I don’t like reading my own writing. Years ago I used to make a friend of mine go into the bathroom, with the door shut, to read anything I’d written. Even then it made me uncomfortable to know my words were being read by someone else, a form of self-consciousness seriously conflicting with my passionate yearning to be a writer. I have to confess, though, that if she was reading something by one of my funny parts, I wasn’t above running over to the bathroom at the first sign of uncontrollable laughter, and yelling through the closed door, “What are you laughing at? Is it the middle paragraph? The ending? What?!” I was like a nervous playwright on opening night, pacing and chain smoking in the back of the theatre, frozen with the fear that no one would get the jokes, then panicking if there was laughter where there shouldn’t have been.
Once, when my friend was obediently enclosed in my tiny bathroom, perusing my latest scribblings, she let out one of those blood-curdling screams that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. She burst out of the bathroom, babbling something about blood. Well…I guess if I’m going to force my friends to read in the john, I should always remember to flush after dumping stewed tomatoes down its gaping hole!
Earlier this morning I was reflecting on the oddity of knowing so many have read my posts. Obviously I post them to be read, but there’s a sense of discomfort nonetheless. And it hit me that this discomfort stems from all those childhood years of being told not to tell. The truth was absolutely forbidden–at least, if it was a truth which might have exposed the rotteness at the foundation of my dysfunctional family.
Besides that, when I was little I did a lot of writing in pencil tablets and one of my stepdad’s favorite forms of humiliation was to snatch my tablet, holding it high over his head in a sadistic game of keep away. Sometimes he went so far as to read its contents aloud to my family. Despite being a little stoic, this was one thing guaranteed to drive me to tears. Frantically I’d jump, making a swipe at his upstretched arm while he hooted with laughter, swatting away my feckless attempts of retrieval as if I were no more than a pesky fly. I soon learned to hide my writing, and thus it became something furtive, to be secreted away out of sight, like something disgusting…an old kotex, maybe, or something equally repelling.
So today I’m thinking of those years of keep away and hide and seek, and all the other games and rituals he put me through, and find I can’t help gloating just a little.
“What are you writing–a book?” I hear his taunts as if it were yesterday. “If so, when you come to me, leave that chapter out!”
But it wasn’t yesterday, and it didn’t happen just once. His systematic demolition of my faith in myself, both as a person and as a writer, was an ongoing source of pain and humiliation. I’m gloating, just a little, because I realize the irony in his repeated lame joke. And, as much as I’d like to ‘leave that chapter out’, I can’t. But for him there would be no need for such writing, and there’s no way I can condense his outrageous mark on me to one itty-bitty chapter.