Perfumed Like This by Noemi Lopinto
I'll tell you a secret: when I write I pretend I am addressing a friend. I picture someone in my mind and write as if I were having a private conversation. (Naturally, this friend thinks I'm brilliant and hilarious). It helps lower the scream of the blank page, and the fear of saying something offensive or stupid. Between friends you can rant, rave, exaggerate a story, or even fail at telling it properly.
But I lost my writing buddy , my muse, when I was working for the Edmonton Journal. I learned to despise my weak, inadequate and poor attempts at reporting. Every day after publication I only saw the flaws shining through the page like kryptonite. I lost the sense of joy, the magic of reaching out to the universe with my thoughts.
And then there was this editor... let me tell you, the temptation to excoriate this person here, sign him up for membership on kiddie porn sites, and provide the Serbian, Russian, and Columbian mafia with his home address, pant size and vehicle registration... is great indeed. But for the sake of my future in journalism, which I am still trying to believe in, I am going to take the high road.
It sounds crazy, but I was terrified of this guy. Petrified, ironically enough, beyond words. Just before I was let go I was granted a month-long reprieve away from him in the features department. In that time I wrote well, and even managed to enjoy myself again. Then his boss, a man who waited two years for me to come on board at the paper, came to see me with a face like ash. He told me that I had to go.
I didn't even ask the obvious questions-- like who said what and when? Why hadn't my other editor backed me up ? Why now when I was doing well ? Why wasn't I told anything before? --because I was struck dumb. I quietly asked for a box, packed it as quickly as possible, handed my ID to the security guard and waited until I was in the taxi to cry my heart out. Actually, crying is the wrong word. Crying is for a sad movie, or saying goodbye to a friend at the airport. When you've dragged your kid across the country and stashed her with strangers at night, left three provinces in under a year for the most important and greatest opportunity of your career, struggled for months to make a job work (without the assistance of steady childcare) only to be let go you don't cry-- you weep.
So I wept buckets, lakes and rivers in this poor guy's taxi. The driver nearly cried himself; he said it would all work out in the end. “Some jobs you are better off without,” he said. Maybe so. But I felt I had lost more than a job; I lost all belief in myself as a writer, and not to put too fine a point on it, it fucked me up. I couldn't sleep because I spent the nights re-hashing who said what and when, and what I said and what he said and when was that, and when was the turnaround and what could I have done differently and was he right?
Certainly, I made mistakes. The main one was not telling that editor to leave me alone soon enough, and taking his critiques so deeply to heart they ate me from inside. I wish I could have chilled out. And I can't separate the mistakes I made from my struggle adjusting to the city, the schedule, to that editor, to the writing style, all the while trying to mother my daughter. It was the hardest, loneliest thing I have ever had to do.
Soon after leaving the Journal I got a job in construction. I painted walls, nailed and drilled holes into cabinet doors for a few weeks, and tried to tell myself it wasn't that bad. A lost dream can be replaced by another. Maybe I was actually meant to be a carpenter, a girl labourer with a gift for the gab... in Alberta? The thought drove me to such depths of despair that it wasn't worth it. The fact is, I fought long and hard to become a reporter. I struggled against fear and self-denigration, through poverty and single motherhood and part time studies in university with kids half my age. I worked on organic farms, followed people to Trois-Rivieres, Toronto and Hong Kong, walked into crack houses and chased down prostitutes and ran in federal politics--twice--just so I could have something to write about. Finally, I left my home and my family so as to not follow in the footsteps of the armies of women before me who have abandoned their dreams and let their talent wither away because it was just too hard to fight for it.
But I did come close. If I didn't know I would miss it too much, I would give up. Writing is my craft, but it is also my refuge. It saved me from being just a shade more lost as a human being. I have even found that if I don't write I start to stutter in my every day speech. My brain gets sluggish, turns to concrete. I think if I stop forever, I will definitely turn into a drooling idiot.
Twenty years of doodling sentences on looseleaf or onto the computer screen has taught me that words carry feelings like little drops of water. It is more than simply stringing them together in a clever order. You have to mean it, perfume the writing with a little passion. Passion is why a clumsily written love or hate letter can still pack a punch after 20 years. It is why reader response to my lazier, laissez-faire pieces of writing have been merciless, and often, just. (Readers have great noses for horseshit, and we are all full of shit occasionally). It is also why good writing is always good, never shrivels and dries up. But putting it down on the page is also an act
of trust, of intimacy. So I have a ritual: I imagine a friend who understands me, imbue the words with a whiff of pain, joy or laughter. And then I put it out there, like this.