Writing: That Old Devil, You
When I was teaching, I would ask my fifth grade students if any of them wanted to grow up to be a writer.
I have asked this question to young children a thousand times.
No takers. Not even one. Ever.
Girls will think about it for a moment. Girls ponder. Writing just doesn’t move fast enough for a ten year old boy.
“How many writers do you know?”
Again, girls ponder.
But no one knows a writer.
The writer bubble is a secret society. I have had to get out of Dodge so many times — always over something I wrote — the death threats just keep on coming.
“Does anyone know what a death threat is?” The hands all fly up.
They all know what a death threat is.
If no one has ever threatened to kill you or rape your children, you are not a writer.
Then, I was kicked the fuck out of publishing. Yada, yada, yada. I just so do not care.
Porn was the only place I could make any money. You kinda need money to survive. You do this at the peril of being typecast. Publishing only functions if they can describe you within the context of a box.
Then, came Esquire.
I had been banging on Esquire’s door for years. No cigar. The only solution was to become someone else.
Wikipedia never gets writers right. I had described myself as a mongrel bitch. This was titillating for Wikipedia. I have NEVER described myself as anything other than a mongrel bitch which is what I am.
But you can’t fight Wikipedia.
Writing is like stepping into hell for a visit. That old devil, you. If you tread on landscape that other writers feel belongs to them, there are a thousand ways to fuck you in the ass, and leave you at the side of the road like some unpaid whore. I have lived in campgrounds and have written entire novels on picnic tables. I used to write in the winter (how deep was it, deep enough) in the back of my camper truck wearing wool gloves. Writing is like running out of gas, and now you have to walk, asshole. Where U gonna go.
Writing is not a job. It is a disease.
Your family will hate you. Your friends will hate you. The people you are trying to impress in publishing will hate you. Your agent will hate you. The IRS will really hate you.
Ship me somewhere south of Suez.
I want to know who invented writers reading from their work in bookstores.
This is in no way, writing.
I would (as is my way) pick out the really controversial stuff I often write, and I would read it just to put it in Middle America’s face. People would stand up and throw their chairs against the wall. I never kid. I just kept reading. I never looked at the angry audience. I just kept reading. I have had every member of the audience walk out the door. As they left, I just kept reading.
Like this shit doesn’t bother me.
It does. The death threats bother me. Don’t think I would never leave Dodge for another Dodge, and change my name because I would definitely do this and have.
I have a dozen pseudonyms, and sometimes forget who these people are. My female pseudonyms have more fun than the males ones.
I keep attempting to fill a void, and having left the business of writing, I keep trying to make photography communicate in different ways. I will mess with photographs. I will cut them up and collage them, it is not all that different from writing a book. I am a collagist. My world is not the world you would recognize in any way. I live in another galaxy. I have tried, but I just do not understand your world. I find what I know about it to be hateful and unpredictable.
At the moment, I am all wrapped up in the sanctuary movement. A chess game of where are the criminals, where are the criminals, we will get them.
Probably. But maybe not if those bad people criminals (not the ones in government) can evade the rounding up. To be an undocumented kid today is very difficult. ICE will go right into that school or that Head Start center you assume is safe. Nothing is safe. How courageous can you get.
The government is intrinsically immoral.
No one is writing about the sanctuary movement. It is a wildly rich story no one wants to tell from the inside.
This would include me. I am taking photographs. My favorite camera is a GoPro because it takes great shots and fits into my pocket. Small is better. When I am dealing with publishing, they always want me to fax stuff.
Publishing is always about twenty years behind current technology. I have had book editors change the ending of the book they were working on. I used to say over my dead body but how many times do you have to say it.
I know editors who still have typewriters in their office. Editors have no reason to live. I have edited magazines, and books. Publishing sucks. Period.
Courage is ephemeral.
Write whatever the fuck you want. This drives publishers Miss Sugar Nut. Only color between the lines.
I was writing a big feature piece on Roy Cohn and had to sleep in a different Times Square hotel room every night.
Writing comes with a lot of risk.
The most courageous writers are the poets. Today, I teach writing to boys at risk who have HIV.
All of them are poets. All of them are writers. All of them are readers now.
I defy conventional education to do the same. You call them the Hard 2 Reach. None of your labels are helpful. The labels just push these potential writers away.
You take boys at risk and you turn them into writers. I do it every day.
The most difficult job I’ver ever had was teaching deaf four year olds how to read and write.
By the end of the year, they were ALL reading and writing. Give me a year and I will change your children. THAT is the power of writing. Your kid is learning how to communicate, and it threatens a lot of parents. I am covert and insidious. All of my boys are video artists, all of them have major tech.
I give them more tech than they know what to do with. I weigh them down with the gravitas of words, and I want them to sink a little bit into the quagmire that is writing until they learn how to float and how to fight and how to sting like a bee. You can only do this if you write and play boxer every day.
I want them armed and dangerous. It’s not enough to simply bitch about adults. Write about them.
Armed with tech, these boys become empowered. When they write about the adult tricks they used to whore for, the writing becomes tight and salient. I want them to master tech versus tech mastering them. They get how the master/slave relationship functions. Now, they can begin to articulate the things they know. All of them will be stories that no one, and I am no one, will want to hear. There would be a lot of chairs thrown at a lot of walls. I read their stuff and the abyss they are trying to crawl out from. “You are writing for yourself because you are your most important audience. The rest of us are devils and demons you may feel free to ignore.”
All of them have done sex work, a few are junkies, and every last one of them has a lot to say. First, they write it down, and they never shut up after that.
How many English teachers do you know who assign work such as writing about how you feel about the prostitution that dogs your heels.
The boys will get into the terror of individual tricks. When was the last time you got tied up in a basement and had your tits burned with cigarettes. Ignoring their voices at some point is simply not going to work.
Many of these boys are survivors of extraordinary abuse. Often, it’s writing that becomes all they have to cling to. Often, it replaces a sense of hope these boys know in their gut is not real. Hope gets reshaped, and then reshaped again. Illiteracy just has to stand there and take it as it immobilizes you while you are having your tits burned into scabs.
These boys will read and write under their bed covers with a flashlight.
Some undocumented kid is going to someday write a book. His wheels are turning now. Whoever he is.
This kid is going to portray us as a culture as mean-spirited, fixated on retribution, and depraved.
One of my books hit the New York Times most notable list. I wasn’t sure what it meant. If anything. The death threats just keep on rolling in. I am learning to ignore them, as my courage or lack of courage, doesn’t really care about the literary audience that writes to me about how HIV (it is not a cause, it is a disease) is the fault of the people who have it.
Donald Trump is the fault of the people who elected him. Let’s be real. I call them the Stupid People. We all know who they are. You can’t really know what goes on behind the journalistic curtains, but I am here to tell you that there are some deeply courageous journalists who are turning over every rock, and it is courageous to do this. There are a zillion ways the system can and will shut you down.
You pick it up, you pack your stuff, and you move on.
There is always another Dodge to move to.
I still ask fifth graders if they want to grow up to be a writer.
The girls are still pondering the possibility. Writing: that old devil, you.