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Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 6)

Yes, I think it’s time I started calling you Marc. And you should call me Paulette. I used to hate the sound of my name. Maybe because the only time I heard it at home was when I was getting in trouble for something I didn’t understand I did wrong. I admit I’m ready to forget the story about the time I came home with a straight A report card in third grade—after pulling Bs in handwriting the previous two trimesters in handwriting—and my mom’s reaction was, “Your jeans stink. Why do you smell so bad?” But I think that’s the definitive story of my childhood. Or maybe one of five or so. But at any rate I hated my name. I had this big plan when I got to college—did I mention I went to BU too? COM class of ’91—to tell everybody to call me “Paulie.” But I just couldn’t do it; it felt like a lie. It’s not surprising I wasn’t able to reinvent myself because I didn’t have enough grasp on who that self was to reinvent it. That’s what parents do, or are supposed to do, give you a sense of self. And if they fail in that fundamental area, then you spend a great deal of your life chasing down leads as to who you might actually be.

That being said, I am lucky in that I always knew I was a writer. There were several hardcore years of dallying in theater but even so, poetry continued to haunt me and spill out in me. Sometimes in stream-of-consciousness letters and in some very terrible scripts I wrote for my college classes and occasionally even in poems. And like any good poet, I was always good at suffering. Though back then, in my 20s and my 30s it was always for the wrong reason. In other words, men.

To be continued…

Curious what this is all about? Check out day 1 which explains a bit about this project.

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An Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 4)

How do you say these things out loud Mr. Maron, week after week, in front of live audiences? Are you trembling even as you break into that great barking laugh of yours the way I’m trembling now as my fingers determinedly march across the keyboard? Perhaps the question is—how does one survive being self-aware and aware too of all the barren places propping you up?

I should tell you here that I’m 45, well, I will be officially in four days or so. And I’ve written poems always, it seems, and as a teenager plays about witches named after characters in The Outsiders and short stories that always ended with someone dying—suicide, murder—and a movie script when I was about 15 that starred Matt Dillon and me as star-crossed lovers who met after I’d been raped by a friend of his. On Trinidad where I was born there’s a pitch lake, a seemingly endless lake of asphalt. I thought for years that this pitch lake lived inside me, the lake and its attendant monsters (which is what leaked into my writing) and that’s why people couldn’t love me. By people I mean, of course, my parents but that’s still hard to write. And honestly, I didn’t have the language to really grasp what had formed me till my 30s and I didn’t have the understanding to grasp what was hidden in what I wrote with that language till just a few years ago, and I was still missing important words like “narcissism” and “abuse” and “unformed self” and “parent” until my father died last January.

It took till I was 36 or so and in grad school and realized that on the right day I could conceivably consider suicide and ran to the therapist’s office on campus and got some good drugs that I took for a long while and started to talk plain about what was inside me, not coded like I did in poems, for me to realize I didn’t have a pitch lake inside me. I wasn’t a secret monster and my parents weren’t right to protect themselves from me. So maybe what I’m saying is I’m a late bloomer. And also the truth can stare you in the face for four decades and it doesn’t matter. It’s not about whether or not the truth is easily apprehended—they were at fault not me—it’s about when you figure out how to stop listening to all the stories you’ve learned to tell yourself to explain the monster.

But when you’re a storyteller—as it’s plain you are—it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the stories you tell because they’re true and the stories you tell because you need them to be true. Is that something one ever learns to do with 100 percent accuracy?

To be continued…

Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 3)

… So knowing I can’t control my audience and yet knowing I’m compelled to write this all out loud, and knowing that the reason I want to write to you is that you say out loud all the things I should and I shouldn’t, how open can this letter really be, Mr. Maron?

What happens, I mean, if my mother finds out I think she’s a narcissist? Just typing those words, just thinking those words, just meaning those words is like firing a gun. Though it’s unclear if it’s aimed at my mother or aimed at myself. Is saying it out loud being self-aware and self-caring or is it self-destructive. I love my mother. We talk on the phone about TV shows and jewelry and the people she spies on at the mall. She calls me on my birthday and sometimes just because. Still, that feeling that I’m making nice with my (emotional) abuser persists, but what’s the alternative? I wasn’t estranged from my father, not in a no phone calls, no contact way. I dutifully showed up once a year at least and called him on his birthday and Father’s Day. I’ve endured years of picking out Mother’s Day cards and Father’s Day cards with my stomach knotted tight because there were no right words, no dutiful words, no pretty words that didn’t highlight exactly what I didn’t have with my parents. And yet I never quite broke the connection. I ran, as the song goes, I ran so far away, and still my relationship with my parents, broken and landmined as it was, as it sometimes continues to be, persisted. Does that make me courageous or a coward? Am I a narcissist too?

How do you say these things out loud Mr. Maron, week after week, in front of live audiences? Are you trembling even as you break into that great barking laugh of yours the way I’m trembling now as my fingers determinedly march across the keyboard? Perhaps the question is—how does one survive being self-aware and aware too of all the barren places propping you up?

I should tell you here that I’m 45…

To be continued…

An Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 2)

I hate how letters are always monologues. And in an effort to make this a two way street–and to change the subject because I’m already bored with myself and it’s only day one, I’ll start with a question: Are you a feminist? No, that’s not what I really want to know. I wanted to ask you about talking about your weight in public, which men never do but even that seems less important today (though I’ll get back to that later) because I spent the night wondering what it means to write an “open” letter. I wouldn’t mind if you read this, of course, and my friends, and my sister and one of my brothers. But I wouldn’t want my mother to read this or any of her friends, or any of my friends that are Facebook friends with my mother. But since I share this on Facebook (and Twitter but I don’t actually know very many people I’m on Twitter with) it’s inevitable that she may at least get an inkling.

Last November as my father was dying of cancer and I was trying to understand how to have a relationship with him–the kind of relationship where I could hold his penis to maneuver it into a plastic container when he could no longer urinate by himself and the kind of relationship where I could wipe the shit from his ass the night before he died as his body relentlessly turned itself off cell by cell, organ by organ–when I was trying to jerryrig a relationship stitched from tenderness and not rage, I wrote about him every day. In the days after he died and at the funeral, several of my cousins and people who I didn’t think paid attention to my writing came up to talk to me about it. And my mother asked to be my Facebook friend (which I refused) cause her cousin had told her I was writing about my father. So knowing I can’t control my audience and yet knowing I’m compelled to write this all out loud, and knowing that the reason I want to write to you is that you say out loud all the things I should and I shouldn’t, how open can this letter really be, Mr. Maron?

What happens, I mean, if my mother finds out I think she’s a narcissist?

To be continued…

Read part 1 of this letter here.

An Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 1)

Dear Mr. Maron–

What you should know first is that I don’t know what I’ll find here in writing this letter over the next 31 days. I believe that in writing I find myself, that is, I trick myself into revealing those things I don’t want to face. Which I suspect is a little bit of what happens when you turn on the microphone and let yourself riff, turning the unspoken into not fact, but truth, which is so much harder to bear. Podcast after podcast I hear you growing into yourself and perhaps that’s why I’m writing to you, to pull myself forward a little. As far as I can get in 31 days, which is generally how long my courage lasts. About 31 or so days of every year. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but that’s something else we’ll talk about later.

Right now my brain is screaming, “Don’t do this! This is a ridiculous project!” But I’m old enough now–and will be older still officially in about a week–to know that I tend to find transcendence in the ridiculous. And I know that you understand that urge to slice oneself open out loud, to perform daring acts of harakiri on the ego for a crowd. Hoping not to hurt anyone, yourself included, and knowing that that hurt is inevitable.

I hate how letters are always monologues. And in an effort to make this a two way street–and to change the subject because I’m already bored with myself and it’s only day one, I’ll start with a question: Are you a feminist?

To be continued….

Writing About My Father, Day 11

PauletteGuyanacirca1972

Here’s me in Guyana circa 1972, back when I used to be “tall for my age.” Sigh…

If you partake at all in the Facebook world, you may have seen the meme going around where someone tells you a random number of equally random facts about themselves. If you comment on the post, you are given a number and encouraged to create your own random list of that number of items. In that spirit, with a number provided by Katrina M., here are 8 random facts about my father.

1. My father didn’t meet me until I was approximately six weeks old. (My parents lived in Guyana. My mother went home to Trinidad—against my father’s wishes—to have me. The way my mother tells it, my father was so angry that he didn’t go to Trinidad for my birth and waited to meet me, instead, until my mother and I flew back to Guyana.)

2. My father was one of the smartest boys in his class. The high school he went to was known for producing future prime ministers and members of Parliament. When my father moved to the States, he decided not to go college because he was making good money at the phone company.

3. When I asked my father for his financial information so I could apply for financial aid for college, his answer was, “I have a new family now.”

4. My father took my sister and me on a bus trip to see the World’s Fair in Tennessee in 1982. That was the summer roadtrip on which we met our first brother who’s younger than me and older than my sister.

5. My parents were officially divorced when I was nine years old. They sat us down at the dining room table with my mother’s two youngest sisters, who lived with us at the time, and told us what was going on. After the family meeting, going upstairs to our bedrooms, I asked my father why they were getting divorced. He told me I was supposed to have asked all of my questions at the table.

6. I first learned about sex when I was in single digits through my father’s Playboy magazines and my mother’s Harlequin romances.

7. My father followed my mother to the U.S. when I was around six months old. To my knowledge I didn’t see them again until I was around two-and-a-half and moved to the U.S. with my father’s mother.

8. The first time I ate a veggie burger was in the mid-1980s when my father took my sister and me to some sort of “health fair’ in Manhattan during a weekend visit. All I remember was that there were lots of alfalfa sprouts.

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