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 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 a poem.
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 too 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.