saying something

I've been working on the assignments I want students to create in my Technical Writing Course in the Fall. One of the first assignments I assign in any course I teach (at least the past 3) is what I call the "Anti-Resume." The idea came from Anne Sexton's Resume 1965 which calls into question the genre of the resume, of offering details about our lives, jobs, pasts, etc. to strangers. The idea of the Anti-resume is what it sounds like. In some cases, students have produced incredibly creative and revealing "anti-resumes." I created my own version about my writing life. It only looks like a resume in that it is on resume paper with headings etc. I can't exactly replicate it here but as I revised it today, I realized how much an outlet this blog has been for me. How I need to write, and to see myself as a writer, no matter what else is going on. I finally understand why the year I couldn't find my academic voice was so devastating to me as a person. And why it took so long to recover.

There is a history to my writing, especially the poems and short stories. I can easily the trace the events of my life through them as if they were photographs. In many ways, they are more honest than a photograph. There are periods of anger, bitterness, resentment, affection, longing, lust. It's fascinating the perspective time can give you.

Here is an excerpt of my anti-resume that positions me as a writer.

I grew up surrounded by books. Instead of stuffed animals or dolls I slept with novels or books of poetry littering my bed. Both my parents are avid readers and encouraged me when I read advertising slogans from billboard signs and my mother’s magazines. It came as no surprise to them when I announced I wanted to be a writer. To some extent, it was a bit more realistic than my previously chosen career: race car driver.

I wrote plays and short stories; poems came later. When my mother would fade into her depressive episodes I would entertain my brother with stories of imagined worlds. While my mother seemed lost in her world, we played in ours. My mother’s absence weighed on me as I got older. I could not figure out how to reach her, how to love her. Writing was the one place I could express the confusion and chaos I felt.

At 13, I was raped by a neighborhood boy I’d been friends with. I don’t remember the act clearly. And like my mother’s depression, I carried this secret in the innermost part of me. I couldn’t write about it. I couldn’t speak the words. It would make it too real. I tried to forget. I wrote stories about girls with perfect lives and perfect houses and perfect families to make myself believe life could really exist that way. I became withdrawn, rushing home after school to the safety of my silent house and waited, for what I’m not exactly sure.

In eighth grade an English teacher told me I would never be a writer. She discouraged me from writing for the yearbook staff. I didn’t write creatively for two years because she said I had no talent for it. In some ways, it was a relief. My stories had been lies for so long, I was afraid living in them would make me crazy. When my family moved from the small, stuffy, landlocked town back to Florida, I was ecstatic, even if the move came in the middle of the year. As a sophomore I took an AP writing class where my teacher, who resembled one of my father’s hippie friends, asked what my college goals were. He encouraged me to write, to enter poetry contests and apply to summer English programs.

The return to writing was like discovering a path I always knew existed but never tried. It was both familiar and strange. I excelled in my English and Writing classes but underneath I was unraveling. The secrets I held were burrowing holes through me. I didn’t know what I wanted to write about anymore. I received a poetry scholarship and entrance into the Creative Writing program at a college near my grandmother in South Alabama. Most of my undergraduate career is a blur. It seems so long ago that I sat in smoke filled rooms listening to someone play guitar while I wrote poems. As a senior I found a group of friends, serious about their writing. We wanted it all to mean something and were afraid the time for our work had passed.

My friendship with these writers continued through graduate school, which I attended after a love affair in London and Paris went awry. I was 23 and emotionally exhausted. But finally, I knew what I wanted to say. I received two prestigious writing awards, The Shelley Memorial Poetry Award and the Walker Fellowship, which provided numerous opportunities for audiences to hear my poems. I wrote constantly and on whatever paper was around. I wrote on bar tabs and napkins and carried around little notebooks which I continuously lost. I shouted poems from bar tops and car windows. Everything, everywhere was a stage.

John Cage said, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.” But I had everything to say and I said it and that was my poetry. The persona of poet allowed me to hide. I could be outrageous one second, doing vodka shots that accompanied the poem, “Give me Cold Vodka,” and quietly brood in the back booth of the bar moments later. Whatever I felt, I pushed into poems, into the performance until no longer knew where Devon, the poet, the persona, the act ended and Devon, the girl began. Maybe there is/was no separation. But I think there should have been. I was living the way my poetic heroes like Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, and Diane DiPrima lived. I was unapologetic, promiscuous and drunk. As far as me and my writer friends were concerned, consequences were for the unpoetic.

Writing my thesis allowed me to reflect on my poems, to assemble them in a way that meant something to me, that reflected who I am/was. The process was a wake up call when I realized how many poems mentioned drinking and sex. Where was the revolution I’d written about as an early master’s student? Where were the poems about the South, about love, about my family? Was this who I’d become? It felt cliché and embarrassing. I hadn’t said everything. I’d said nothing.

At the same time I was preparing my thesis I was applying to Ph.D. programs. I no longer knew what I wanted from my life. At 24, I felt lost. When I moved from Alabama, I decided to leave behind the drunken poet who screamed poems from the top of her lungs at midnight and howled at the moon just to hear the sound. I became serious and obsessed with school. I wrote poems about missing home, about the new landscape, and new loves. I tried to capture the same fire but instead loneliness crept in to all of my work. I did not feel driven to the page like I once had. The space between poems became more noticeable, and more significant.

I poured myself into academic work, finding new ways to express myself, to stretch my voice. I became enthralled with pushing my creativity into the academic. But I was still distant with fellow graduate students. I was afraid to get too close. I never tempted myself by going out with them after classes. I wasn’t sure I wanted anyone to know me. Once again, writing became my salvation. I discovered blogging, where my unique style of thought seemed to flourish. I started therapy in earnest this time, using writing as a way to talk about the traumatic events in my life. I’ve been working on an autobiographical project for a publication for over a year now. In doing so, I realize I miss the girl who thought she could do anything. I need her optimism. I miss the poet, the party girl, and the rebel. These parts of me are not so different. And I realize that I don’t have to completely lose myself in these identities. Instead I can rely on the best qualities of them to form the kind of person, teacher and scholar I want to be.

I still consider myself a writer but I am not a slave to the page. I am not haunted by poems the way I once thought sounded so romantic. I write poems when they occur to me and when I feel like I have something important to say to someone or to myself. Anne Sexton is correct, I think, when she says “the art chooses you.” I’m not sure if I would have chosen poetry as my art. It has both killed and rescued me. Nikki Giovanni said about poetry, “It may not be good, but at least it is mine.” The life represented here is only a fragment of me. And it may not be good; it may not be expected; you may not agree with how I’ve lived or written it. But at least it is mine.