This is a gem from the early days of Stories for Strangers. I wrote this at 18-years-old during my first few months of college and published it May 5, 2015. I removed the post when my blog began to receive traffic. I felt embarrassed–partly because the prose was so bad but also because the thought of others reading my shitty prose made me feel vulnerable. This story takes place in my freshman year of UMass Amherst. I biked thirteen miles to the Montague Bookmill (an artsy bookstore in an artsy part of Montague, Massachusetts) one rainy weekend morning on my old orange bicycle. It was the same bicycle my mother rode when she was in high school. At the bookstore, I saw dancers in colorful costumes twirling around outside. I then used far too many words to describe this action.
I’m sharing this story again because it’s okay to be a shitty writer if writing is something that brings you joy. Be proud of surviving the early years.
I also hope that by airing my secret work you’ll finally feel comfortable enough to show someone your own. I’m certainly having a laugh.
I did not edit this from what it was.
I want to write stories that say something worthwhile, slow-motion prose that winds its way around your legs like rumpled sheets. Sex, truth, poetry, courage, the things that make you feel something. About a hundred and three times a day I ask myself, “What’s to stop me from climbing up a tree one afternoon to spend the rest of my days writing shitty poetry and watching sunsets?” I could bring a little Tupperware of applesauce in case I got hungry, maybe a blanket for when it gets cold. I spend enough time as it is leaning against the base of the town’s water tower scribbling thoughts in notebooks and making sweeping statements about life and all the rest.
I spend even more time sneaking out early in the morning on my creaky old bicycle—it’s the same one my mother took to college when she was my age—out into the mist and fog, rain if the weather feels like it, until the slightest pressure on the brakes produces a heartbreaking cacophony of screeches and squeals.
I bike north, about thirteen hilly miles or so past the familiar drone of my living quarters is a sweet little bookstore with a bakery. I live in an artsy hill-town farmland-chic sort of world and the last time I pedaled up there I stumbled upon a vibrantly dressed group of older people and younger people who looked as though they’d marched straight from a Renaissance fair. They lined the alleyway between the bookstore and the record shop across the way and were dancing in choreographed circles banging decorated sticks with their partners. The bookstore is a renovated sawmill hanging lazily over the river. The top floor is connected to the main road with a bridge and I sat on top of that bridge watching the swirling colors beneath me.
I couldn’t help thinking my secret wish that all these people had just happened upon each other that day, no organization of outfits, no proposed meeting time, no discussion of choreography, nothing. Like in the movies—one character breaks into song in the middle of the school cafeteria after being slighted by the gorgeous and popular thirty-five-year-old actress posing as a sixteen-year-old girl and suddenly everyone around the songbird hero knows not only the words of his introspective melody but the corresponding dance moves. My hopes for this situation fell in line with that. If I knew how to write, I would write like my false perception of their spontaneity. Although they were rehearsed, sweating, and, if you looked closely enough, a little offbeat—it felt fresh, stark, and true.
I had an eighty-year-old art history professor my freshman year of college who walked us through the hard marble bodies of classical Greek eroticism, the Italian Renaissance, the Impressionists, and every fleshy nude from the B.C. to the now. He’d project the pictures onto the white wall and each time we’d stumble across a nude he’d murmur, “Mmmm… that’s a sexy painting. It gets the blood pumping.” Despite the nervous titters of laughter flitting through the auditorium, he had a point. The artwork was sexy at the risk of being inaccrochable. It was emotionally charged. It was sleepy eyes with sweeping lashes and crushed velvet mouths. It stirred something within you, made you feel something. It was unapologetic sex. Emotion and arrested motion. Flesh and curves and heat and sweat.
That’s how words make me feel. They sit there starkly mapped out in curved black and white upstrokes and down strokes. They can jog fast. Race ‘cross the page. No time to waste. Rat-a-tat-tat-rat-a-tat-tat-rat-a-tat-tat. A dizzying tornado of breathlessness arrests your chest. Words can brush around and around your legs like a cat and sit quietly by the fire with you as you sip carefully on a cup of tea and lull yourself to sleep. These words are hushed voices, plump bosoms, and the smell of lavender. Sometimes words grab your face and crush your mouth roughly against their lips, grazing their teeth across your lower lip. These words are hot breath and dark nights and movements in a dimly-lit room. Words are electrically charged. You can feel the tingle of their energy on your skin. I want to wrap my body in a jacket of words. I want to write words in blue magic marker on my feet. I want to stretch out under the hot bare bulb of the sun and sweat salty words from my pores. I want to pour words thickly from a pitcher and bathe myself in their meaning like buttermilk.
Words are bolts of plasma hurling themselves through space, they express the reserved whispers of white gloves on a good linen tablecloth, and bridge the connection between my mind bound in a nutshell and yours deep in the jungle outside of it. I breathe in the crackling energy of a cold, clear night and exhale words.