Apoplexia, Toxic Shock, and Toilet Bowl: Some notes on Why I Write
NO MORE WIRE HANGERS: a campy symbol of maternal violence, of a late-night terror passed on from mother to daughter. Joan Crawford’s mother worked as a laundress. Perhaps that’s why she would erupt at night with the force of her fury, a worry deep from her childhood that anything would be soiled and she would be punished, a worry deep like a stain that can never be removed.
She was possessed. We were her possessions.
I have inherited her violence. I am the true daughter of an infamous woman, like Jean Rhys’ Antoinette Cosway, a reincarnation of Bronte’s paper monster. My mother hit because she did not have speech to express her imprisoned state, her lack of freedom. Violence is the last resort, when one does not have language. A mute mutiny.
The violence of Elfriede Jelinek’s Erika Kohut in The Piano Teacher. Jelinek’s performance artists of rage. She tears at her mother’s hair, the dyed pieces coming out in a clump in her palms. Her mother who has kept her in captivity, under lock and key and surveillance. Her mother who dictates what she should wear, where she should go. I have had that mother. I have hated, I have loved that mother. Like the girl’s violent mother in Duras’ The Lover, tearing at her clothes.
I write as a way to scream. Like Helene Weigel’s mute maternal wail in Brecht’s Mother Courage. I write as a way to resurrect my mother, who committed violence, who at the end of her life died in such abject violence, in a mental ward dying of cancer. When I don’t write I have swallowed the scream. Otherwise that silence feels like a suppression.
An aesthetic: the abjective correlative.
I have a voice! repeats the Pink Bloque protester as she is carried away from Senate committee hearings. I have a voice! Sometimes that voice is high-pitched – a grotesque scream. It is illegible.
Why are we so afraid of rage. Why aren’t we all screaming? A rant is insane isn’t it? RANTING AND RAVING.
NO MORE WIRE HANGERS. It is an absolutely fucked-up time to be female. We are censored, prodded, provoked, silenced. All the attacks lately on a woman’s freedom, on her body. We are silenced into derangement. How does one write the rage and violence of what it means now to be a Woman in Society? Do I need to get into personhood bills?
She is mad, yes, but she is also ANGRY.
Writing a book is like giving birth to a grotesque human being—but through the process you are murdered, a puerpueral fever, and then afterwards you are frothy and amesiac and do not know your way home. Finishing a book is like being paralyzed, and needing to learn again how to accept fluids, to cognate again, to walk and talk. I am experiencing a sort of aphonia, like Anna O. Some form of apoplexia.
I came to writing and then I forgot.
I was supposed to write an essay, as soon after I finished this other kind-of-essay book. Not really an essay book. More like a grotesque blob of emotions. This new, legitimate essay was supposed to be about Caitlin Flanagan. Caitlin Flanagan and her sanitized vision of girlhood, when all the girls I have known, all the girls I have been, have been beautiful beasts, have been angry monsters. I couldn’t write this essay. Then I wanted to write about Jonathan Franzen, about my fury towards Jonathan Franzen, what he wrote about Edith Wharton in The New Yorker, what he symbolized in society, Jonathan Franzen like my Andy Warhol, but I couldn’t find myself being able to write a coherent essay, I don’t even know what this is, an essay, instead I wanted to stand outside of his house on the Upper West Side, and picket, or fling feces, or scream.
To want to be a monkey in a cage, flinging faeces. I am now writing a girl whose name is Monkey and trapped in a cage. She is psychotic. I love her.
I feel like we should have a Guerrilla Girls for writers. I want to be Djuna Barnes. No, I want to be Elfriede Jelinek. No, I want to be Valerie Solanas.
For Valerie Solanas was a writer wasn’t she? After she shot Warhol she was headlined in the newspaper as an actress in Warhol’s films. I’m actually a writer, she told reporters. She wanted to be read. He wouldn’t read her. So she shot him.
Sometimes it is humiliating not only to be a woman, but to be a woman writer in today’s society. I just took a trip down South, where I read to mostly indifferent faces. I feel V. Woolf was wrong. V. Woolf who was so afraid of this “red light of anger,” the red light that feeds me. But she said that women writers suffer hostility, where male writers only suffer indifference. Indifference, I think, can feel more violent. But me and my friend, the poet Gina Abelkop, found ourselves booked for the open mike following the New Orleans Haiku Society, who sat in a row and passed the mike around, murmuring banalities. The only way to react against this was to be particularly obscene. I stood there in my long black dress and screeched a mean passage from O Fallen Angel. Mommy and her paralyzed Dora. Yet sometimes I am not brave. That recent Chicago reading where I read to a drunk, bored room, following male cock writers who heckled the crowd. At that moment I wanted to be one of Artaud’s daughters of the cunt. I wanted to be like Karen Finley, with her tit out, shouting expletives and exorcism at the Danceteria.
I am surrounded everywhere by hot-pink Post-It notes. Let me read one: A Post-Book, A Pre-Book Paralysis. Why write if one is not read? Valerie Solanas had issues too with DISTRIBUTION.
Bakhtin’s pregnant hag as the model of the grotesque. I want to be a pregnant hag, delivering monologues from my cunt of a mouth. All this ooziness and feeling. All this rage. Girls aren’t supposed to puke or shit words. As opposed to swallowing violence I need to vomit it up.
I forgot – at the reading of the New Orleans Haiku Society, one girl there, a poet, to see me and my friend, a poet. One of about 5 in our own audience. She was wearing a T-shirt of Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour. It read: A Girl is a Gun. I felt inspired.
A girl is a gun. A woman is a bomb. Erika Kohut on the trolley of Vienna, with her musical cases, turning herself into a kicking, psychotic weapon.
I am reading Avital Ronell on Valerie Solanas. I take mad notes, but think throughout that Valerie Solanas would hate how Ronell theorizes her rage. Situating her within Derrida, isn’t that as much of a crime? She writes of the “cri/ecrit”. Like Cixous’ Laugh of the Furious Medusa. Ronell writes: “So. Sometimes you have to scream to be heard.” She also writes: Our Valerie, by contrast, was a psycho.
Cixous writes, of Freud’s Dora: “The heroine is she who has broken something.”
Catherine Clement in Syncope: “the scream does violence to the throat, which is suddenly turned into a hole, as if there were no other way out but to break through a wall.”
Toxic shock on the Internet. I begin to be obsessed with myself as a minor author in society. Two versions of the minor: the anonymous, the Solanas, and then the one who deranges the master language, as D&G write of Kafka. Perhaps these are the same. I begin googling myself obsessively. I visit my Goodreads page. My novel Green Girl is involved in some sort of brutal bloodsport literary prize, where it is decimated, where I feel decimated. I take to my blog to rant this all out. I have just taught Sarah Kane’s perfect crystalline text of fury, Psychosis 4.48 to my Women and Madness class. I expel my alienation. Then I erase it all. I suicide my blog.
Feeling sometimes like Carrie at the prom—it is her alienation and fury that sets everything on fire.
I decide I must expel all the toxins from my system. I go on a juice cleanse. I drink beet juice that stains my fingers, my cutting board. I shit out pink, mingling too with my darker menstrual blood in the toilet bowl.
I am psychotic.
I write so as not to suicide. And yet—I suicide. I stop writing. Whenever I don’t write I commit violence to myself. I write instead of kicking and screaming. I write instead of dying.
My blog I think is a sort of toilet bowl.
I’m having trouble lately containing my rage.
Is toxicity the acculumulation of rage, or the inability to exhume it?
During the Internet shutdown, my panicked performances on Facebook, where I rally against some injustice in long strands, a friend of mine sends me a worksheet on Dialectical Behaviorial Therapy, how I can figure out whether an emotion is too much or not. I look at the worksheet. I dismiss the worksheet. It is ironic because I have just taught Borderline Personality Disorder to my class, this disorder composed almost entirely of bad girls or women. I teach them about the wonderful Marsha Lineham, and her views on radical acceptance and empathy for at-risk girls, she too who was an at-risk girl, who cut herself, but then I also show them a fat fuck of a balding psychiatrist on Youtube, hands on his fat fucking stomach, a fucking brain on his desk, speaking of a girl’s “insecure sense of self,” “risky self” “intense bouts of anger, depression, and anxiety” “intense emotions” “self-damaging behaviors” “episodes of impulsive aggression” “self-injury” and then images of celebrities “speculated to have the illness”: Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Courtney Love, Lindsey Lohan, Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder.
Pauline Oliveros’ composition: To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe, in Memory of Their Desperation and Rage. I want to know – how do the two link? One externalizes, one only internalized their violence. A community of these women. To destroy. To be destroyed. Also: Jean Rhys who was in physical altercations with her neighbors in Cornwall, Zelda Fitzgerald who threw herself off a staircase when her husband flirted with Martha Graham, Vivien(ne) Eliot who slapped and punched, Jane Bowles who pulled the nurse’s hair like my mother pulled the nurse’s necklace. All silenced, demonized in history.
In Heroines I attempt to theorize the girl interrupted from writing. I write: “The charges of borderline personality disorder are the same charges against girls writing literature, I realize—too emotional, too impulsive, no boundaries.”
After that class a female student comes up to me and tells me about her sister, diagnosed as BPD, constantly attempting suicide. She is not sympathetic towards this younger sister, seen as the drama queen, holding the entire family captive. I develop an intense, brief desire, to go back to school, to become a psychologist for these toxic girls, who commit violence to themselves because they live in a society that criminalizes any attempt to externalize their fury, their rage, their deep sadness.
I came to writing when my mother died of such violence. I came to writing when my best friend, a toxic, at-risk girl, committed suicide. She is my Maggie in O Fallen Angel, who signed her suicide note with a smiley face. Who was always cheery, good, even when she went more over than the rest of us did to the foggy side of self-destruction and drug addiction. I wrote to attempt to theorize them. No, I wrote to attempt to vocalize them. To give language to their violence.
I’d like to make a case for maladaptive emotions in a maladaptive society where we are physically and psychically oppressed. A case for toxic or furious women.
I think of Louise Bourgeois, my maman, my mother, throwing her sculptures across the room.
Luckily at the same time as I have this breakdown on the Internet—not the first time this has happened, either—I am reading David Wojnaworicz's Close to the Knives, the need for rage to find a form. I read this on death day, the day my mother died, weeks before, she wasted away, a corpse from chemo, cancer, despite the antipsychotics, she is still enraged, she is a slurring madwoman.
A bulimic text, a devouring text, in opposition, in rage, against a wasting body. From Close to the Knives: “and I want to throw up because we’re suppose to quietly and politely make house in this killing machine called America and pay taxes to support our own slow murder and I’m angered that we’re not running amok in the streets, and that we can still be capable of gestures of love after lifetimes of all this.”
I think of the hysterical cheerleaders in upstate New York. Their twitching, their spasms. The two suffering girls on the cover of the New York Times Sunday magazine. Their pink bedspread, a shimmering violence. I think of these hysterical girls as my community. Their parents insist the sudden body spasms, their twitching, their belting out words, is not a sign of any psychic distress or revolt from the conditions of their lives. The paper interviews these girls, their depressing lives, the trauma they’ve experienced. It’s not psychological, they insist. Erin Brockovich tests for toxicity in the water. I show my students their Today show interview, these girls now media stars like Charcot’s Augustine. My students think it’s hilarious, the way they’re seemingly pantomining cheerleadering moves – the Hey Hey, the clapping sounds. You guys are assholes, I tell them. They laugh again, affectionately back. I wonder whether the state of girls being cheerleaders, in their lives, has something to do with how they internalize violence, externalize hysteria. Perhaps I’m essentializing. Freud’s girls at least, like Dora, seemed absolutely furious. This was their revolt, however painful and muted. The Salem girls, the original mean girls, also were pissed off, by the violence around them, their trauma, their existences. They who overturned the social order.
Perhaps these girls are my sisters, like Freud’s hysterics were for the French feminists. I too was a rage-filled teenager, an alienated cheerleader. The New York Times article theorized that the causes for this seemingly contagious hysteria was perhaps “empathy” and “solidarity.”
I think of the body’s ability to absolutely revolt. My left shoulderblade burns with a bright pain. It’s been like this for two months. Pinched nerve. It moves to my right shoulder, my right arm hangs useless I am paralyzed. I cannot write. Or: My body is essaying. It is working through.
When I get angry I twitch and spurt and flip around. It is like a violence onto me. There is something so—rational—about certain types of essaying. You are allowed to use “I”, to announce an inquiring subject—but not to write of the body, how the body felt while waiting to react desperately to some event or text.
We read an essay in class on girl factory workers in Malaysia who became possessed by evil spirits, invading their bodies, as a way to protest not only patriarchy but the Japanese factories upending the social order. The Western biomedical model, like with the cheerleaders in upstate New York, pronounced mass psychogenic illness. They turned their bodies into a war, flinging menstrual pads in the bathroom in horror against the transgression of the Western-style toilets. Protesting this “monologue of reason about madness,” as Foucault writes. A toxic shock syndrome. A bodily rant.
I want to do work from the site of the body. The angry mouth. The huge mouth. I want to write the revolt. I want to write the revolting.