6.05 / May 2011

On Being a Woman Writer

A very smart man tells me the thing I have written is too much about my self.  Too much “I.”  Could I please write something else?  Differently?  He needs something he can publish for the wider literary community that is not so self-centered.  Perhaps something about craft.  More about literary practice.  In general.

I am not angry.  I know what he means.  I am not against him.  I do feel sleepy though.  And a little hungry.  And kind of like I should make the man a very intense dinner with several wines of my choosing.  Instead I go to my writing room.

Again I stare at the blank white canvass of the page.  Again I make the journey, the man’s question like a rucksack.  I sit there staring at the white for a whole day and night.  When I wake up, my face is on my writing desk.  I drooled on my arm.  What happened?  I wonder.  Then I have a memory of being a woman writer.

Being a woman writer, I entered the vast stage of white with a woman’s body.  Having carried life, I entered with a maternal body.  Having loved and desired, I entered as a loving, desiring body.

The place I entered-the white-its territory was vast.  But the potential of the place was unmistakable.  The place-this white–could embody all that is my body-and allow for every mistake I ever made, every horrific blunder, every astonishing pain, every unnamable passion, every ungodly joy.  It blew me away.  The white.  There I was-a body inside the white-between soma and psyche, between biology and representation.

What I felt most immediately as a body inside the white:  rhythms like my heartbeat, and the blood in my ears, different sensory tones, the motion of sexuality and reproduction, and a thousand voices whispering, or enunciating in great crescendic waves, or disintegrating into particles.  Huh, I thought.  It would be easy to mistake the sounds and motions for babble or delirium.  It would be easy to go nuts in this place.

But I did not go nuts.  I saw a sign.  The sign said, this way to the other within.  But there was another sign next to it, big ass flashy neon sign that said, this way to language, culture, and subjectivity.  The two signs made my skin feel hot and my thighs itch.  Was one of the signs a trick?

I saw a guy go by, following the language, culture and subjectivity sign-without hesitation.  He looked really confident.  He looked unified.  He had a really good tan.  He was a snappy dresser.  He looked heroic.  But I was naked, sweaty, and I kind of had to pee.  I just felt hot, itchy and like I might die if I didn’t move.

I decided to follow the ‘other within’ sign.  Then I felt like masturbating, so I did that, there inside the white, and I heard a noise back down the direction the heroic guy had gone, and I looked back, and he’d tripped on something and fallen.  Weird, I thought, and then I finished and came really hard and let the wet be what it was-salty ocean goo–and kept walking.

Then I saw another woman.  She was tall, and her hair, unlike mine, was black as sun.  Her name was Julia, she said.   She said, “It is probably necessary to be a woman, not to renounce theoretical reason but to compel it to increase its power by giving it an object beyond its limits.”

I stared at her hard.  I said, that’s a lot easier inside this place, inside the white, than it is out there.

Yep, she said.  But at least here-inside the white-there is a chance, she said.  Look.

I looked over to my left and there was a truly unbelievably sexy woman swimming in an aqua pool.  When I say truly unbelievably sexy I mean ample and curved and with color.

So we’re inside the writing, then, I said.

She said yes.  But not just any writing.  You took a certain path.  This is a certain kind of writing.  She pointed to the ample woman in the aqua pool.  She said, the novel particularly exhibits the potential for embodying “Intertextuality.”  Intertextuality is a specific type of coextension in which a variety of diverse meanings overlap.  The novel provides a particularly good space for this phenomenon to occur.

I said, I can see what you mean.  Then I said, it’s kind of weird when you talk like that.  It makes your mouth look funny.  Then I added, I notice I’m extra horny inside here…sort of all heated up or something.  Is that normal?

She said, it’s the body you’ve brought in here.  It’s discharging drives against sign systems.

Cool, I said.

I don’t know what happened to that guy that tripped and fell down.  I asked, is that guy gonna be o.k.?

She said, oh yes.  She said, he’s gonna be a famous writer.  Or intellectual. Or something.

I thought I saw some metaphors and allegories kinda hanging around.

She said, isn’t that why you came?

I said, I think I came because I am in distress.

She said, you mean because your daughter died?  I said yes.  But I just wrote a book about that, and there’s this guy who is tired of me talking about myself.

Is that the only reason?   She asked.

No, I said.

Is the other reason because you are afraid to love?

Yes, I said. I’m afraid.

She said, then you are in the right place-here in writing.  She said, see all the whiteness?

I saw it.  She said, the whiteness is like a body.

I stared at her.  If I’d taken that other path – the other sign, would the white be something else?

Very much, she said.

Then I went inside the white all the way.

The white is soft.  Soft against the eyes and the body, soft in your ears and throat.  Not like mist or smoke.  Like if the air around you suddenly had dimension.  You can almost touch it.  This white before you.  Where I am.  Almost.

Inside the white I can hear things and see things.  Sounds and images resolve and dissolve at random intervals.  And different times present themselves-different times from my life or the lives of people I’ve known or the lives of random people-little scenes of being come and go.

The stories here move differently than out there.  Inside the white, consciousness affects the behavior of narrative.  Narrative moves backwards and forward in time and appears in all places at once.  Language and images split into thousands of universes.  Stories and people and images are interconnected with faster than light transfers of information.  There co-exist many worlds, plot waves and hidden variables which influence the order of things.

Out there, time reversibility and synchronicity and quantum physics are provable.  Inside the white they are alive.  I experience them like lucid dreams.  I do not feel unconscious or crazy or comatose.  I feel part of the motion of all matter and energy.  If I want something to come or go, it does.  A word emerges.  It is the word, love.  I stare at it and all my senses experience things unnamable.

Then the intensity of the word ‘love’ releases and the story that was forming around the word dissolves and multiplies into a thousand different stories, a thousand possible plateaus. If I wanted to I could climb them like stairs.

Then I see the girl.  The girl I keep dreaming and writing.  I go through the possibilities again.  The white opens them up.  Maybe the girl is my dead daughter.  And maybe the girl is me, or some relative before me.  Maybe the girl is simply a metaphor for what we lose or what we make.  And maybe the girl is just a girl, an imagined one, one created from the mind of a woman lost to herself, or lost within the unmediated realm of dreams and her body and the spaces between things.

I open my mouth to speak.  Perhaps it is the name of the girl.  Perhaps it is the name of my son, or my husband.  But no name comes from my mouth.  My voice-language-is swallowed by the white.

I see the girl’s blonde tangled hair as she walks away from me into the white, into some other story.  I hear a blasting sound.  Then the white turns to the dream of war.

In the dream I am in a bar in a country of unknown origin.  My husband and son are there too, but I am not near them.  I am near other people.  I can see my husband and my son though.  Across the space.  They’ve made hats from paper cups.  They are laughing.  My husband is drinking beer.  My son is drinking apple cider.  His cheeks little apples.  Someone is playing music.  There is amber colored wood on the floors and walls and chairs.  People seem intimately close like in a rural, not American, bar.  Their faces warm and rosed.  Their gestures swept up in song or laughter.  No one is picking up on anyone, or arguing, or using money, or wearing a certain thing.  No one’s hair matters.  My heart is swelling from being with people in this way, to be in a room not American, a room not made for money and action and ready-made lust thrusts, a room where people are speaking intellectually while drunk, the artists and the farmers giving each other equal weight, and leaning into one another’s bodies without concern-men leaning into men’s bodies and women into women’s, so that the room of it carries all of our hearts and loosens all of our minds and anyone could be from any country for this moment.  Loving anyone they want.  Saying anything.

I look up from the myriad of conversations which make a kind of voice-hum over the room.  I am within eyeshot of love-my husband and my son-I smile.

But there is a war raging just outside the room of us, and in the dream, the information comes to be known that we are all about to die via a thermo nuclear blast.  The information is coarse and immediate like I assume it is for farm animals.  They catch the smell, their spine fur shivers, they shift weight from one leg to another, feel restless, look up.  The time we have left is also understood.  I hear it and know it and within 10 seconds I make my way to the intensity of love (my husband and son) so that we can be inside a tri-embrace looking into the planets of each others’ eyes as the white life-ending cataclysm occurs.  The blast is utter silence, since sound follows it.

The embrace and the blast exist in the same space, and thus annihilation and creation are not opposites.  Our bodies the universe.  The dream dissolves.

I am in the white again.  Death does not frighten me.  Energy never dying.  Just changing forms.  I lie down in the white.

Inside the white, there is no climactic feeling in these scenes.  No main character or story arc.  The accumulated energy of a scene does not dissipate in a climax.  Every intensity is one among many.  Like an orgasm reaching different levels over time, or energy changing forms, or a story that is not aiming for an ending.  I can enter or exit at any point.  I can move from intensity to intensity with ease.  I can even move through orgasm life love death as if they were simply a range of intensities.

This is what it is to be me, a woman writer.  I am my body.  When I say I, it is not a conquering with language.  It is a dispersement of intensities and energy over a vast white field.

I step out of the white and back to my writing desk.  I have to pee.  There is a line of sweat underneath each of my breasts.  I am kind of horny.  I am hungry.  I want a scotch.  Badly I do.

Look at all those I’s.

The man will be displeased, I think, smiling like a girl.

I shall make him a supper he will never forget.

lidia yuknavitch is the author of The Chronology of Water (Hawthorne Books), a memoir, three books of short stories, Her Other Mouths, Liberty's Excess (FC2) and Real to Reel (FC2), and a critical book, Allegories of Violence (Routledge). Her writing has appeared online and in print, you know, around. She teaches and lives in Portlandia with Andy and Miles Mingo. She has a forthcoming novel called The Small Backs of Children (Hawthorne Books).
6.05 / May 2011