Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To Proclaim or Not to Proclaim, That is the Question

This is my first Creative Non Fiction piece. I'm pretty excited about this class and this particular genre. It's kind of long, but I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you got a shout out, by name or other characteristic, in this piece it's because you've truly touched my life. If not, there's more pieces due this quarter ;)

-Stephi D.                             

                        To Proclaim, or Not to Proclaim, That is the Question
I am hesitant to call myself a writer. It seems pretentious, precocious, and a little pompous as I have never been published. Sometimes I find myself talking to my family about pieces or character sketches I’m working on and they will marvel, “Oh, the writer’s mind . . .” I never really know what to say to this; I have a mind, yes, but is it a “writer’s” mind? Is it really all that creative? One day I was sitting in the heavy, bronze computer chair in our living room, tapping quickly across the black keys when mom asked me a question.
            “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Bah! Give me a second.”
            “Oh, really, toots? Am I hindering the flow of your creative juices?”
I wonder what they might taste like, these creative juices. Sweet? Tart? Like a Sour Patch Watermelon? I surely hope for the latter.
            When I think of creativity, of the creative brain and all its proverbial juices, musical artists are what come to the forefront of my untitled mind; Florence Welch, Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan. These people are artists, these people are writers. It is their musical genius that allows me to feel as if I am on the bottom rung of a ladder leading to genius, which leads to genius, which then leads to the ladder of genius they are on. If I do, in fact, have creative juices flowing within my mind, mine would taste like sauerkraut juices left in the crop pot on New Year’s Day and theirs would taste of the most perfect, plump, juicy peach. There have been moments in which I think I may be a writer . . . that time I got a 96 on the short story I wrote in three days.
            I was sitting in my chair after workshop mentally pacing frantically. My palms were sweating and my foot was twitching. Three days will not result in an A. As my blonde professor walked over and placed my piece face down in front of me I consider shouting, “Please, tell me! Just tell me! I simply can’t see it in ink.” But I mentally gave myself the ‘get your shit together’ look and flipped it over. A resounding chorus of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” fills my head and a warm glow creeps over my ego. Hells yeah. There have been moments in which I think I may be a writer . . . those times I’ve caused tears to come to a reader’s eye.
            My brother sauntered into the door of the local diner I waitress at and sat at the bar for breakfast. With his signature smirk he ordered his food and I asked if he wanted to read a rough draft for one of my short stories. I had expected him to say no; Zack is not a big reader. He is a farm grown, corn fed, good ole boy that sees no use in reading fictionalized tales when he can go out and create his own mischief and adventure. He said yes, though. I sat three tables, got drink and food orders for all three, and took food to two of those tables before he finished. He never said anything, but he didn’t have to; I saw him swipe a tear from his cheek and slide the story to the edge of the counter. That same night I was lying in bed reading when I looked out my door at my mom sitting at the computer in her favorite royal blue, football sweatshirt. She had her reading glasses elegantly perched on her nose and a grin was playing on her thin lips. Propping my head up on my closed fist I watched as her smile waxed and waned and then slowly tears starting rolling down her face in the glow of the computer. Two criers in one day; now am I a writer?
            This writing thing, this development of characters, spaces, conversations, it seems to be a sort of birth, in its own right. Each character gets examined by my eyes; how will she look? What might his voice sound like? What will they each be when they grow up? So I am a parent of imaginary children who live and breathe and move inside my head; and now I am a schizophrenic. Excellent.
            I know this guy . . . he’s tall, with big blue eyes, and he makes my heart pitter patter in a way I’ve not known for a while; he seems intrigued by the idea that I write for pleasure. He is an avid reader, but mentions he has trouble with the writing thing.
            We finally talk on the phone one night, after shameless, ungodly amounts of texting, because I am neurotic and a scared little bird and he questions me about my process.
            “Do you just write what you see in your head?”
I lay on my back against the soft, down comforter and hesitate to answer this question, in large part, because I might like to sleep with him and if he figures out my ‘process’ he very well may write me off as kooky. And not the good kind of sexy kooky, but ya know that kind of kooky. So I place my hand over my eyes, as if he can see me, and answer him.
            “Well I rarely manipulate a scene or character, I typically always let the person reveal themselves to me and take me where I need to go.”
The line goes quiet, crickets chirp, and my breathing increases as I sit up, convinced I’ll hear a click at any moment.
            “That’s cool, though.”
Holy balls. He is responding positively. Does this mean I’m a writer?
            Often times I will finish a book or read a scene from a book or even read a workshop piece and be so completely blindsided by devastation that I didn’t think of such a subject matter, myself that I sit in pity and think oh, you will just never get this right. When I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time, I became “Ann with an e” traveling through the White Way of Delight, greatly detesting my red hair, and shamelessly trying to avoid falling in love with Gilbert Blythe. Shortly after reading this book for the first time I found myself wearing my hair in braided pigtails and picking the book back up for a second, third, and fourth time. I would fold my feet under me and dive into this world, letting each word and mannerism soak over me. I found myself wishing I had been orphaned, if only so I could be adopted by that rough skinned, quick tongued Marilla and her quiet, gentle, precious brother Matthew. I had even admitted to myself that wearing a ratty dress at the beginning of my story would be acceptable, but only because toward the end I got to wear a blue dress with puff sleeves so wide I would be required to turn sideways to get through a door. I still do this, too, minus the pig tails and daydreams of orphaning myself; getting lost in Green Gables is something I look forward to doing every year, though. I recall desperately searching the dust ridden, moldy smelling local libraries for copies of the movie; once we found it I sat down in awe as my imagination of Green Gables, Anne, and this entire world came to life. It felt like coming home. That L.M. Montgomery, she knows how to grab a reader by the neck and thrust them into her plot. That’s a writer, by God, right there. Does this make me a writer? Because I recognize luscious writing when I see it?
            This happens with music, too. Dave Matthews’ “Shake Me Like a Monkey” just about brings me to my knees every time I hear it; the five year old in me whines loudly, “Hows come I couldn’t write that?!” Driving down the road, surrounded by corn and bean fields and regularly passing John Deere combines, I turn up this particular track on the CD and say to an ex, “Wait till you hear this. It’s gonna blow your mind.” Once it finished he stared at me blankly. “Don’t you get it? Can’t you just feel it inside you? Gyrating and dipping and curving? It’s in your toes and then ZIPS up to your carotid, right?”
            “Babe, it’s a song . . .”
Fugging fool. Reason 735 it was smart for me to walk away. I recall having a conversation with him shortly after we broke up about things we each could have done to sustain the relationship at its good points.
            “I should’ve listened to you more; I should’ve had always paid attention to all those lyrics that meant so much to you.”
But you can’t make someone who is a lover of science be a lover of words. He certainly was not, is not, will never be a writer.
            I was one of the crazed Twilight fans, a few years back, and I obsessively waited for the movies to come out and I obsessively stalked the CD aisle at Wal Mart for the soundtracks to come out. My favorite book in the series was Eclipse and thus far that is my favorite movie and it is hands down the best soundtrack. I eagerly snatched a copy up, skipped to the self check out and made my purchase. Once in my car I greedily tore through the plastic wrap and slipped the CD into my player. A heavy drum beat came through the speakers and momentarily hypnotized me. I flipped over to the back of the track list and saw that it was a song called “Heavy in Your Arms” by Florence and the Machine. I listened to that song at least 5 times on the way back home; I made everyone who got into my car listen to that track at least once en route to whichever destination we were going; I posted the video and lyrics on my Facebook because the world needed to hear this song, the world needed to be moved by these lyrics, the world needed to understand. Hearing that song for the first time and then listening to her first album, and then her second, I felt as if I was learning a whole new facet of religion, I was experiencing sex in a way that I’m still not sure is humanly possible, I had become a submissive to the haunting melodies and eerie vocals she produced. I was left feeling bare and thoroughly ruffled over the magic that penetrated my ears. Didn’t write any of this, either, did ya? My subconscious can be a real bitch sometimes.
            As a declared Creative Writing major I should be able to buoyantly declare the writing-ness of my writing persona. I should be able to walk the campus and people would just know I am a writer. They would look at me in my cardigan, jeans, and TOMS and think to themselves, now there’s a writer. Oh, who am I kidding? It’s a clear day on campus and I am happy to walk the paved sidewalks and hear the birds chirp. A group of females walk by me and I instantly know their majors must be dance. They walk straight backed and completely poised as if they are tip toeing on water. I know they are dancers because their hair, likely long and luxuriously full, when down, is in tight little buns with a full pack of Wal-Mart bought bobby pins keeping whispy strays in line. I know they are dancers because their legs are to freaking die for in leggings, because they always wear flats, because they are in leotards. Maybe that’s what I’m missing – some giant, feather quill pen behind my ear. Yes, that’s it. I’ll need to write that on the grocery list for this week. Or maybe just a pocket sewed on all my shirts so that I may always have a highlighter within reach. I do love highlighting. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment and knowledge to hear the grunting of the hot pink across the white and black page. My always grouchy, ever loving Grandpy wore bib overalls everyday; in the pockets of these overalls, among other things, were his treasured pocket watch and at least two highlighters. Now while I am confident he did not mark up a well worn copy of Anne of Green Gables with his neon markers, I feel a deep sense of belonging with him over our shared love of highlighters. If he were still around I imagine we might sit on the front lawn together in his favorite fold out lawn chairs and separately be reading and highlighting, but be together all the same in this shared ritual of love over highlighting. Walking around on campus with my high lighters and feathered pens would instantly declare, “I am a WRITER!” to the world. No one would ever again question whether I am wishing to teach if I had my feathers and highlighters to show them. See? I carry markers and pens. I’m a writer not an educator, you silly fuck. My vocabulary is far too inappropriate to educate the masses.
            As a newly self-proclaimed writer I will carry around beautifully bound leather journals filled with lovely character sketches, ideas for award winning books, and all around genius-infused thoughts. The simplest of things will spark those juices of creativity and I will quickly grab a pen out of my bag, or breast pocket, and quietly share with my journal; those around me may wonder what I am doing. Just give me a few years and the whole wide world will know! As a newly self-proclaimed writer I will find my greatest ambition is to leave the world something of myself; to leave behind a gift from me to be re-discovered.
            As a newly self-proclaimed writer nothing anyone says will be safe because I will likely find a way to insert it as humor or drama into a story or poem. My brother still bristles over the fact that I used a joke of his in a piece.
We were sitting in my room watching The Big Bang Theory and I had a small space heater running because I am perpetually cold and in six layers of clothing. We were talking animatedly and really enjoying the conversation when he cut himself off mid sentence.
            “Jesus, Steph! Can we turn the heater off or open a damn window?! Hell called and it wants its heat back!”
We both lost control and tears of laughter were rolling down our cheeks. I had to use it in a story, I just had to. For all future Zack Duff-isms, one should expect a copyright.
            As a newly self-proclaimed writer I will have a writers group. There will be a lovely male specimen who wears Ray Bans that dances well and finds me brilliantly intelligent and completely, infectiously adorable; there will be a lovely woman in her sixties who always carries cinnamon disks in her pockets for me and calls me darling; there will be a group hipster who always has on a hat that will share in my love or reading and writing sex scenes; I will be the dark haired girl in long, flowing skirts that should probably always have a daisy nestled behind her ear. These people will all be writers I can consult with who will be happy to tell me when I’m doing something right and poignantly tell me when what I write is shit. But mostly, in this fictitious group of writers, they will tell me how magnificent I am.
            And what if I am not a newly self-proclaimed writer? What does that make me? First and foremost I am a daughter; a daughter to a green-eyed man and a gold-hearted woman.  As a waitress at a small, locally owned diner, I get asked the same questions pretty repeatedly: “Are you a Duff?” and “Are you Chris’ girl?” It is obvious I am my father’s daughter. I have brown hair so dark it looks black with bright green eyes and olive skin. I am a true Duff, from my feline shaped eyes, to my loud, rambunctious laughter. My temperament is of the Duff ambition, which is to say I am quick witted and quick to think negative. When you consider the number of Duff children I get compared to when it comes to looks and attitude you might question what I inherited from my mom; it wasn’t her patience that much I can tell you, but her ability to think quick on her feet and win arguments - yeah, that, I got from her.
An ex, we’ll call him Jed, had called and asked if I would mind him hanging out with Katie that night; Katie was a knock out. At a petite 5 feet she likely weighed 90 pounds soaking wet and she had hair and eyes and breasts to die for. I liked Katie, though, a lot. And I knew that she and Jed had been friends long before he and I became an item. My issue was not Katie; however, my issue was Jed; Jed and the fight he had started not two nights ago about me wanting to hang out with Zach, my best guy friend. “I don’t trust him,” he had said. I scoffed at this comment as I listened to him over the phone telling me why he wanted to hang out with Kate and why it shouldn’t be a big deal to me.
            “Hang out with her, J. That’s fine. Go and have fun, but let me mention this. It is 8:30 on a Thursday night and the next time I want to go see Zach and kick it and you want to throw a fit and act like I am the whore of Babylon and can’t be trusted with anyone but you, I will remind you of this conversation and that I was totally chill about you kicking it with Kate. I love you, goodnight.”
After going inside I went into the kitchen to get a drink of something and I overheard my dad whisper to my mom, “Christ, Marilyn, she argues just like you. I feel scared now.” I was winning way before Charlie Sheen ever thought to win.
            If I am not a self-proclaimed writer I am a sister; a sister to a beautiful boy perched atop a pedestal, of my own making, so high I wouldn’t dare try to bring him down. Zack and I couldn’t be more different; in my wake of nervous energy, perpetual planning, fear of said plans being broken, and my eclectic, hippie tendencies Zack is a country boy to his core. He has a ’76 Chevy that is canary yellow and has a six inch lift; it is his pride and joy. He’s happiest in well worn jeans, a t-shirt, and a hat that is just about to fall apart at the seams. He’s a beer drinking, party having, and loud music till 3 in the morning kind of guy. And he is a piece of every male character I write. His brown eyes show up in almost every one of my stories, his huge heart and eagerness to help others are what appear in all the boyfriends I write. His love for his family resonates in all the pieces that mean something to me.
            If I’m an un-proclaimed writer, though, then I can surely proclaim myself as a lover of children; I am a lover of children forever in the midst of not knowing if I want them for myself. Belle and Braden are the two kiddos I spend the most time with. They are toe heads with huge, blue eyes, and I love them as if I had a part in bringing them into the world. Braden will often try to climb up in my lap while I’m trying to work on homework or type something at the computer. “How many more minutes till you’re dooone, Steph? How many more minutes till you’re done witing?” If I could spend the rest of my life snuggling this four year old I might just have found heaven.
             As an un-proclaimed writer having made a proclamation of daughterhood, sisterhood, and being a lover of children I am consistently motivated by the chance to hear my dad say he’s proud of me, by the motivational conversations and sound belief I receive from my mom, by the chance that there will be a guy in the world who is as good and kind and beautiful as my brother who will choose me for his wife, by the hugs and kisses I eagerly await every week from those blonde haired babies. Whether I proclaim myself of anything or maintain anonymity I am from the green-eyed man, the gold-hearted woman, the beautiful boy, the blue eyed children. I am a result of the man in overalls carrying highlighters, of the red headed fiction of Green Gables, of the jazzy croons of Dave Matthews, of the unbridled ache that overcomes me when I hear, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”
            As an un-proclaimed writer figuring out if I am a newly self proclaimed writer I imagine a time when my brother might meet the tall guy with deep, blue eyes. I think they would get along really well; they might actually hit it off. That would be a first for my brother and someone I am romantically interested in. The only thing I could see going wrong is the way in which Zack might have to arch his neck in order to look tall guy in the eyes due to his height, but I think that is likely something I could handle and work out. As I am trying to decide if I am a newly self proclaimed writer I am reminded of the accident that tore our family apart and the poem I wrote as a result. I remember going to Gran and Grandpy’s house to say hi and see how they were doing; the yearbooks from the previous year had just been handed out and Gran had ordered one because it was Jenna’s senior year and Nick’s final year as a Viking. As I walked into the sitting room, Grandpy closed the yearbook and looked at me with tears in his eyes.
            “That was one hell of a poem you put in the annual, Stephi.”
I remember being speechless and slightly embarrassed over this recognition. I think maybe, if Grandpy were still here, he would read some of the things I’d written; he may not like all of it, could possibly not understand certain pieces, but upon finishing each one I think I know what he might like to do; he’d slap his knee, plaster that beautiful grin across his face, reach for a hot pink highlighter and scrawl “Writer” across some page and hand it to me.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this in class and I'm glad your sharing it on here so others can read it :) I really like the title you've given it (I didn't remember seeing a title the other day). It's very powerful and fits it well! And I love how you ended it. You've captured so much about yourself and your family here too. Glad we're in the class together (and we keep getting in the same group)!!

  2. Jade, your positive feedback means a lot! I'm glad you like the finished product and I am excited, as well, that we are still in the same group :)