a good writer, you have to be a masochist. As soon as your lover shuts the door and is gone forever, you have to write down every emotion, every feeling, as clearly and lengthily as you can. You can't sit around feeling sorry for yourself: you have to be a masochist. You have to sit down and write about it and revel in it.

And of course, you have to be prepared to share that, too, personal as it is.


It might be a little surprising that this is something I come back to so often, considering that I consider myself, or would like to consider myself, above anything else, a cynical, sarcastic comedy writer, and that when humor writers attempt to shift to the sentimental, it is usually embarrassingly mawkish or worse (see: Sedaris, David; Foer, Jonathan Safran).

And I'm also remembering a wonderful (perhaps borrowed) detail from Andy Hoover's senior thesis show, in which a character keeps a notebook wherein she (or he, can't remember) writes a new emotion whenever she (or he) experiences one. The new emotions always came out like serpentine German words, "the-feeling-one-has-when---------"

So here's one:

For the past two days I have not wanted to be able to communicate fluently in Thai so much as I have wanted everyone around me to speak English. I realize now that even should I become well-fluent in Thai that I will only ever be functionally fluent and that I will not reach the creative, free-flowing, exuberant fluency that English offers and that a passionate English speaker can use.

Because as badly as I would like to make Thai friends and get to know Thai people--what will these relationships be other than friendships whose ceilings reach up to functional and nothing more? The language barrier will always be too great, I think--though I may find great tenderness for the Thai tenderness--the favors, the compliments, the selflessness--I worry that, as a result of my limited time here and what will be a limited vocabulary--my next seven months are doomed to exist in relational purgatory, compared to the friendships I had in Princeton, and even in high school.

You can't go home again, of course. Tower and Princeton will never again be to me what they were. This longing for friendship will inevitably (God, I hope) replace itself with true love.

But will I find it here? I cannot imagine it. Because as beautiful as Thai girls are, whatever affection I ever muster for them will only ever have originated as a surface attraction and will likely never escalate to an intellectual fondness, which is perhaps what I value most in the opposite sex (and hell, in friends, too, of course--but we're talking about the Jason Gilbert Hierarchy of Needs here, okay?)

It was depressing to realize that all I can ever be here is proactively shallow.

This gets back to the crux of the new realization that all I want is to walk out into a society of English speakers, if only because the chance that I meet a best friend is (or seems to be, thousands of miles away) so much higher in an environment where a chance conversation is more fluid and easier to come by.

Maybe this is mental windmill tilting. Those of you who know me know that I would almost never start a conversation with a stranger, as much as I can envision myself doing it in gloomy Thai bars, wishing "If only I were in America!" and "When I get back to America, things will be different!"

Well, I doubt things will be different upon repatriation--but it is at least a little pleasing to envision some green grass.

1 comments:

Charlie said...

Painfully beautiful.

Andy would appreciate this.

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