I had an emo livejournal friend in the early 2000s. She is now a lauded, award-winning author. A National Book Award finalist. Her debut novel is being developed into a “Black Mirror-esque” television series. Entertainment Weekly writes feature articles about her. She’s written for the New Yorker. She gets her own sidebar profile when you Google her name. Her Wikipedia page has multiple sections including “Early Life” and “Selected Works.”
The dilapidated library in my hometown that hasn’t updated to a modern computer system probably has a card in the card catalog for her. This week on Twitter, she posted a cover reveal for her upcoming, highly-anticipated memoir. Meanwhile, on my Twitter, I posted a picture of a California Raisins coffee mug I found at the thrift store. It was ninety-nine cents, and it says Merry Christmas 1988. A grand new vessel for my tears.
Sure, I’m jealous. If I wasn’t, you would have to assume I had a steel rod lodged through my brain knocking out the limbic system. My writing accomplishments make for a devastating little paragraph. If you read it aloud, it becomes a sentient socially-awkward teenager who mouthbreathes and tries too hard. Still, I’m a little overprotective and loving of that mouthbreathing creature. When I’ve asked for feedback if I should include it in query letters, I’ve been told it’s okay for new writers to not have anything there. I’m not crying. I’m just looking for my coffee mug.
Fucking LiveJournal. It was like a less chaotic Tumblr, with a goat logo. Before we had omnipresent social media, before we had our own domains, we had our livejournals. I loved it. I loved reading people’s overdramatic accounts of their day, their boredom at work, their unrequited loves, their minor epiphanies about drinking tea. I was no innocent bystander. I poured my soul into that thing, telling my dozens of followers what I had for breakfast. I would be beyond horrified if this writer were to recount my ramblings, so I won’t go there. If there’s a code of honor among writers, this is it. Never reveal what was posted on LiveJournal.
We met once. I don’t think it was a date. It was getting coffee. We were both aspiring writers. The problem was, even as acquaintances, we had zero chemistry. We were pleasant as strangers to each other. As I got off the Metro, I saw her. She was huddled next to a planter, on the ground, deeply burrowed in a book — as though between the book and the planter, it was the only thing keeping her from freezing or dying.
To break the ice, I teased her about being able to read in this atmosphere. The DC metro is turbulent and anarchic with busy commuters, shouting schizophrenics, and the nostril-stinging smell of piss and sweat. But the joke fell out flat, like a taunt. She nervously scraped together some words, as though she were searching for them amongst her street encampment. Oh! She was reading this one part because — No, no, I was only teasing, I stopped her. I never read books, I joked. This was not funny either.
We had forced small-talk coffee together, the worst kind of coffee in the world, even worse than the thick-as-syrup swill sitting at the bottom of the pot in a gas station. I liked her. But I knew I would never speak to her in person again. At least we still had LiveJournal.
At the time, she was still in college, while I was in graduate school. I was earning a MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins. They have two programs — the prestigious Writing Seminars, which has produced many notable alumni and authors. Then they have a bastard child writing program, a plain MA degree without the F in the MFA, which either stands for Fine Arts or Fuck You. This bastard child program does not produce writers. It churns them out. I sometimes wish I read Stephen King’s On Writing as my education, and left it at that.
I regularly took the Metro to school at their satellite campus in DC. On one of these trips, my nose began bleeding from the pressure change. It started as a slow drip that seemed it could be contained with my sleeve, but it quickly progressed to something that needed to be cauterized. To my slow-building horror, I realized I would need to interact with the subway mutants surrounding me. I asked if anyone had a napkin or tissue or anything vaguely absorbent. A jumbo pack of Brawny paper towels would work.
Passengers dutifully ignored the profusely bleeding person. Five people rummaged through their bag and shrugged helplessly. Finally, one person produced a used tissue, which they pushed onto me like I was a starving Oliver Twist character who had no right to refuse gruel. Helplessly, I took it. They seemed satisfied, like a cartoon villain. I did not use it. Instead, I shoved it into my pocket and quoted Bible verses to myself even though I have never read the Bible. When you touch a used tissue on public transportation, God comes to you. I bled into my shirt until I looked like a gunshot victim.
Of course, when I got home, I banged it all into my LiveJournal. It was a good story. She commented, saying it inspired a character for her, and asked if she could use it in a piece she was writing. I said yes, of course. If anyone recognizes a bleeding subway rider clutching a used tissue in one of her “emotionally charged” and “remarkable” short stories swirling with magical realism, that’s me, the pathetic bleeder.
The internet friend relationship carried over to MySpace and Facebook, but I eventually defriended during a social media culling. It wasn’t personal. Well it was, but only a little bit. The status updates of her acceptance into famous writing programs, the writer in residence opportunities, the latest publications in huge literary magazines were starting to sting. I graduated and got a job with health benefits, just like my parents threatened was the absolute most important thing to do.
Dreams are not magical and airy. Dreams are dark. Dreams gnaw at you like subway rats. Dreams come with an asterisk of health benefits and insecurities and an unknowingness if you even have the talent and guts to begin with. I saw a writer ask on Twitter the other day — how do you not give up?
Me? I don’t run toward my dreams. I just run, period. Because otherwise the rats would eat me. I run every day, which is to say, I write. And that’s what I do. And that’s it. My parents divorced when I was two. It’s a plain, uncolorful fact about me. I prefer Coke over Pepsi. I don’t like wearing shirts made of 100% cotton. I’m a writer. I haven’t talked to my father in years, and I have no idea if it’s his fault or mine.
Sometimes I wonder why everyone doesn’t acknowledge it. Look at me, I carry around this massive, gaping wound. Except, I don’t. My mother remarried. I had a great childhood with a two-parent, nuclear family. The wound was cauterized before anything could bleed out.
I have the same relationship with writing. I want acknowledgment. Except, I don’t. All of this is plain. It’s a child resolved to be happy. It’s a stupid coffee mug. It’s a stupid sentence. It’s a dream. It’s a used tissue. It’s a mousey girl crouched next to a planter who will be one day loved by tens of thousands. It’s only running.