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All content copyright 2010 by Chelsea Biondolillo. Seriously.

Friday, November 5, 2010

365 days of being a writer: day 81

My cat is miserable with me being a writer. He never learned to entertain himself, so he hates it when I sit in the dark at the computer instead of playing with him. He tears angrily at his toys, biting and scratching at them in  frustration, then just sprawls on his side on the floor, staring straight ahead, sideways. The boredom and pent up energy practically shooting out of his poor, impotent little eyes.

He needs to learn to entertain himself.


In the seventh grade, I left my cool-ass hippie school in the heart of artsy NW Portland and transferred to a suburban junior high. It was not a wealthy suburb, but except for the junior high kids who would terrorize isolated pockets of the neighborhoods once or twice a month, it was a pretty safe area.

One of the first things I did when I got there was win a writing contest. I was always entering writing or art contests. I have no idea where I heard of these things, maybe my mom found them and made me enter.

This one was on the constitution, in honor of "Law Day," I believe. I don't know what Law Day is, or even if it's just something the city council in Oregon City made up. I came in third--I never win first. A guy named Paul came in first, and this girl Christine came in second. Paul won $100, I remember. I also remember Christine being really pissed that Paul won-won, because as she said "he doesn't know about anything except how to be a good kiss ass."

Christine was very well-read for a junior high kid and had an astonishing vocabulary. This gave her writing a precocious and often dazzling quality, even though now, I can say it was full of inside jokes and the equivalent of verbal tics. Back then, I thought she was amazing. The best. We slowly, cautiously became friends. She was the writer and I was the artist.

Hindsight being what it is, her writing and my art were both very gimmicky. They demonstrated skill but no heart. We were good parrots.

High school would prove difficult for us: lots of drugs, sex, and rock and roll (not necessarily in that order) with little guidance. I was assumed to be a loner, independent--which means that no one ever talked to me about anything or I never listened when they tried. Even though I was tight with Christine, she was tighter with someone else. This has always been my curse with girlfriends. I hold too much of myself back, I suppose.

Our relationship was also difficult. She was wildly jealous of characteristics that I had no idea I possessed, and I loved humiliating her to thwart her oft professed superiority. The only grace was in the fact that we were almost never in actual direct competition. I was the artist, she was the writer. She liked coarse, loud men, while I preferred more artistic types.

And then, late in our junior year, there was another writing contest. Students were selected to compete based on faculty recommendations. Both Christine and I were recommended. We had to submit an existing essay and then write a timed one from a prompt. We wouldn't know the prompt until we were locked up in a room with a test booklet.

In any case, I submitted some essay that my English teacher thought was wonderful, and then wrote the timed prompt about spending a day at the river stoned out of my mind with friends. I have no idea what two pieces Christine submitted. The contest was gone from my mind within weeks of finishing it and our junior year finished without word on the results.

During our senior year, Christine and I lived together. Her home life was abusive and my family has a history of taking in stray people (though never dogs). Due to a complex series of events, she and I had spent several months living in a motor home in the driveways of various relatives. She was going to a different high school than I was, and tensions were especially high.

Looking back with a bit more compassion, she was probably wondering what would happen to her once school was out. She had no home (though she could have stayed with my parents for as long as necessary), no job skills, no plan. While I had been busting my ass planning to save and win money for school the following fall, she had made no serious inquiries into getting any money for college. It was probably unsettling, rushing toward a future that was blank, the whole time having to sleep in the bed next to my unshakeable plan.

[As a clearly-still embittered aside: Though I was the one that took extra classes to graduate early, and though I was the one that worked two jobs for 7 months to save up my first year's tuition, she would later accuse me of "getting" to go to school because of my privileged situation. She didn't even try to get into school, just gave up before she even started, and never took responsibility for that.]

While all the usual senior year bustling was happening, there came, one day after school, a knock at the trailer door. It was my mom with a letter for me that had been forwarded to our temporary residence. It was a fatish envelope. Inside, it said that I was one of hundreds of winners of the National Council of Teachers of English writing award. (There were seven in Oregon that year.) Tucked into the letter were also little cards saying I was a winner that I could attach to college applications -- I found these especially hilarious, since I was only applying to one school and they wouldn't give a rat's ass about a writing award.

Christine didn't spare a moment before she was out of her bed, running across the yard to the main house to call her parents. Since I had won, she most definitely had, being the far superior writer and intellect etc etc etc. She had a screamy conversation with her mother for awhile and came back to the trailer to say that she insisted there was no such fat envelope waiting for her there. She first decided that her manipulative mother had to be lying to her. After subsequent calls to her slightly less-crazy father she decided that maybe the envelope didn't exist.

Then it was over for us. She railed against a system that would reward someone who cared so little over one who cared so much (amen to THAT, sister). I was hardly an intellect after all, how could I possibly have "beaten" her--my bookshelves were full of trash (wait a minute). Plus, and this was the worst, I didn't even care that I'd won. I tried to reason with her, that since she had made no move to get into any schools, what the hell did it matter to her either?

But winning is always better than losing, whether you care or not. I threw the stupid little cards at her--they only had a generic "the bearer of this card" script on them--and told her to staple them to anything she wanted. I even made a few helpful suggestions for where to start.

She accused me of submitting work that I hadn't even written. In those days, my mother would tirelessly edit my work, making me find more concise and erudite words, more elegant sentences. She would ask me what I was trying to say, and tell me how it didn't quite say that yet. The result of this process, to Christine, was my mother's writing, not my own. Later, I would actually worry about that, until my first writing workshop.

It was bad for awhile. She stayed with her closer friend, I found things to do. While the argument eventually blew over, the resentment never dissipated. We tried to stay friends, but by the end of my first year of art school we'd become strangers.

She was a terrible friend: always trying to undermine my confidence, she would tell other people I was awful, and belittled everything I liked--these are things I realized later. But at the time, she was the closest thing I had to a best friend, and I was lost without her.

And that is how writing ruined my life (again).


Today I spent my writing time researching. This weekend is all bees, all the time. I also did social media work at the day job, but I am having a hard time calling that writing, anymore.

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