On your birthday, Sylvia, I will not write you a poem but be brave enough to confront words the harder way- prose. Like you, I struggle with prose, recognizing how much harder it is than summarizing in a few lines of poetry, the breadth of the entire world. People would write you tributes, I’m sure. But I don’t think even those would have made you happy. You would have questioned yourself and them, and nit-picked through their glowing compliments to dig up the occasionally scantily-clad or well-shrouded criticism and sat with tears running down your face, wondering why you weren’t perfect. But that is not what I am driving at either.
There was something inherently designed inside you that I can so clearly recognize- the ability to see everything through a lens of intense emotion. The world you constructed revolved around you and yours; is this narcissism an important component of your mostly-confessional style of poetry? I think so, Sylvia because without it you would have been at a loss about what to write. You did not know anyone or anything better than you knew YOU, and you could not. Had you been able to look beyond your own dark pool of thoughts or changed your lens of examination, you would have found all the reasons in the world to get out of bed each morning and be alive in 2015 (and be less of a legend perhaps, in my mind) and write, write, write a lot more. You would have polished your art, striven harder and suffered from the classic curse of a creator, lived through heartfelt misery and channelized it into your writing in ways you perhaps couldn’t do. You would have been a legend of another sort, Sylvia.
But then I wonder: what if you hadn’t? What if your greatness only came from your inability to look outside your bubble of grief? What if, without it you were an average schoolgirl or a plain professor who wrote book after book but did not catch the imagination of a whole new genre? This is interesting to me because the reason that killed you was the very reason that made you. I ponder over this long and hard, losing touch with my reality when I think of the gratification that can be received from holding on to sadness. Sadness is like an anchor, without which I wouldn’t discover the wreckage of ships at the bottom of my sea. I would float unattended on top of the ocean, see fish and land and beaches, people, the sun, and an occasional dark storm. But I wouldn’t know what it felt like to have the pressure of the deep sea resting on top of me. I wouldn’t see the crevices at the bottom and the fantastic creatures that linger there. I wouldn’t understand the legend of sea monsters and merpeople. I wouldn’t find the occasional nugget of gold or a well-carved block of wood from a long-buried shipwreck.
I tried to look past your acerbic excerpts, Sylvia, at the truly knowledgeable things you said. I couldn’t, and I stumbled with refining my own definitions inside my head because I was starting to be consumed by your story that ended inside an oven. I can scratch the surface of melancholia but waves of hope and good fortune wash me against the shore of people and places I am able to fall in love with all over again, and I keep alive and I keep swimming on to the next destination. That is where I defined our differences, that was where I defied your glorious, shattering mentality. That is where I fail to be the kind of writer you were.
But I can still feel envy the way you do, and I can still hate the things I love. I can stretch myself until your moods become my own. I don’t.
And so, on your birthday, I wrote a confession of my own. I can imagine you reading through it and thinking, ‘this does not hold a candle to what I am capable of writing.’ And I would believe you . But I would go and read something the next day and feel this same emotion myself. And then I would bury it under a mountain of ‘what ifs?’, knowing that I can only write in short patches of fervent passion and do not have the energy to expand it into anything more concrete. I berate everything that seems ugly, including myself. I wish people were better to everyone else they knew, including myself on both ends of this spectrum. But who would they be better or worse to, because the moment I touch other people I explode into a growing mushroom of complications that force me to turn and run before I destroy myself and them. And then I wonder if these creative metaphor are anything more than gross exaggeration, because at the end of the day I am breathing, fighting, emerging, moving, sometimes crawling forward.
I know, I have always known, that all I am is a writer. Everything else is worthless without recording this journey of pain and that is what I do best.
And to commemorate, a stolen montage of some Sylvia quotes: