Well, There’s Liminality and There’s Liminality: On the Marginalized Writer and the Cult of Outsider Status (with a few digs at J.D. Salinger)

Holden Caulfield is no one I’ve ever cared about.

For readers inhabiting multiple planes of marginalization and erasure, the idea of liminality or outsider status takes on a different tone than those who might see it as a side effect of their unique selfhood, their own rebellious nature.

For many of us, we did not rebel against society and the family. From the start, society/family rebelled against us. We were pushed to the margins or were driven there by the grief of being asked to subdivide and censor our beings.

The marginal writer (the targeted writer) is no Holden Caulfield, for we understand the preciousness of human society, we love and are invested. Unlike Caulfield—the icon of the normative, white, male artist—it is our very engagement that forces us to relentlessly observe, to criticize, to reflect society back to itself. Most importantly, we demand an unflinching ethic not only from society, but also from ourselves as artists and ourselves as individuals. What divides us here from the propaganda-distributionist or the evangelical minister is that we don’t presume a goal of purity or the achievement of an ideal world. Rather, we strive to see, to see more clearly and to act in accordance with that sight. Not a fixedness (that which has marginalized us in the first place), but a flexible, progressive envisioning, that works to encompass an increasing truth, holding each to the same standard of rigorous observation.

Caulfield could afford the adolescent irony which he used to disguise his own sadness from himself. The writer who has had liminality thrust upon her, must craft characters and plots, wield language, with deadly authenticity. If she can learn anything from arch, young Holden, it is how good a lie feels in the mouth, how much truth it can reveal. Unlike Holden, we have been watching a long time. We know (or teach ourselves to believe) that the stories that collect in our mouths are significantly more accurate than any possible recitation of facts.

The Consuming

(These are photos of ants dragging a dead scorpion along the sidewalk. In case you were wondering.)

An ant is stronger than an elephant. These ones were headed down the sidewalk in a flattening heat. I was walking my a pile of books, my camera and laptop, feeling incapacitated and maybe part of this was weight.

There are writers who are not afraid of the long sentences edging out in front of them, into the greyish light of a story still composing itself. An ant must be, i think, unafraid because—They say—an ant lacks self-conception, or lacks self.

I am afraid to write because I am afraid of cold water and how when I fall-jump into it, my heart for a moment stops and my lungs seize up. What is it that threatens to consume you? Anger can eat like a fire but it has only freed me. But trails winding through dense brush of the imaginary—pretended futures, pretended confrontations, other lives in which i believe i would not be afraid, would never be disliked or distrusted, where I would not have to choose—these, yes, they have eaten me. The compulsive escape. The blackhole of nonbeing, nonasserting, nonacting. Fictions of the mind and of paperback novels, videogames, television…where fantasy is not play but desperate, looking for a final way, a key to a door.

I fear this then, and it’s true the line is so thin between the liar and the storyteller. Fear the storyteller who constructs closed and apathetic worlds. I have bound myself up in overarticulated truths, priding an obsessive “real”-life honesty, while running to numb in the circuitry of another and divorced place. Run towards the liar then, and become her. Because it is the liar who breaks open the real, weaving through it garlands of the possible, of the maybe, the feared and the hoped-for. It is the liar, who we should make our lover and our prince, because she understands how dry and debilitated are the facts, like raw tinder—because, while the storyteller is locked in metaphor, apart from us, a servant to reality, the liar lights a match and lets it fall.

There being more than one “consuming”.

About gender harassment, art and love

The sun went down, so it’s night.

Night is writing hour for me—not work, just the letting-it-go, ooze out between the fingers writing. The kind of writing that comes and calls to you at some point in your life, when you’re kid, maybe, or when you are old, or even, i suppose, after a harrowing accident, a break up, a getting-sober or a getting-sane. I think it is only in these places, when the right brain is winning over left, that the intellectual defenses are driven low enough for the crazy faith to happen: that what you are listening to is both yourself and larger than yourself, a voice worth dictating. These hours of the darkness are what make us writers, whether we succumb and grab for pen or laptop, or hold out and only listen to the stream of vowels and consonants rushing beyond and around us–a river drawing circles around the walls of our dwelling-place.

It seems to me that night cannot be the same night everywhere; rather there is Night and there are particular nights, delineated not only by time by also by their distribution over the surface of their earth, their relationship to the plants and animals living them. So, tonight, in Oaxaca, where I will be for only two weeks more, night is Oaxaca de Jimenez night, threaded through with cool breeze and the sounds of cars motoring down the busy streets of the Centro, lantrened by a handful of stars and a blanket of orange electric lights running up and down the muscular humming hillsides.

My hair is longer now than it has been for over a decade, when a sixteen year old I loved ran a pair of silver shears across my scalp and left shiny black snakes of it scattered through the dirt. We were renegades then, because we were teenagers, me and my friends. L cut my hair in the woods by a lake, while J and B looked on. I should say I thought I loved L, even though I would have hated my older self for saying this, yet while it is true that time has not yet made me an expert on love, I do understand now as I didn’t then, that it is something both realer and more rewarding than the quivering reflection you shoot towards the person who contains and creates that that wish you could be. At seventeen, losing my hair to gain myself—the first in a series of small gains, won like pawing for light switch after light switch in a maze of darkened hallways—I believed desperately that that mysterious substance was something L might deliver up to me. I had been raised secular and did not know the story of Yaakov wrestling the angel, but regardless L was my angel and I was set on wrestling hir, through nights of dreaming, until ze finally admitted defeat, holding up a new name to me like a promise, like g-d’s blessing.
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