One last hurrah for the ole Poetry e-mail list, aka "I remember" and my broken heart

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Summary: Years ago, I mostly distributed my poetry via e-mail. It was, in a lot of ways, a prescient take on blogs before the majority of weblogs were even about. Now, with little hope of it returning, I have this post to commemorate and even commiserate with the old me, that poetry-mailing me.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

(00:06:10 CDT)

One last hurrah for the ole Poetry e-mail list, aka "I remember" and my broken heart

Based on decades of observation, I propose that sudden high levels of external praise always trigger an equal amount of inner self-loathing.

Hazie, from Chuck Palahniuk's Tell-All

Going into full details would be boring, but suffice it to say that I had my heart broke in the Spring of 2000. I had just came back from a somewhat surreal trip to Dauphin Island as part of the Honor's Program, a capstone of surreality that had dominated my year as the Resident Advisor for the all-male first floor of misnamed Central Campus Residence Hall (misnamed because even when it was built, it was heavily to one side of the campus) at UAH. I come back, smelling of fish guts and tired, and almost right away my heart was broken. I was mentally exhausted from the RA job, had not slept properly in weeks or even months. While I had been a strong summa cum laude or at last magna student up until that point, I was suddenly dropping out of classes and washing up (the sleep had a LOT to do with this). My personal relationships were in strange shambles (and would end up getting a whole lot worse). While two of my roommates, Latoric and James, were still close to me, the fourth had kind of cold-shouldered me (for reasons strangely personal and embarrassing on his behalf, but a story I have largely untold). My boss, a great floundering fish of a man who tended to boast far larger checks than his performance could cash, regularly criticized the work I was doing despite my numbers being better than others. I was at a crisis point, and unlike the movies it did not end with some quick-fix salvation. Mostly, though, someone I had a serious crush on found someone else. I was young. It was the end of the world.

Like Jonah (but unlike Jesus, who made it with a relatively quick layover from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning), I was out of commission for three days. Did nothing. No classes. No thoughts. No real TV. No real computing. I ate and drank soda, I suppose, but that's a guess. I remember mostly being in bed and just willing the great machine that was CCRH and its needy residents to go on without me. Three days is about all I got (it was actually something like a week before I left CCRH for anything more than a quick night time stroll, and no one seemed to notice). After the three days, though, I turned angry. Not angry enough to realize that I had been played (had that happened, the follow-up year of further playing would not have happened, and life might have been more tolerable and my school record would be less tarnished). Just angry enough to want to whine a little, and in this pre-Social Network days the one tried and true way to whine outloud was to either get drunk and make a fool of yourself or to skip straight past the booze to the end and write poetry. My drinking days came later, by the way.

Here we are. It would be a Wednesday. Broken hearted Doug has shut down for three days. He has some poems brewing, the angry, whiny, emo sort. He does not want to leave his room, doesn't actually want to talk about it, but, for reasons that even he could not hope to explain (why did I switch to third person? sorry), I actually wanted to share them. I sat down, on my old Windows 98 AMD-7 computer (already old by the year 2000's standards) and wrote three e-mails off the top of my head. One for each day I had been out of touch. Each was a poem and I am pretty sure that none of these first three had explanation (with apologies to all those friends). One included the line "Some days you're the windshield and some days you smash". Another had something like "I would give you roses if I knew you wouldn't throw them away".* I forget the last one, but I'm guessing it was maudlin. Then, I sent them out to just about everybody. One hell of a group send. A cry for help without an actual suicide attempt? Eh, no. It was to crying for help much what punching someone is to asking them to help you study. I was in that angry-sad stage, where you shove people away and then dare them to say something. Mostly, though, they were all meant for her to read even though she was only one of the two or three dozen recipients.**

Over the next two years or so, I wrote a lot of e-mails. Just the poems I felt were salvageable, semi-keepable, added up to 690 different poems. This does not include those that were scribbles, nor the paragraphs of explanatory text that went with them, the replies, and so forth. Each poem was sent to probably an average of a dozen people, maybe two dozen at the peak with only seven or eight at the bottom end. Lots and lots of drivel that generated, possibly, three-score good poems. Hey, 60 out of 700 ain't bad.

Enough good ones got out, an average of at least three or four a month, that some praise and suggestions and feedback got back to me. One friend printed out several of them. Another forwarded them on to other friends. Some would quote them. Several friends would tell me about their favorite. It was the written, intangible record of the redemption of William Douglas Bolden via the expurgation of rotten text from his tortured soul and it almost worked. Except, well, she was technically still around; I burned a good handful of bridges at the end of my RA job; it took me another couple of years just to get back into classes; and there is something about bemoaning yourself to the world that breeds further bemoanings. You become addicted to others seeing your darker side. I had been e-mail blogging nearly a poem a day on average for two straight years. Then, in 2002 or so, I changed the list over, tightened my poetry belt, narrowed it down to only about half a dozen or so core people with some extras here or there, and ended the old list in favor of a much more irregular thing. And all the praise and all the positive feedback that has built up over those two years were deep down taken as something like "We like reading you talking about your suffering," and if no friend had ever meant it like that: see the quote above. I made myself into this whiny, broken, ball of pus and I wanted to shock and surprise people and, to some degree, I did (including such great lines as "masturbating to the sound of my own phlegm") and it was grand but I knew it was time to let it go. Stop fishing for condolences. Stop bitching about her in coded words.

The 690 poems that I kept from that time will probably follow me, largely unused, until some random hard-drive crash writes them out of existence. My bread crumbs leading me back to the shape and sound of my mental breakdown, where reading I wrote back then even shows me writing in an altogether different rhythm than I normally write (the same rhythm that surfaced during the Summer of Hell, examples would be hard but it is weird to read what I wrote during those times because it would be generally unrecognizable from my normal form of writing). Like a "Dark Doug" or maybe "Depressed Doug" is squished down inside as a twin and he comes out, less charismatic, less charming, less forceful but somehow more direct. It is strange, and one day it will be forgotten. Thank goodness.

However, while the 690 are the core collection, there were other bits: snippets and half-assed attempts at fragments, that are not included. Most are already gone, deleted with old e-mail accounts and thrown into the trash as pointless old files. By something like luck I unearthed three or four snippets that has been either sent out to only a few, or (in a couple of cases) I wrote with myself as the sole recipient because I intended to go back and finish them later and ended up forgotten. I took them, realized that all of them were a waste, and so essentially threw them away for a second time, this time for good, except I recycled bits of them into one final poem from that era. This one is dedicated to that now 10-year-old Depressed Doug with his weird, stilted way of talking and his demands for attention from the very people he is more or less attacking. Good night, good sir, and I'll not forget you; though I would prefer to never be you again.

"I Remember"

I remember
As a series of sounds, syllables, smells, taste
Words, delicacies, unspoken lines, wheels within
What good will any of us

Into being like a frog from a river's bank, like a
Finding of the self
Well after you are damned if you'll keep looking?
What good will any of us
Thinking we are becoming?

Over there, a fountain in the sunset, unworking,
A marble edifice to some forgotten plumbing.
And here: a tree, axis mundi, bhodi, tum-tum.
There some weeds,
Somewhere an age
Of man
Gilded silver and iron wrought:
The necessity,
The things we hate,

The dance in the sunrise, dew stained, and dun.
Mirrored by the waters
Where the seas sought when they ran
Their course and knew themselves done.
The earth, silent, consumes.

Si Vales, Valeo

*: At the height of my angry "I hate myself but also hate you" phase, I bought a book of rose photography, hand wrote that original poem into it, and then gave it to her out of the blue as a gift.

**: It says volumes about the strange twisted relationship we were in that she stayed on the poetry list largely meant to denigrate her for months and never once complained.

file under Poetry

Written by Doug Bolden

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