When I was eighteen, I wrote a short-story based on a nightmare. I fled a large man with a sword in and out of doorways, through tunnels, up ladders onto scaffolds (and jumping down again), in an endless maze. The fiction has a distinct beginning and an ending. The story evolved to include a cell, a shadowy place of imprisonment illuminated by a torch that burned green; the protagonist first must believe he can escape his chains, then enters the labyrinth I dreamed. He escapes. I hoped I would, too: the tale is psychoanalytic.
Some incongruences between the setting and the histories it drew from, combined with blatant but unconscious Orientalism (the man with the sword was North African), convinced me years ago the short-story would have no audience. Nearly fourteen years passed before another shell of procrastination around my writing dissolved, just this past week, and I made time to re-read “Moorish Dungeon” to salvage elements for another piece. I vaguely recalled it was psycho-analytic but my recent reading cultivated a renewed appreciation for the insight, budding sophistication, and willingness to take creative risks evident within it. Sometimes the symbols and underlying philosophy are cloyingly obvious and marked by some laughable assumptions (I was only eighteen when I wrote it) but the overall theme never lost relevance. My audience was of one: myself, over a decade later. I recognized an attempt to use writing to unravel the knot-in-the-dark that remained in my soul afterward but was not normalized, then. Something was amiss in me and I responded with Writing… for a period…
My writing was so promising but I could not sense that; I untied my protagonist’s knots but mine could not be undone by Writing alone. As the years of my life continued to flow, I drifted away from the exuberant writing that created that story. I performed well in Creative Writing classes but when the scaffold of assignment deadlines collapsed, after graduation, so did my efforts. I dove deeply into other endeavors: relationships, a BA in Communication, social justice missions, an MA in International Education. With the expected job in my pocket and my unlikely, precious, lover by my side I could have descended into that ‘Dungeon’ laughing at my teenage diction and flimsy grip on masculine identity. But I’m unemployed and alone, so hand me that torch — the one that burns green — the better to illuminate the Dungeon’s themes.
I kept a LiveJournal account throughout my undergraduate years. The will to write reflectively fully integrated into my habits the first two years, then flagged and tattered in the remaining three years of my time in East Lansing. I promised to revisit my LiveJournal entries but, for reasons still unknown, I tended to cast them online like bottled messages to which I expected no reply. By the time I started my Blogspot, in my last semester, I felt I needed to write for imagined audiences. In hindsight, I would have done well to think critically about promotion, in order to approximate a real audience and deliver content to them. I entered a twilight zone where I wrote for myself but as if I were being watched; the irrational dream of being discovered at random hung over my praxis like the green-light at the end of the pier in “The Great Gatsby”. To be clear, I and my colleagues in the English department made jokes about “The Great Gatsby” — the green-lantern* is not a good thing.
In the past month I have started to appreciate my desire for “mirrors”: implied audiences to judge my being and reflect what my features ought to be back to my vision. This desire almost undoubtedly has its roots in Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, a component I hadn’t heard about from a mental-complex I didn’t know I had. Only this July I remembered clearly when I handed myself over to a mental world of mirrors: when I returned for my third year at university. In the Spring, I was all-at-once chronically ill and emotionally raw. So by Autumn, I learned to focus my will, my immense stubbornness, into the persona of a stronger person, without addressing my sensitive core. I could say a great deal about that but the dramas of that time are long past and forgiven. What matters is that my need to see a strong self in my mirrors — my peers — undermined my will to write profuse reflections and never brought me to the point of writing profuse fiction or poetry, either. Success mattered too much, even as I struggled to define it. I was a man divided without an understanding of the pieces that chaffed against each other. Even now, all of this sounds so abstract — I still attempt to cut my ‘knot’ with reasoning.
Let’s return to the image of the green torch, instead. It casts an otherworldly tint onto my protagonists’ beginning states of despair. They are simultaneously incredulous of their senses and disoriented by the paranormal bent of that light. I am soon to write “Dani” into the same dungeon. She will realize she is not in purgatory, not even dead, and that she has an egress from the cell. She will carry that eerie light-source into the labyrinth and notice her head-injury, then try to remember how she came to be — not just to be there but to be an entity. Maybe a guard will chase her but it will be quasi-human (perhaps half Entelodont). I want her to reach a room of screens — like the one you’re using to read this — contraband electronics washed through the inter dimensional portal that made this setting. The masters of this place get them working, again, and imbue them with the power to be mirrors. When she wanders into the screen room and touches the controls, they show her daunting truths: how she came to be there, the decision she made to hurt herself, glimpses of the time that drove her to desperation. She will struggle to continue, to not succumb to the temptation to return to the cell and simply “stay down”. How I bring her out of The Dungeon may be different than what I did with Miguel, fourteen years ago. He guesses that the bricks in the wall will crumble when he crashes into them, then confronts his pursuer in an atrium filled with grotesque statues and green-torches. Rain pours through the ceiling, melting the statues as if consumed by acid, but the torches burn brightly, slowly turning to a radiant orange as he finds his courage. Frankly, it was too easy for him.
My story (and Dani’s too) will be less like a revolution and more about evolution. We’re building new a new mindset one-log-at-a-time. [next]
* Insert some Ryan Reynolds jokes, here: Green Lantern.