Ever since I finally, at the age of forty-three, published some of my writing, I’ve found that I am particularly prone to pain again. Ever since, each morning I have woken up driven to find ways to get people to read my book.
A year and a month later, I have primarily had to pay people to check out my work. There are those who accepted the free book without giving it a read, let alone write promised reviews. Sure the memoir itself has collected two awards and primarily five star reviews, but amid the boom of self-published authors I find myself more hurt by the silent echo, than grateful to the friends who have read, and not balked.
After a tough week, I find this pain expounding itself through every facet of my consciousness. I am out walking with my wife and I think about how psychiatrists have hustled me through explanation of my psychotherapy; about the numerous presentations I have provided that ended up empty; about leaders of the psychiatric survivors movement who promote those with less experience; about the presentation when I had people finally laughing and listening to me, and the smoke bomb that forced evacuation. There were past company owners who hired me, ignored statistics as I worked sixty hour weeks and demoted me . . .
Indeed, it’s been quite a goddamn week! A person I’ve employed via a grant ended up seeming to capture all the credit in the county’s eyes; other survivors have excluded my contribution on email chains; a boss has seemed to minimize my stats and expected more and more; coworkers have snickered and blamed me, the schizophrenic, for the vermin in our office. This all seems so overwhelming, I think. I am in fear of losing everything.
Save the awards and professional reviews, this feels like precisely the response my writing and existence has always received. It is why I never shared the decades of poetry I puzzled over for hours with anyone. Because each time I did, I walked away more wounded and invisible. Even better-than-expected compliments had their way of backstabbing and reminding me of my invisibility. Therefore, why try?
I have recently witnessed this sense of starving for the acknowledgement from other people who, like me, end up feeling scapegoated in their family. I have seen them set themselves up for this same kind of relentless sense of bullying. It’s a pattern that one cannot break out of if they still let themselves hurt.
Bruce Springsteen’s voice sounds in the background as we walk. I recall his voice in his documentary on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Out of the hundred songs he wrote during his most prolific period he says humbly he’s done the best he could in his new album. The desire and pain in his voice tell a part of the story of that period of his life as do his lyrics,”It’s like when the truth has been spoken and it don’t make no difference, something in your heart goes cold . . .”
I think that it is some of that same eternal need for acknowledgement that drives all the pained writers that I most respect.
I think about Charles Bukowski, who somehow captured the ethos of the drunken of the English majors in the ghetto commuter college that I attended. It would be years until I’d actually get a grasp on how the dirty old man would be a hero to me as well. When I’d see the documentary on Netflix that I’d realize that getting just the bare essential was enough for him to devote himself to the craft that would eventually heal him. Bukowski didn’t write to become famous. In his prison, he wrote to be free and just to get by. That’s what makes someone a real writer.
The music song on my phone shifts and I think of Tom Waits as he writes: “why put a songbird in a cage? Why, why, why, why . . .So the river won’t drown it and the highway won’t take it and the dust won’t settle it and the wind won’t blow it away.” I think of KRS-One who says: “I am going to teach you about MC longevity: secret one, if it ain’t fun your done, and about your career, yo, choose another one.”
It dawns on me that in craving acknowledgement I am giving my power away and hurting terribly for no reason. All this pained rage from being ignored and silenced in my life is really what makes me able to write. It assures me that I will go on writing. It is people keeping me in my cage so I can continue to heal and be me. They need to take what they need for themselves. They play a different role in this life. They are helping me really be a real writer.
“Really I could give a fuck if they call me the roach man at work,” I say to my wife.
“But, Poopee you just admitted that they are hurting you when they are blaming you for the roaches in the office,” my wife says, “they shouldn’t do that!”
“As long as I get my basic needs met, I can write. And that’s good enough for me.” I say, “I get to tell my truth to the computer. I could give a shit if I am their roach man”
I am not needing to give them that power anymore. It is not fair to anyone to continue being a hurting victim when they are trying to make you a writer.