Thursday, January 25, 2018

I'm Totally Over It Now

I joined a writer’s group in college.
Most of the other members were older,
but for a time, I seemed to fit right in.
Our meetings were held on Sundays
in their glamorous off-campus homes.
(They would never have fit
in my single dorm room.)

Mark was the de-facto “president,”
an intellectual snob with a nasal voice.
He eventually started dating one
of our members, Leah,
who was basically just like him
in a female body.

Brett was the gentle vegetarian,
a good cook, kinda cute.
Wrote the kind of poems
you don’t really know how to respond to.
Painted morose portraits
in off-putting yellows and greens
and aspired to be a lawyer.

Sven was the cool, funny guy,
a hipster before there were millennial-era “hipsters.”
Bald, thick plastic-rimmed glasses, goatee.
I probably liked his writing best,
And I think it was similar to mine,
but his stories seemed more sophisticated somehow,
and so did he.

Francine was the beautiful poet.
Her works were inspired and effortless.
All the guys were madly in love with her,
but she had some bland Indiana boyfriend.

At that time I was trying to work out
what it meant to be
a Northwest Indiana “Region Rat.”
We were working-class people
whose dads worked at the steel mill
and were laid off from time to time.
I often felt different from all the kids I was meeting
who were from rich Indianapolis suburbs.
So I wrote stories about teens from my hometown,
and because I liked the movie Pulp Fiction,
all my characters cursed a lot.

Once I hitched a ride back home from Mark
in his vintage Volkswagen Beetle
and he seemed keen to gossip about the others,
analyzing their writing styles and their flaws.
He asked me if I honestly wanted to know
what he thought of my writing.
Not really, but I didn’t want to seem afraid.
He told me, voice dripping with condescension,
“You’re pretty good at what you do,
but I’m afraid it’s all you can do.”

One of our newest members, Sylvia,
approached me with evidence
that Francine had been plagiarizing her poetry.
Not just an unintentional phrase
but entire poems—famous ones, too!
Ones that we all studied in our English Lit classes.
Elizabeth Bishop was one of her victims, I think.
I don’t know how we didn’t see it before.
As one of the founding members,
I decided to take the matter in hand.

I emailed Mark with the
incontrovertible proof.
At the next meeting,
while I bored a hole in her skull
with my eyes,
Francine read a piece
that she explained symbolized
her plagiarism.
She talked about it like it was an eating disorder
and not a massive failing of integrity.
She was praised for her honesty.

Then they stopped inviting me to things.

I spent the rest of that year
stalking around campus,
lonely and bitter.
Fantasizing about the day that I would
be signing books,
and they would all spontaneously combust
with jealousy.

I wrote wildly experimental works
just to prove that I could do more.
I started a new writer’s group
that met in the Union,
and we behaved more like an actual
college organization
than a group of sixth-grade girls
with a secret, elite slumber party invite list.
I know that Mark and the rest thought
that my group wasn’t nearly as good
as what we had had before.
They did their own thing, and I did mine.

My true friends back home
supported me as well as they could.
Padraig prank-called Francine,
accusing her, “I know you’re a plagiarist!”
then hung up the phone.
I outwardly objected to such immature antics,
but I loved that he did that.

And here I am,
years and years and years
decidedly not famous,
no revenge for me.
But no one’s ever heard
of them either.
And I’m still writing.
I’m pretty good
at what I do.

1 comment:

  1. Note from your author: This is the first poem that has caused me to feel anxiety after I hit "publish." This is because, unlike most of the other works on here, this is what I would call an "emotionally true" story, although a lot of the details are fuzzy after almost 20 years. Names have been changed to protect the innocent/guilty. I woke up one night last year, feeling like I had to get this experience out, as it really did scar me in terms of my own self-confidence and trusting a community of writers. But when I think of the experience, I immediately go into the mindset of 20-year-old me, caught up in the drama of it and the hurt and the "I want to watch you buuuuuuurrrn" feelings. I would like to think that 41-year-old me would be more compassionate towards Francine and whatever issues were making her think that she had to steal others' words just to hang out with us. I hope that all the members of that gang are doing well, and I wish no one ill. I was so hurt back then because I thought these people were going to be *my* people and that I would be cooler for hanging out with them. I've learned since that I'm not everyone's cup of tea, and that's okay. If you find yourself in some weird group dynamic, try not to kill the messenger, though. It doesn't at all affect me now, though. Obviously.