Wednesday, July 10, 2013

an anniversary (update)

[and wading toward writing about trauma, less about The Event] ...

So I suppose we gained some local and national notoriety, but my great book never materialized. In fact, I have always found it profoundly difficult to write about trauma. And when I do write about it, it is usually with some exploitative motivation. I suppose I fancied the notion—just as many students perhaps believe that they will be rewarded with “A’s” for their disclosure—that in divulging the severity of my suffering I would be karmically reciprocated with fame and fortune. It is likely that this is because we live a culture that values fame above any other virtue, thus making it difficult for us to write about our trauma without conjuring images of made-for-T.V.-movies, guest appearances, presidential medals, what have you. Perhaps this is because “mass produced images guide our presentation of the self in everyday life, our ways of relating to others, and the creation of our social values and goals” (Kellner 18). Hopefully, my inability to write about trauma is encouraged by some inherent morality or transcendent intelligence I have yet to realize, despite the fact that I watch a lot of TV (especially HBO). As well, I like to believe that I have subconsciously resisted transcribing the events of my various traumas because I do not wish to exploit them in the name of fame or prosperity. Do I avoid writing about trauma because “the pace, the extension, and complexity of modern societies [have] accelerate[d], [so that my] identity becomes more and more unstable, more and more fragile” (Kellner 233) similar to the postmodern identity Douglas Kellner imagines? Do I imagine my identity as so “fragile” and “unstable” that I will have nothing of consequence to say? Will this fragility give way to total fragmentation in the writing of my identity and its trauma? Is it simply that “subjective identity is itself a myth, a construct of language and society, an overdetermined illusion that one is really a substantial subject” (Kellner 233)? Or, more hopefully, am I so invested in postmodern ethics that I don’t trust my “self” and its motivations? For you see, I have never been able to truly inhabit that clich├ęd sensibility we hear of from Great Writers, you know, the claim that they are writing in order to share their difficult experience for the sake of educating others and improving the human condition. For one thing, I never bought it. The personal stories-cum-E! Specials; the tabloid universe; the self-promotional biographies . . . all just leave me with a sort of edgy feeling I can’t adequately describe without recourse to foul, excremental, or otherwise lowbrow discourse. Something fairly sleazy in the business of it. Something more humanely dignified, perhaps even something usefully meditative and generative in silence, as Cheryl Glenn and Pat Belanoff have recently suggested. And, well, I see that I am here positioning myself in superior relation to those who would articulate their trauma; am I sincere? Do I believe what I am saying here? Or is all of this simply the familiar nature of writing about our own lives . . . the white lies, the obfuscation, the ostensibly earnest cultural critique?
On the first day of school following the (boat wreck) summer of 1973, my fifth grade English teacher, Mrs. H____, asked me to stand up in front of the class in order that I might narrate the events of July 10th. I had no idea that she would do this. But, being an obedient student, I stood and began to tell our story. Within seconds, I was fighting tears, and soon I could not fight. I was hysterical, standing alone with my trauma and exquisitely unable to speak; I made those throaty dry-heave noises one makes when one is nauseated but unable to express the sickness. Mrs. H____ waited patiently, hoping perhaps that I might compose myself so as to facilitate a happy ending. None would come. She soon told me to please go to the bathroom and freshen up. Since the time I wrote of “this bleeding toe of mine,” I have written on only one other occasion of our boat wreck. As a graduate student, I was required to engage in ethnographic research as part of a course in Research Methods. I chose to study a growing poetry subculture in Ybor City, Florida. As part of my ethnography, I felt compelled to take on the “emic” or participant observer’s perspective. Thus, I had to both compose and read aloud my poetry at a public event. My first poem, “V-2 Days and Nights,” was written in response to some stunningly horrific CNN footage of a Bosnian war zone. I read it at Open Mike and found that some folks liked my writing. I was asked back as a featured poet in the Thirsty Ear Poetry Series on three occasions. Several “poems” oozed out . . . horrible heartbreak stuff and pretentious literary “play.” But I also pushed myself at that time to confront trauma; I wrote about my brain surgery, reflecting upon the words and actions of a kind nurse and juxtaposing them with my mother’s remote concern. I also wrote about the boat wreck in a poem entitled “Watersport,” and while it may not be a masterpiece, I find it instructive to reflect upon the fact that I took 24 years to write seriously of those traumatic events (no “bleeding toes”).

As I write this now, I realize that this is the most I have ever written about any of the traumatic events that have shaped my life. It has been both enjoyable and only nostalgically tragic. I feel ready. But I can claim this readiness only for myself. As a teacher, then, this writing has been instructive, although I’m not sure that I can say exactly what I have learned. Will I return to assigning personal essays? If so, will I enact a caveat? If not, should I continue to promote the values of writing (about) trauma even as I neglect to engage them pedagogically as part of my curriculum?

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