Poetry and Sex
I don’t really remember when I first thought seriously about becoming a writer. It all started out as a joke, really, just another
attempt to get laid in high school. Of course, this is not what I told
friends and family members after I had become the "writer"
in their eyes. The official story went something like this: I was hanging
out at the local library with some friends, looking for a book on which
to write a book report. Then, not having found a suitable topic for
the report, I stumbled across a strange picture of a man with a gray
beard and strange gray eyes. It was the eyes that caught my attention
first, then the name: Walt Whitman. I sat down at a table and saw the
same face staring back at me from the cover of a small, relatively worn
book, Leaves of Grass. I opened it and began to read. Hours later, having
lost track of time, I closed the book and my life was changed forever.
None of this actually happened. I don’t even remember visiting
the local library during high school. Thus begun my journey as a writer-after
my visionary moment of transformation. It was also the beginning of
my personal myth-making, and of a series of lies I could never afterwards
unravel. The story of my life became a labyrinth of daydreams and fantasy,
the lines between fiction and fact blurring until even I had a difficult
time keeping the facts straight and recalling events of the past. I
found myself relating events of my past to people and stopping in mid-sentence,
realizing that nothing that I had just said actually happened but had
all been made up years ago and repeated. It was very disconcerting.
Eventually I had a nervous breakdown on a bus. I couldn’t even
have a nervous breakdown without thinking of capturing the moment in
Ok, it was actually a panic attack but a breakdown sounds much more
dramatic and in the tradition of Fitzgerald, both Fitzgeralds. I was
reading Baudelaire on my way to Pasadena and I switched to Fitzgerald’s
Tender is the Night (it was a long bus ride). Actually I never read
Baudelaire but I carried around a copy of his selected works everywhere.
Fitzgerald’s novel, based on the emotional breakdown of his wife
Zelda, must have sent me over the edge. To this day I can’t read
it because the panic attack was real and I don’t want to go through
that again. I freaked out. My heart was beating out of control; everything
seemed lost, convoluted, meaningless. Where was I? What the hell was
I doing in Pasadena? Why hadn’t I finished college? So I figured
I had better write a poem while actually undergoing a panic attack.
Of course, it wasn’t until later that I found out it was a panic
attack. Then, I began to write like a madman, trying to understand what
I was feeling. When it was all over I had a poem I titled "The
Fear." It was a literary gem written while hanging by a thread
over the abyss: a record of a journey into a personal hell (at least
that’s what I told myself). It was a pivotal moment in my private
history. It was a poetic masterpiece…it was a piece of shit.
The poem was unreadable, pretentious, meaningless rambling, self-obsessed
and self-pitying. It was an embarrassment to dead poets everywhere.
But I believed that years later scholars would pore over this poem and
marvel at the control of emotions while the poet was in the midst of
indescribable agony and torment. Witnesses would later report having
seen the poet in the PCC library sweating like a madman, hands shaking,
glancing around every now and then to make sure nobody noticed his mental
anguish. This poem became part of my own mythology. It’s very
depressing to realize that this actually happened, and I still have
the poem to prove it.
Not having published anything, my literary aspirations became sort
of a joke in the family. There goes Juanito; he’s going to be
a writer. You know, like Sandra Cisneros. But it gave me some sort of
identity. There was Diana, my sister, who was a marine. Then there was
my older brother, Francisco, who was in medical school. I was the poet.
Take a wild guess who was the black sheep in this family. El Poeta.
It sounded romantic, mysterious, dignified-in an artistic, idiotic kind
of way. But they used it in a derogatory manner, a put down. Juanito
the poet, pretending to write poems in his room with the shades down
while listening to The Doors. He must be jerking off. I probably was.
I don’t remember high school, conveniently, just a few faces,
a few events, getting laid twice at the age of 16 and then not getting
any until I was almost 20. Of course, the story everyone heard was that
I was getting it right and left. Not too many girls, one must make the
lie believable, but enough to impress. Imaginary females from other
high schools satisfied my carnal desires while I pined away loveless
and un-fucked for two-and-a-half years. And the short freshman girl
that let me deflower her? To begin with, she wasn’t a virgin,
which made my first sexual experience unbearable. She had already slept
with someone, which led to a great deal of insecurity. She would realize
I didn’t know what I was doing. She would start laughing. Was
it really that small? Should I ask her? How do I put on a condom? Who
to ask? What the hell is the vaginal opening doing all the way down
there? She only slept with me because her friend had actually found
me attractive, which of course made me attractive to her. We had nothing
in common, nothing to talk about whatsoever. And it was really her friend
I wanted anyway.
Today it’s a joke I share with friends. Getting laid with poetry.
To this day nobody I know has ever gotten laid with a poem (another
lie). Some kids in high school got laid by hanging out with the right
people, by joining a rock band, by begging, by paying for it. (I tried
it once but was to drunk to concentrate. I spent the entire 20 minutes
telling the hooker about how my uncle raised goats in Olinala. I made
her laugh the entire time. Literally.) Other guys had money or nice
cars. Not me. I became a poet, and as a result I never got laid. I should
have joined a rock band.
I had no desire to write poetry for poetry’s sake, to celebrate
beauty, life, death, love, the moon, the dawn, etc, etc. I wrote poetry
for sex. I was a literary whore. I used The Word for pieces of ass,
plain and simple. As a result everything I wrote was pretentious and
obviously insincere. I wanted to be pitied, understood as a sensitive
human being, a highly emotional one at that, who was unfortunately misunderstood.
I don’t think anyone fell for it. I spent hours trying to write
short stories, pretending I was Woody Allen because I wanted to write
something like Annie Hall. I wrote bad love poems and wanna-be sonnets,
and I stole lines from every poet know to man, altered slightly of course.
Then one day I found myself reading Whitman, Blake, Kerouac, Ginsberg,
Shelley, one poet after another. I didn’t think about getting
laid. I simply fell in love with poetry without realizing it, while
thinking it was just a harmless hobby. Everyday I discovered new poet.
One led to another. Reading Ginsberg I discovered Blake, reading Neruda
I discovered Lorca. I couldn’t get enough. W. B Yeats, Byron,
Eliot, Pound, Williams, Plath, McKuen. I was reading the poems and connecting.
I started writing different poems, and I didn’t use them to try
to get laid. There was no moment of transformation. One day I just realized
that I was reading because it mattered to me what Whitman wrote about
the self (mostly himself). I needed to read. I realized that I had become
hooked to the word for the word’s sake. Every emotion I had faked,
every lie, all the pretensions…suddenly it was all true. The poetry
had cut into me, left me scarred. I hungered for the word; I yearned
to create my own. Perhaps I wasn’t a writer, or a poet, but the
word had become sacred. I was hooked.
I had become a poetry junkie.