(Poets & Writers Creative non-fiction prompt 3/24/22) “Yes, I’m from rural Michigan. My people are those of TV dinners and bad luck. My landscape, silos, pissed-off cows, and the Elks Lodge Friday Fish Fry sign lighting up the night instead of the moon,” writes Diane Seuss in her commencement address to the Bennington Writing Seminars earlier this year, which was published on Literary Hub. “I invented myself, or a version of myself that could resurrect out of a cow pasture and become a poet. Unlikely, unlikely that I am here at all, and that you, indeed, are there,” she writes. Write an essay about your own “resurrection” into becoming a writer. What is the landscape you associate with home, and how does it influence your writing style?
I get the hiccups when I move too fast. As a child I’d get them first thing in the morning because of needing to hurry, get dressed and get to the busstops, and that didn’t stop happening, for a very long time actually. I sat in the back because it was warm—the hottest seats were the corners but they were also the loudest, and when you rest your head against the window to sleep it’s a thud-thudud bang against your temple but you somehow get used to it and fall asleep anyway. Mornings were cold (they were probably just 70 but in Hawai’i that is considered freezing) so the heat was appreciated.
One time around my middle school years I was sitting in the center back seat, my hiccups sounding just like the word “hiccup”, (which to this day they still come out in a high-pitched bubble against my will, sounding like I’m 5 years old), and an elderly Filipino man to my left smirking in amusement told me “I tell you one trick how to stop dat” and he said to drink water, and letting it sit in my mouth while sitting down, bend low with my head between my legs, then gulp. That worked for a few months but then my body must’ve gotten the memo and the hiccups weren’t fooled for long. The only thing about sitting in the back of the bus is it is too bumpy to write, and without a seat in front of me to prop my knees and feet up, I couldn’t rest the journal over my lap to really get into a cozy writing position. Plus, by the time the bus ventured through Hau’ula, then Laie, it was packed so full of us middle and high schoolers we were practically cheek-to-cheek, standing and hanging on for dear life to the overhead handles, swaying into one another at every curve and stop.
In my 20s the alarm went off at 5am for me to get on the first am shuttle bus, for a day of classes and a few name tags—black non-slip shoes and a tomato tie in my duffel bag, then a cardigan for my retail shift. My backpack had every pocket stuffed—bandaids, snacks, a change of clothes, pens, books and a few journals—always a few journals. I wrote myself into presence, and I wrote myself back home, and I wrote to God, and I wrote letters to people they’d never read. I wrote about conversations I had during the day, questions that brewed and a lot about what I thought I knew to be true. I wrote about the people around me and what I observed. I included details of their movements, their words, their accessory choices, and speculated about their inner world. I rode the busses on O’ahu from the second grade until I was around 26 when I finally was able to buy my first car, after 3 failed driving test attempts, and after receiving excess financial aid money. I paid $2,000 cash for a 2000 Honda Accord with over 100,000 miles on it, from an elderly Japanese woman in Kaneohe who retired and bought herself a new Honda. She was a regular customer at Banana Republic who perused the sale section with her granddaughter on weekends after their Sunday brunch. It lasted me for 2 years before I traded it in, the bumper dragging and 3 minor accidents later. I remember being relieved to have so much time saved, but also missing the advantages of reading and writing that bus riding allowed.
Today I keep receipts of scribbles I jot down by the cash register, in my car, on my way out and on my way in. In between sets at the gym I bend over to record a passing thought, and at night I keep a pad next to my bed for a dream to remember, write out and recall. Last night a feverish spell fell over me and I created a page for healing services I’ve been providing, which took me all the way into the morning light to complete writing, and the words announced themselves. Nobody has seen it yet, but just writing it made me feel seen. And that is exactly what writing does for me—puts me into the main character of my life. If I don’t tell my story it will be told for me—I always somehow knew this. We become the side characters, the lost, the fallen, and the used when we don’t use our voices. I didn’t know it at the time, but the act of writing helped me preserve my inner world, and helped me cultivate a relationship with who I am.
I was quiet about what only writing allowed me to be loud about. In school I was a loud mouth in some classes, then an angel in others. I was boisterous in the classes I felt inadequate or “less-than”, then mild-mannered and calm in classes I felt seen—which was all of my English classes. I lived for the little comments teachers would leave on my writing, oftentimes staring at their words and referring to them for days on end.
Singing and writing go hand-in-hand for me. I filled journals with song lyrics and this was before being able to Google them. I’d press “PLAY ▶️” then “PAUSE ⏸” to write down what I heard, and do that with each line of the song. My emotions come out through my voice and I felt a sense of being understood and acknowledged though music. I’d take the books filled with lyrics with me to refer to and sing anywhere I went—by the shore, at a bus stop, in my head. (To be continued—clocking in for work)