Almost a poet

part i: “what the hell was i trying to say?”

chris staines
Jul 21, 2016 · 6 min read

I didn’t start writing until I was in elementary school, probably right before the 5th grade, though I’m not certain. There’s bound to be writing from that time somewhere in my mom’s filing cabinets, and I can solidify the time later.

I started writing to express myself, as most do, though didn’t write for long. Outside an assignment or two, I wrote mostly what I now see as gibberish. I’m not sure if it was due to my parents’ divorce, or just trying to do something I could say was inherently mine, but I’ve seen a few pieces since and thought, “what the hell was I trying to say?”

I played war with my friends, bought comics, watched cartoons every day, was utterly enthralled with science fiction, and enjoyed the physicality of being a young male by playing football (though I rarely saw the field until middle school). I used these to subvert an appreciation for emotions. I could not let myself be seen enjoying something that appeared to me as the antithesis of those young male activities, and had not found Dickinson, Ferlinghetti, Poe, or Williams to look up to yet — I was reading The Iliad and The Odyssey in school, narratives of war and survival; I should have looked past the blood to see the longing and struggles of Odysseus.

Outside of class, I had become fascinated with Michael Crichton’s fiction, after seeing Jurassic Park; I was reading the Endworld and Blade series by David Robbins, scouring used book stores to find entries from either series; I was reading the Doom novels, hunting down each new release at Walmart, where I first found them. I loved consuming scenarios off the pages written by authors who so concretely knew who their characters were and what they wanted portrayed to the reader. I liked bluntness, not subtlety, at that age.

A while later, I became deeply fascinated by, and obsessive over, chat rooms. My mom bought us a Windows ’95 computer and an AOL subscription for Christmas, which I promptly hogged. I browsed the lobbies for a day or so, until someone mentioned private rooms. I tried to find a chat where people would, potentially, share my interests, which was not possible in the lobbies (“a/s/l?”). In this new electronic world, no one cared whether I was Chris or a pseudonym, and whether I was contemplative & docile or aggressive.

I sought people who had similar tastes and appreciations and experiences. Perhaps due to the films’ fanbase being a niche group, I found them in the first chat I tried that had others in it: StarWars. Few, if any other than Trekkies, came in without wanting to be part of the collective. I was part of a larger, constant group.

Cantina, a smaller, more relaxed (less canon talk) simming room existed, too, and so I migrated there. I met a girl with the nickname, “Le.” I tried to make sense of the thoughts I had about her, this text readout of another person, but I just knew I liked her — I liked being in simming scenarios with her, chatting with her, and talking about life outside of our situations. I found I could talk to her about anything for hours, and that, even though all I heard was the clacking of keys and the whirl in my head as I read her replies, I wanted to know her more, to experience with her.

She didn’t seem to care for anything beyond a friendship, as she was active away from the screen, and may have had a boyfriend (I can’t remember). I was becoming more and more reclusive, staying up later and later (she was in PST) on school nights, or cutting short my time spent with friends on the weekends. I was attaching myself to the flow of data being shared by dozens of people I would never meet, and singling out her as a reason to do so.

I tried to capture and keep her attention. I would sim and attempt to bring her in to a scrimmage with someone else, hoping she would bite; I would interrupt sims she had going, making gestures outside the normal boundaries of a Star Wars universe (excluding Han); I would play coy, ignoring her for a few hours, though reading every character she typed as though a hidden message, a hidden emotion was behind the selection of each one. I started writing to her.

My mind worked in spurts then (as it somewhat does now), so each poem was short and had a single line acting as the focal point. She eventually relented, granting me exclusivity in dating her online persona (she still had a life beyond the computer). I kept writing her, showing her that a mind with feelings for her existed beyond the moving pixels of a monitor.

We had also started to talk on the phone, though I didn’t read her anything I wrote. We would simply talk about everything outside of school and the chats, losing track of time and pissing off my mom when she saw the phone bill.

I promised Le I would write for her at least once a day. By that time, I had inadvertently allowed my family’s AOL account to be stolen and cancelled (warez was dangerous), so I was using a Juno (dial-up) e-mail client to send her each. I would write several a day, queuing them up to be sent all at once when I logged on in the evening, instead of keeping the excess for the next day. This was passion, and patience nor rational thinking have no place in passion.

Outside the writings for her, I started writing for myself. I found I enjoyed putting to paper those feelings that we routinely house from others, that we let rule our daily lives, but do not call out or let manifest. I wrote to be someone who could operate without needing those background cycles of the mind focusing on what wasn’t in front of me — When I put pen to paper, or fingertip to key, I found I no longer obsessed about anything. I could write, store, and go. Writing was a way to file away all of those thoughts and feelings that I didn’t think I needed.

I hadn’t told anyone outside of Le about my enjoyment of writing; I was wrestling with my nature, trying to detach my shadow. Instead, I waited for assignments, so I could put my clandestine training to use.

I started thinking of a girl in class the way I was thinking of Le, but I saw writing to her, or talking to her, as a means of betraying Le (Le would later tell me she had a boyfriend, so I kind of laugh at that thought now). I decided I would wait until she invited me to talk with her, and then I could tell Le I didn’t start anything and it would be different.

Somehow, Le and I stopped dating before that happened. I had identified with a girl my own age, in my own class, who was within walking distance. I couldn’t afford on my allowance to fly out west to see Le, and our relationship ran its course. (A couple years later, Le and her family traveled a few hours away from where I lived, but my mom put her foot down at meeting someone from the Internet, family present or not.)

A friend of mine also liked this same girl in class. I can’t remember if he asked me, or if one of our friends egged us on, but I was tasked with writing her a note from him. The note was to be simple, elegant, worthy of being given to her (I thought highly of her, obviously). I worked on it for a few days, telling myself that I was writing from my heart, but that the words were being given by his hand (I was poetic by this point). I rationalized it further by thinking she would see through him and know I had been the silent author. I also was afraid of rejection, knowing I couldn’t pull the antics I did on Le with someone who could smack me or have her response be heard by people I actually knew.

He gave her the note, she liked it, and they began flirting, eventually dating. I felt happy for them, as he got the outcome he wanted, I dodged a bullet (she couldn’t see through the scheme, so wasn’t someone I would want to date, anyway), and the writing was appreciated. I continued to write, giving romance up to focus more on other aspects of humanity.

I originally published this on March 10th, 2014.

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