We all want someone to talk to, who understands us, and maybe that’s why generations of writers, readers and searching souls have responded so strongly to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, a series of exchanges that attempts to unravel the complexities of life on a scale that makes sense in our everyday lives. We thought we’d return to the text and ask writers to either answer questions drawn from it or write a letter to their teenage selves. Today, we have Myriam Gurba. Best described, in her own words, from her Facebook profile: “I’m a writer who happens to be part Mexican, part Polish, and part gay. I know who’s responsible for the Mexican and Polish parts but the gay, well, Mom blames Dad and Dad blames himself. Plus, it’s only part. It’s not like I’m totally gay. I wrote a book called Dahlia Season that published on Manic D Press. It’s packed with stories of Mexican-American kids coming of age in diverse ways, and the title novella describes what it’s like to grow up a girl, a goth, a nerd, a homo, and a Touretter, dammit. Coming down the shute, I have a story publishing in University of Wisconsin Press’ Ambientes, a Future Tense chapbook, and self-published essay collection. I’ll be touring with Sister Spit in spring 2011. I love rabbits, cacti, Greek food, black and blue humor, my family, crossword puzzles, lukewarm coffee, and TJ Huberg. On good days, I feel like the lovechild of John Candy and Sylvia Plath. On bad days, I feel like the lovechild of Sylvia Plath and her father, but not to worry: I promise to use my oven properly.” Here’s Myriam’s letter to her teenage self.
Dearest teenaged Myriam, too gothic for a quinceañera, too brown to pass as British,
Keep your pimply chin up. I know why you’re squatting in your closet corner crying, painting The Cure song lyrics across the wall with Mom’s nail polish brush. You’re on your period, you’re gay, and the only thing to do tonight is go cow-tipping. You like cows too much to do that to them. You’d rather go asshole-tipping, but assholes don’t sleep standing up.
A cassette recording of Una Furtiva Lagrima plays on the stereo below the windowsill. In the corner, beside a glass vase filled with dead roses, a spiral-bound notebook sits on your desk. You owe this journal several late entries. You violated your promise to it. Seeing its purple cover fires guilt. You swore to write in it daily for at least an hour after you read Sylvia Plath did the same.
Your plan is to write, write, write, practice, practice, practice, but your destination isn’t Carnegie Hall. It’s Merry England. You hope that like Sylvia, you, too, might someday murder yourself on British soil and leave a handful of sweet-smelling words.
This can’t happen in California. You loathe California. You curse Baywatch. You rue how fine weather encourages those who never should to wear shorts and, this is more grotesque than eyeballs moving after decapitation, flip flops. Knees on display give you genuine nausea.
Toes? They should only be unveiled the night of one’s honeymoon.
The Victorians understood this. If you had your druthers, you’d enforce a dress code requiring all Californians to appear as if bound for Poe’s funeral. Then, perhaps, California would be worthy of you.
Teenaged Myriam, even though I want to laugh at you and your melodrama, I admire you. Your commitment to literature has made you a thief. Classics you stole from the library because you couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else caressing them sit on your bookshelf. Dostoyevsky rests beside Voltaire. Voltaire rests beside Balzac. Balzac rubs Flaubert. Under your mattress are stolen lesbian novels. With them is Nin’s Little Birds. You read Little Birds under the covers and masturbate. You read Balzac and think, “Ball sack.” That’s not honorable, but it’s funny.
You’re faithful to your journal most of the time. After school, you sit at your desk, glance at your clock, and force yourself to become Sylvia.
You use ink because you’re serious.
When you have nothing to tell, you describe dreams and daydreams. You illustrate. You write lists. You write, “I wander lonely as a cloud.” Around it, you doodle clouds that look like clouds and others that are ovine. Wadsworth’s words wander, but thanks to you, they’re not alone.
You’re screwing the cap back on Mom’s nail polish. You set the bottle on the closet track. You lie down, arranging your skirt and blouse, playing corpse. If your room is tomb, then your closet is coffin. This silliness is good. Coffins provide the cleanest solitude and to write, you must lock yourself in a coffin. A cork-lined room. A guest bathroom. A cabin. A hayloft. A sensory deprivation suit. You must overcome fear of being buried alive. Alone, you delve into brain’s quicksand. It drowns you. Words come. Your job is to sift, sort, and meld. No one can help you.
You close your eyes. The tape ends and the play button snaps. Quiet fills the room. You practice. Practice, practice, practice…