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Gallows Humor

Has everybody read Molly Crabapple's "Shooter Boys and At-Risk Girls" over at Vice?  Ok, good.  Because I started this week off with my first talk therapy session as an adult, and that article was in the front of my mind through the whole snot-filled hour.

adolescent Emily, forever terrified
adolescent Emily, forever terrified

It's no secret that plenty of artists had odd childhoods of one sort or another, and it seems that the general consensus is that most makers spend their formative years on the social outskirts.  Whether than manifests itself in merciless bullying, targeting by school administrators, or just plain, unadorned introvert/outcast status is where the differences lie.  There are lots of factors that went into me feelings marginalized as a child, but the one that came up most when I gave a truncated synopsis of what life was like for me growing up was how difficult it was to connect with others.  I am the middle child in a family of three sisters,  I cried at the drop of a hat, and they teased me mercilessly for it.  My parents wanted me to toughen up.  I spent entire school days in the nurse's office with stomachaches (often the childhood manifestation of stress-induced migraines).  As I got older, this disconnect with the support system in my life made me desperate to find where I belonged.

Like Crabapple, I disappeared into music.  When I was 11 or 12, my favorite album was Everclear's "Learning How To Smile Vol. 1" which might as well be called "The Divorce Album."  As a teenager, I listened to punk, hardcore, and whatever other guitar-and-scream-heavy sounds I could find.  The fast and loud records were angry out loud in a way that I could not be.  I am an introvert, and at the time was painfully shy and unsure of myself.  I had a lot of anger towards people who were either unwilling or simply unable to understand me, but no way of expressing it.  I wrote bitter poetry in dozens of notebooks.  I stopped eating regularly.  I fought with my parents, with my sisters.  I was ditched by childhood friends and started hanging out with the girls who traded prescription pills at lunch.  I dropped out of my private high school and started at public school, where I sank even further under the radar.  Most people knew me as nothing other than the girl with the shaved head.  This isn't to say that there weren't good times too, but the feeling of being isolated overwhelmed me to a point where I couldn't recognize even the smallest social success.  I was desperate for something to take me away from the life where I so clearly didn't fit.

In college, even after I had found my tribe, I continued to make reckless decisions in hopes that something would suddenly click and I would be the well-spoken and sought-after person that people felt close to.  I wrote poetry at a feverish pace, because weekly open mics gave me a place where I could talk to my peers much more honestly than I was capable of one on one.  This was the hinge for me.  So much of that early writing still lives in my archive, and I've slowly been drawing up old drafts and dissecting them to build new, publishable poems.  The process isn't without pain, but it's as if I'm seeing myself for the first time.  I was a morbid mess for a long time.  There are so many references to death, suicide, and self-obliteration through substances or questionable relationships contained in the old work that at times it is tough to get through.  But the thing about seeing your own anger from a new perspective is that things you took so seriously become hysterical.

I've spent a lot of time writing as a form of grieving.  I've grieved my father's illness and death, and for the angry little girl I still am some days.  But that constant sadness and heaviness is exhausting for both writer and audience.  I can't keep writing dirges forever.  It feels like time for something new.  In my revisions, I've been focusing on the funny moments where the  anger bubbles over into absurdity.  It's a lot like the songs I used to shout out car windows at the top of my lungs.  The lyrics were so serious and I can't hear them (or sing them) now without laughing.

Because they have impeccable timing, Fall Out Boy is going on tour this spring.  This coincides perfectly with the winking earnest I'm trying to get to in my writing.  Their songs are so deeply steeped in angst they can't help but be grinning through it.  I will be on line for tickets.  It's important to remember that no matter how intense something seems on the surface, there is humor buried somewhere.