la-columbe

Colson Whitehead defines the artist as “a monster who has stopped pretending”. But what does it mean to “stop pretending”? How do you just accept your monstrosity and go through the world seven feet tall with green skin and bolts jutting out of the sides of your neck? The first thing that I fear is violating decorum by confessing things that are unseemly. But I have decided, or understood, that remaining silent about those things is not being evasive, it is simply rejecting cliche. We all have our cacodemons— I don’t need to elaborate my version of them. You know them as well as I do.

The first time I felt that I had something to hide that wasn’t the same thing everyone else was hiding was reading Laurence Perrine’s purple textbook, What is Literature? I was fifteen, and that book was assigned in my sophomore English class. It was an anthology with commentary; I don’t remember the commentary, but I started reading the poems one night in my room, and I found something I hadn’t before: calm. I immediately felt that I had to conceal what I was doing.

One night in college a friend found me in the vast library at Stanford. We were on one of several underground, dark floors; there was no one else around. I greeted him quietly, and I remember him gesturing at the gray, full bookshelves and saying wildly, “I have so many friends in here!”

I have friends you can’t see, but I am not pretending I don’t anymore. Not that you can tell that when I am standing in front of you in line at the Daily Grind; you can’t see past my bony, four-foot long arms sticking way out of the tattered ends of my blazer, and you avoid eye contact as we negotiate the little milk and sugar station next to the cashier. But you relax a bit when you see me giggling to myself over my copy of The Rachel Papers, and you watch me get down on my hands and knees so that Dolly, the owner’s pit bull, can lick my face.

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