-Part 1 of 2-
This was the name of a story a student in my first college English composition class wrote. It’s a great title. It’s simple, it’s catchy and even twenty years after first hearing it, I remember it. I hate it. The story was too good to be in that class. It was in a class all its own. While the rest of us were writing “Why I love my Basset hound” or “My bedroom is my favorite place” she was writing about her Belize. Not Belize, her Belize. Bitch.
I had slaved over my soon to be forgotten masterpiece for minutes (about the amount of effort I committed to that class in entire though I somehow managed to snow the teacher into the only perfect score she had ever given on our weekly quizzes based on our weekly readings, none of which I ever read, a feat I’m proud of, by the way), while she was writing Dickens. It was her best of times. It was my worst of times. I think my grade was a C. The teacher had me read it (she had us all read our works), gave me a few words of empty praise “That’s nice” and then branded me and nearly everyone else with a bright red C. I’m sure we deserved them. I can say that now. I couldn’t say that then. Then was “Injustice!” “Travesty!” “Lunacy,” I thought (I thought a lot, I still do, usually about nothing). It’s not that my writing was that good. It’s that my writing couldn’t be bad (it could be). My teacher thought otherwise. She thought about “Next. Who’s next?” I could hear her say.
After me, it wasn’t much better. It was average. I was average. We all were. A few more essays, a few more “Nexts!” and second to last came our author for the ages. She started with the title. I dismissed it, the way you dismiss the star player on the opposing team. I dismissed it because I knew from those few first words, I was about to eat my own shame.
Miss Belize spoke in colors and memories and shades and thoughts and all the images of good books. She spoke softly while her words spoke loudly. (Isn’t that what good authors do, let their written words speak for them?). I tried not to listen. In fact, I was almost insulted. “How dare she bring her Bill Russell to our blacktop?” I thought. I think the rest of the class thought similarly, because while she was reading and the teacher was falling for her prose, the rest of us were making faces and snorting and showing all kinds of feigned, disinterested, jealous disrespect. Miss Belize was casting pearls before our swine and we were having none of it. I was too busy rooting through fruit peels and half eaten corn cobs to notice the prime rib being served. Finally, her dinner finished and so did my appetite. I wanted to puke.
You see, when others do well, I do poorly. At least, that’s the “truth” my head tries to tell me; that we’re all competing for a finite amount of praise and any awarded to another means there is less available to me. This probably answers a few of your lingering questions about me. Allow me to answer a few more.
Authors are sometimes encouraged to find their “voice”; to speak in a natural, easy, authentic tone. While Belize obviously found hers, none of us even knew we had one. In retrospect, I’m convinced we all do. I think we all have a story to tell. Whether we have the courage to tell it is a different story. I, for one, wasn’t awake or aware enough to notice that deep inside and twenty years too early, was growing a sprout of what would eventually become my birthed-from-disturbance and altogether unsettling, yet somewhat courageous “voice”, because if I have one, that’s the one I’ve found so far. What came before it was Shakespeare, Byron, Poe and Miss Belize. Where I heard them was high school and college. Where I actually listened to them was years in my future in a foreign country where the only language I understand is my own.
When it comes to my writing, I’m so busy wondering what’s happening, where it’s coming from and when I won’t have it anymore that I’m driving myself to distraction. This writing I do, isn’t so much writing for (for release, for instance) as it is writing from (from dis-ease, disquiet and the like).
It turns out, this being driven to avoid the uncertainty of my future and to run from what already is (I’ve written over 50,000 words so far), is what seems to keep the words coming, much like the harsh words I have for college classmate I have out of respect.
So, what became of her Belize? I’m still trying to forget.