Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ah Shucks

I was informed recently that the quality and character of my writings had grown tedious of late. To be sure, this loathsome adjective was sandwiched between two somewhat more positive ones, though this fact made the entire experience even worse, sort of like being told that we like having you here Thomas, it’s just that we don’t really think you fit in very well. Best of luck, though, and please have your desk cleaned out by 5 o’clock, m’kay? In all the wide world of descriptors, writers - even monotonous hacks like myself - fear no label as much as the dreaded scarlet B: boring. Dress it up in formal vestments if you like; go with "insipid" or "stale" or even "wearisome", and it doesn't change the fact that you are now the Mayor of Dullsville, and the population is about to consist of a very lonely you. Enjoy the Humdrum Square and the Central Park of Blah-di-blah, and please don’t ever bother us again, thanks.

Alas! that such a turn could ever befall me. If only I could dress my words up in full motley and make them dance a silly jig for you! Writing simply doesn't mean as much to me as it once did, and what ego I have is less invested in the process. Perhaps as I have grown older and more jaded the more I realize that words are merely wind, and I am less enamored of them than I once was. Whatever the reason, my muses have turned into whores and have mostly left me for customers who can pay better. When I do write, I am having to drag my brain along for the ride, and a sorrier, more maladjusted child of a cerebral cortex is hard for me to imagine. Are we there yet, indeed.

Fortunately, I have good friends, and in this context I mean for good to equate to "clamorous, insistent, and nagging," and if there is a three-way tautology there it was intended. They entice me with carrots and seldom resort to the stick, which is more than I deserve. They are more than I deserve. Way back in the early part of 2010, one of these friends attempted to motivate me to submit something to the annual PEN American Prison Writing Contest. This is the largest such competition in the world, each year receiving thousands of entries. I mostly just attempted to pull the covers up over my head and go back to sleep, but she kindly prodded me for awhile and then dumped a bucket of frigid water on my head. I think little of my abilities, and the whole affair seemed like a waste of time, but I eventually threw something together in an attempt to get her off my back. I figured that when PEN told me to please return to whatever hinterland hovel I had crawled out of, she would catch the hint and there would be no more talk of contests.

No such luck. I bloody WON and now her smirk can be seen from the ISS. All kidding aside, I love you Dina, and I appreciate you using the cattle prod on me. I don’t know what you or the rest of the small gang see in me, but I really do appreciate it, even if I am too big of a grump to always let you know it. Next time all of you should pick someone other than a troll to stand behind.

The contest is divided into five categories. I participated in two; the essay field and the poetry one. Before you raise your eyebrows about the poetry thing, let me say this: however little I think of my narratives and diatribes, I think far less of my poetry, which is probably why I only write it at gunpoint. Poetry just ... how shall I put this? It annoys the f-  out of me, conjuring up images of anemic, fashionably pale figures dressed entirely in black and sporting berets who sit in cafes in Montmartre for hours on end bitching about the dismal fate of the Poéte Maudit or the current lack of focus on Saussurean Linguistics in the academy. Ooh la lah! Shut the bloody hell up and eat your beignet, Baudelaire, why don’t you? Me, write poetry? Never, I cried, striking a heroic pose... And then, of course, I DID. Don’t be expecting any more in the near future. Or ever, for that matter.

The submission for the essay category (which you can find below) is actually a reworking of a series of posts on this site, cleaned up and with its hair combed. It was A bit longer than PEN cared for, but they were good enough not to make me pare it down any more than it already was. I am humbled to win, really, and beyond my typical levels of self-effacement, quite pleased with myself. It has been awhile since I had anything to feel proud about, so this felt nice. Never fear, it won’t take me long to morph back in the curmudgeon that we all know. Bah humbug, etc and so forth.

First place was worth two hundred bucks which was pretty nice, too. I was already spending the cash mentally, with visions of large commissary sacks and a new pair of tennis shoes predominant. Then a pesky mosquito of the ethical variety began to buzz about my ear, and no amount of swatting or cursing at it would make it leave me be. It is true that I accept donations on this site in order to take my classes and attempt to pay for investigations that the state won’t cover. I don't take in much at all and what I do take in I dislike (even as I know I need it), But I have somewhat grown numb to the constant feeling of being a cockroach. We have these laws in place that prevent a convict from being paid for writings or movies about his crime, oftentimes referred to as the “Son of Sam" laws. Before starting this site in 2007, I studied these laws so as not to run afoul of any of them. Gifts are legal, basically while selling the rights to my story to a TV station is not. Since the essay in question is about my incarceration and not my crime, there is nothing illegal about me accepting this award. The more I thought about it, however, the more it began to feel like I was stepping into a very gray area in regards to the spirit of the law, so I ended up asking my dad to cash the check and send the two hundred bucks to Doctors Without Borders. He did, and as soon as they send me something confirming this, I will post that below for those of you who seem to think everything I say is a lie.

Anyways. Thanks are due to the few of you that attempt to keep me moving forward and trying new things. If I can still be considered something relatively human after spending more than 1/5 of my life incarcerated (and more than 1/6 of my life in solitary confinement), it is entirely because of you. Thank you. You deserve better, but thank you.

To the rest of you, the typical longueur of MB6 will be back next week. Until then, you will have to get your fix of tedium somewhere else.

To read the 1st Place entry in the Essay category of the 2011 PEN Prison Writing Contest, click HERE.

© Copyright 2011 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker. All rights reserved

1 comment:

rykala4 said...

Although at times Thomas' essays are nothing more than diatribes, he is an excellent writer nonetheless as evidenced by the PAN submission. Sometimes we do not appreciate the talents we possess and the gifts we are given until it is too late..