I hesitate to call them “friends” in the sense that, more often than not, my relationship with them is complicated. They’re like these invisible vampires who stay mostly hidden throughout the day then attack from the darkness, draining me of happiness, peace, or even contentment.
Cringe and cliché are their names and I can’t fuckin stand them. They’re what keep me from wearing my heart on my sleeve, from openly declaring, from speaking my intent. Any feeling that is raw, honest, and pure they snatch up, locking it into a box covered in chains of irony and self-deprecating humor. Any attempt to be open and true is shot down immediately, lest I do something that will embarrass me, humiliate me, or make me feel like crawling into a cave. As antagonistic and fraught my relationship with them is though, I’ve grown accustomed to them. The discomfort they cause is like a heated blanket in the winter – sure, it’ll likely get too hot, maybe even burn the house down, but better that than the bitter cold.
Years ago, when I was a boy, my mom set about buying my grandmother (her mother) a new mattress. The one she slept on was oddly misshapen. Lumpy. So concave on one side that the spring would poke me or my uncle as we sat on it to watch tv. I don’t remember if my mom actually brought the mattress to grandma’s apartment, but I remember the two of them arguing soon after my mom told her that she’d bought one. Grandma turned down the mattress despite obviously needing one, for reasons neither me nor my mom understood and to this day I can’t remember her rationale. What I know for sure is that my mom was very (understandably) upset over the refusal to budge on mattress. I was perplexed at the time; why wouldn’t grandma just toss out the shitty mattress for the new one?
Now that I’m older, though, I think I have a better understanding of my grandma’s logic. The discomfort and intermittent pain are familiar. Grandma grew up in a tough environment and was a tough woman – I still remember her hand-washing laundry using a washboard and tub. By no means do I know the level of labor and toil that she went through, but because of my two “friends”, I understand the inability to let go of that discomfort.
The thing is, I’ve reached a point in my life where these two, cringe and cliché, have overstayed their welcome, and I’m ready to ask them to move the fuck on.
Throughout my life I’ve been afraid or embarrassed to refer to myself as a writer. That title always seemed lofty, appropriate only for literary giants or people who labor in fiction and non-fiction. The kind of authors that I loved to read: Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Barry Hannah and Paul Ruffin. More recently I’ve been diving into sci-fi, fantasy and horror: NK Jemisin (thanks to my wife), and especially Neil Gaiman and David Wong. All that to say, they are the writers. I think I mostly went into composition as a way to be adjacent to but a step away from writing writing.
But I’m almost 40 and I’ve lived too long being afraid of doing writing. I don’t have an MFA. I’ve never been a part of a writer’s workshop. I have plenty of friends and colleagues who have those credentials and have done that kind of workshopping. The closest I’ve come is that I worked as a shitty reporter at a weekly newspaper in South Texas. But in light of the past few years and the many transitions and shifts in my life, I can only open up to the possibility of doing writing. In my writing, particularly in the past year, I’ve opened up a lot more. I’ve written about being aloof, adrift, heartbroken, inspired, and downright furious because I was and am all of those things. I can’t keep moving through this existence waiting for permission to be honest with myself and, most importantly, honest in my writing. Because if I can’t be honest in my writing, then what is the point?
But far more powerful than cringe and cliché, there has been a question. It’s a question that got me into graduate school, out of Texas, through Indiana and Wisconsin and finally here in Seattle. From the tenure track to the teaching track, this question has been my one north star.
Let cringe and cliché park their fuckin Chevy pickup trucks on my front lawn. Let them throw a rager of a party and invite all of their shitty friends. It really doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve got plenty of ideas, thoughts, and enough hot takes to fill out novels that would make Tolstoy weep. Because I’m tired of letting them dictate what I do or don’t do. I actually enjoy writing now and I’m excited about the prospect of jumping into writing.
So why not? And, most importantly, why not me?