Friday, April 22, 2011

Bury My Potential Under Mount Trashmore

My mother always told me I could be/do/have anything in the world. But I took her pearls of wisdom and wore them like ankle weights.

So, as a good and wise friend recently suggested I decided to bury my potential. Under Mount Trashmore.

A few weeks ago, I took a walk with my mother and told her what I planned to do. She said she understood. “In college, I had a Charlie Brown poster that said ‘So much potential is an enormous burden.’”

“But I thought you wanted me to be an Oprah bestseller before I turned twenty,” I told her.

“I’m over all that outward success stuff now,” she said. “It’s taken most of my energy just to stay alive. I’m on a spiritual path now, one that no one else can measure.”

I thought about it. I am comfortable measuring the distance between my pupils for prescription glasses with a ruler I found on Google, so why do I expect to be able to measure success in perfect increments of one?

Because, as Marge Piercy says, “Talent is what you have after you’ve finished the novel.”

But for now, I’m done with that. And not only my potential but also my internal critic/editor/censor that the great writing teachers suggest one dialogues with. The one who tells me that I need to put on a pantsuit and flat iron my curly hair. The one that reminds me Mary Shelley was only 19 when she wrote Frankenstein and that Zadie Smith was, is and always will be 3 months younger than me.

The one who shows me what to wear to the awards ceremony and then pulls the cloths off the tables, turns on the sprinklers, sticks dirty fingers in my special cake. The one who says I should write more like X, edit more like Y, publish more like Z and that if God really loved me, God would speak to me in final drafts.

The one who says I should be in NY or LA, that I should travel more in general, that I should minimize my metaphors, pare down, hole up in a cabin in a woods, or the Chelsea Hotel, or inside of a bottle tossed over the side of some shipwreck somewhere.

The one with the poison ivy/syphilis/piranaha/medusa/dorian gray decayed pitchfork death grip cloaked in golden skin and a motorcycle jacket, cupid lips, an accent, a ponytail, a cigar, a chateau and fine leather boots. The one who looks good but wants me dead. The one I need to fire and then bury along with my potential, along with the hatchet.

***Image of "Trash Mountain" above by Megan Whitmarsh


  1. In love with "dirty fingers in my special cake." Tell your mom thank you for the concept of a journey that no one else can measure.

  2. So long seductive but cruel internal editor! Anyway, God doesn't deal in final drafts does She?

  3. Thanks, both of you. If I may, I'm going to borrow your voices to hear in my head.

  4. I love this post. Death to the infernal internal voice! (And OMG why would you EVER flat-iron your amazing hair?! Stupid voice.)

  5. Valley - I have been in awe of your writing and my admiration just gets greater. It started with your Bas Miztvah essay - and one story that was set in Upper Whitney - one of the characters was someone named Flaco something. It was wonderful - I enjoyed it so much. My how you've evolved.