essay

Words, My Blanket (freewrite)

Really loving something becomes wrapping yourself in it, cloaking or even shrouding. My bedroom’s debris of dog-eared books and library receipts, uncapped pens and torn sheets of paper, surrounds and precedes my physical self nearly as much as the clothing I choose to wear and the food I eat. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been wrapping myself in words, tucking pages into every spare moment and lines into many conversations.

I am done with college, and I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve been able to have an immersive four-year education and a couple short-term jobs in the things that I am so drawn to that I can’t help but surround myself with them: books. I have been exposed to and informed about ways that leverage in the world of media can be used to help foster diverse listening, understanding, and subsequent necessary action in the “real” world, the three-dimensional one simultaneously mimicked and created/predicted in print or screen media. But I’m still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with words in the long term, or even next, or even now.

A couple months ago, I took drawing back up for the first time since middle school, an era when my near-constant comics production that kept my hands inky and cramped. I hadn’t realized how much I missed drawing—the very process is calming, and it helps me two-dimensionalize and crystalize thoughts that are (hah) longer than a tweet and shorter than a short story or essay, a type of thinking I’d been having trouble processing for awhile. My wrists are happy to be ink-smudged again, and I’ve had the joy of tidying up my own mind by drawing, but also of getting to have a couple friends use my drawings to explain a concept to someone else, or get a small work commissioned as a tattoo or art piece, or bought as an object on Threadless.

I love drawing because I know I can’t draw well, so all I can do is draw as expressively as possible and try to process and convey whatever message I mean to discuss as effectively as I can. I’ve made some friends through drawing, and I watch in awe as they draw a man with five antlers, or a huge woman on a tiny pony, or a beard that becomes a waterfall, or something else that’s arbitrary but based in the layers of an image rather than in the conveyance of a string of words with noun and verb like my two-dimensional, Times New Roman brain chooses to do. Where visual artists draw a picture, I find myself trying to draw a sentence. Even when I try my hand at visual art, I can’t help but keep functioning by the code of words and narrative.

For awhile, I’ve felt like I don’t have much to write. I miss the feeling of scrawling or typing lengthy, careening threads of texts and then finding that bit, the piece worth keeping that helps make sense of some concept or experience previously left hanging unprocessed, but I don’t want to just write and write to fill air, and I don’t expect anyone to value my work inherently, as if just because it’s there it is worth sharing and lauding and discussing and possibly even paying. I just keep a notebook of small thoughts, and tell myself I’m thinking drawing-sized thoughts right now. And it’s okay. And if I have something that needs to be written, I can write it when the time comes.

Never once have I regretted choosing words as my focus in developing a personal skill-set. I want to find long-term work in editing or marketing of books, and I don’t see that as in-conflict to my love of reading or writing at all. Rather, the opposite is the case: reading is an eternal bolster and source of wonderment. I have been happy and honored every time I’ve spent eight hours buried in a savory text, pulling or pushing punctuation, jotting out review lines, or helping writing become more concise and able to better convey its thoughts out on a journey in a world where things are often skim-read and misconstrued. Anytime I start to yearn for career paths that are less competitive for postgrads, or jobs that perhaps pay a bit more at an entry level, I can’t imagine hanging up my plum-colored velvety cloak of words. I can’t see myself being as happy in an environment in which two-dimensional, monochromatic print won’t be expanding and twisting and molding my mind every day, wrestling and merging with old thoughts and adding buttery, flaky layers to the way I look at every mundane thing I encounter in a day, the bristled upholstery on the bus or the milky edges of the clouds, the facial expression of the woman next to me in the checkout line or the wind-burned lines in the face of the man on the street corner.

To wrap yourself in something is to commit to it with the certainty that it will transmit warmth back to you in exchange for your devotion, your body heat. I’ve wrapped myself in words and they’ve showered me in tiny crystalline gifts of understanding, but I am still wondering how tight I need to cling, how much further I have to go and longer I have to wait, until I find an economically sustainable long-term job in words. Until then, I’m taking refuge the only way I know how—pulling the words in closer.

The Biopic

The biopic starts when she’s smiling as a baby, her outdated eighties toddler clothing mixing daisies and plaid, her baby pictures an odd juxtaposition with the fact that we (in the dark room in the velvety seats in front of the screen) all know that she died of a coke overdose at twenty-nine. We’re waiting for the film to mention that. They interview her parents. Stoic mom with feathered hair, leather-skinned dad with a choked-up voice. Stories conflict a tiny bit. Divorce. Different colors of wallpaper fill two backgrounds.

They establish her prowess, her genius, by showing a few shots of her, rust-red Gibson in hands, plucking away at notes in her late teens. She looks so much younger. Her cheeks are rounder. Her navy athletic shorts fit horribly. From my perspective in my dark velvety seat, I like that.

They make a sudden cut to her fame, magazine covers spinning out of thin air with her picture on the cover. Video clips with her skin tinged purple from the spotlights on a massive stage. I want to step back, to see her sitting on that brown couch again, plucking out notes, to see the way a thread of thought becomes a note and a song. I want to watch her scratching on a notepad with a dull yellow pencil, and bringing her ideas to someone and recording a rough first take filled with voice cracks. I want to paw through her notebooks and listen to her slowly explain her process in her speaking tone. Instead I get a read-aloud part of a Rolling Stone interview. I don’t know who’s reading. They’re not shown onscreen.

I can’t look away from the way that the man who loved her looks at her. The narrator says they fought when they were drunk but I think to myself that I fight everyone when I’m dead sober. I wonder if he would stop in the doorway and listen as she practiced in their home, not announcing his presence, just leaning against the doorframe. Or if he was the type who didn’t like all that sound in his house. I wonder if he complimented her songs, or if he knew which ones were about him, if any.

Do drugs really facilitate art for some people? Does art facilitate drugs? Nagging thoughts facilitate art for me, the kind that won’t leave me alone until I put them to rest by writing them down. These are the thoughts that her songs had always echoed and answered for me, her honeyed chords that drifted through my bulky headphones.

The biopic focuses in on the drugs themselves, leaving their links to anything in her life, art or anxiety or interpersonal relationships, nebulous. I watch her become thinner and hate myself for considering it beautiful, then watch her become emaciated and feel a wave of grief. Her tattoos sag.

I leave the theater once the biopic has ended. It ended on a positive note, though I don’t remember how they did it. Shaking the hand of a celebrity I admire is often, in fact, seeing them bored, a tired artist waiting for going back to the van for some food or a nap or waiting for the opportunity to wash their hands after all the shakes.

Watching the biopic of a celebrity I admire is less of a process of finding answers than a finding of the holes in a story. I’ve read the interviews in the Rolling Stone, but I don’t get to study the full range of expressions possible in her face, the types of things she says during dinner from her seat at the kitchen counter, the actual joys and frustrations behind the watered-down snippets of dialogue we encounter on the glossy page of a magazine, one I’m sure she regarded with the same disdain as myself when hearing my own voice in a recording, or saying something hollow, a fast “I love you” or “It’s okay,” to avoid having to express things more complex that could easily be misunderstood. Instead, I want to walk astride her, sun setting beyond the concrete, hands in our pockets. In silence.

“Guys”: In Which I Unpack a Small Linguistic Pet Peeve

It came to my attention a bit ago that there is no female equivalent for the word “guy.” Hear me out, quick. If you are a young male, you are a “boy.” If you are an adult male, you are a “man.” The word “guy,” used chummily, could be a way to refer to a boy to make him feel older or to refer to a man and make him feel younger, but generally is used to describe or address males in the age limbo between being a “boy” and a “man.” Case in point: “twenty-year-old-guy” seems more suitable than “twenty-year-old man,” and definitely more suitable than “twenty-year-old boy.”

If you are a young female, you are a “girl.” If you are an adult girl, you are a “woman.” A woman can also be referred to as a “lady,” but this word seems to be less of an equivalent for “guy” and more of a pairing for “gentleman.” Though there are people who can use the word “Lady” in a relaxed but dignified way, it usually carries the general feeling of being addressed by someone elderly, or being lectured by your parents. (“Young lady…”)

It’s funny to me when straight male friends seem a little surprised or ruffled when they hear a female friend and I talking about or referring to “boys,” using that word as the descriptor. (What, you’re not all “Men”? Is this not an Old Spice ad?) The most obvious layer to this is that “talking about boys” is a cliché and is therefore pretty funny to use as a phrase. It gains a bit of salty irony stemming from the false notion presented by some media that all girls do is sit around and braid each other’s hair and “talk about boys.” By “talking about boys,” we seem to be intentionally failing our own Bechdel tests: separating ourselves from males only to talk about them, rather than our own jobs, hobbies, talents, or interests. But how do straight men refer to “dateable women”? I can’t say for sure, partially because I am not male, or a serious confidante for male friends about girls. But, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard guys use the phrase “girls,” at least some of the time.

In my recent memory, I can’t remember being upset about being called a girl, by anyone, in any context. It’s societal convention, and I’m pretty young. However, there are ways that I, and girls in general, can feel different depending on how we’re referred to. Like most women I know, I don’t walk around in constant meditation about the fact that I am female—I have cool things that people of all genders have like jobs, classes, interests, hobbies, and friends, and it’s always possible to daydream about what I’m going to do later or what’s for dinner.

The fact that my personality is defined by so many factors besides my gender, though, makes it so that most of my thoughts about my gender-times-age identity are caused by external stimuli. Some of these are nice: I feel a positive sort of ‘womanly’ from most compliments on my appearance, for example. Often, though, being called out as a woman can be a negative experience. When I am on a run and get catcalled, I am not looking for a stranger’s reminder that I am a woman, and I definitely don’t want to know that I am a desirable and physically mature woman to any grimy stranger.

Girls/women also lack the linguistic cushion between childhood and adulthood that the word “guy” provides for males. You’re a woman, mature and ready for the world, or you’re not: you’re just a girl. A “guy,” by connotation, is older and mellower than a “boy,” but still makes mistakes. He goes out with “the guys,” and they get to do vague and unrestricted “guy things.” A “girl” is young and needs to be sheltered and protected, but a “woman” needs to be mature and composed, and fully capable.

I don’t know if I’m a “girl” or a “woman.” As I’ve grown older (take this with a grain of salt, I’m twenty), I’ve realized increasingly that adulthood is not a state of having all the answers. Instead, it seems to be mostly built from making your own decisions, to the best of your ethical and rational abilities, and with composure. Even that definition is a bit idealistic—we all have days in which we are tired, or frustrated, or overly emotionally invested in something to the point where it clouds rational judgment. But even in light of this abridged definition of adulthood, I still can’t say that I’m fully “woman” or “girl.” I usually just let whoever is addressing or describing me choose their own adjective, and leave indicators of gender-plus-age out of short bios of myself. I prefer to be identified on paper for my ideas than for my gender identity, though I happily identify as female. In the limbo between girlhood and womanhood, perhaps the best thing to do is focusing on being “me.”