In the near blindingly bright hospital-white aisles of Rite Aid, the solitary chain store of the one-stop-light mining town where I grew up,
I made the life-altering discovery that I could make a new tube of lip gloss look exactly like the empty lip gloss that I brought in with me. Oddly calm, but for the throbbing pulse in my right wrist, I wandered from mirror to mirror and clandestinely tucked the wrapping amongst feminine hygiene products that at the tender of nine I still believed were for girls who had problems making it to the bathroom in time. I switched the tube out for the empty one.
I walked through the metal detectors, which I believed operated on the same rules as open sesame or bibbidy bobbity boo, with as much stoicism as I could muster.
I turned back around to look at the store and saw no aspect of my reality changed, aside from the fact that I had another month’s worth of lip gloss in my pocket, and felt a rather hefty spell lift off of my back. It was at this moment that I fully understood that the world of adults was entirely constructed around appearances and that everything hinged on what you could get other’s to believe. Everything I had been told was to get me to play into their story.
I would spend the great portion of my life as something of a klepto; however, at this point I didn’t even know what stealing was, exactly. I had been told that you can’t just take things from stores: it’s a sin, these great alarms will go off, demons or police will come and collect your soul or body, you’ll be taken to jail or hell, because they belong to somebody else…somebody with more money.
See, I grew up dirt poor. Like on food stamps, 100 dollars a week for a family of six, collecting aluminum cans to get the 5 dollars for car load night at the drive-in, one 69 cent hamburger as a meal and going to wal-mart for the 25 cent can of soda, because we can’t afford the fountain drinks and this in-and-of-itself is a treat poor.
So, when I didn’t see anyone else buying these rows and rows of lip gloss, I wondered, am I not worthy? This was the moment that I decided, definitely, to start writing my own story.
Obsessed with Billy the Kid, I saw no difference between stealing lip gloss from Rite Aid in Nanty Glo and rustling cattle from the Santa Fe Ring in New Mexico—I was redistributing wealth.
I passed out jewelry from Deb’s, calculators, and that expensive gum that also claimed to clean your teeth to my friends. This was my story. I could wipe those shelves clean, and no one would care. In my story I was could walk into stores and buy what I need with my good looks, years before at-thirteen-years-old I bit my lip with excitement as I read Allen Ginsberg’s call to America for it to be possibility.
I first read this poem in the Treasury of American Poetry that I never paid for the second or third time that I scammed a mail-order book club in middle school. This was the first time that I associated my rebellious streak with my writing. I had formerly thought they were utterly dissonant.
The “good” students were the ones who were the good writers, not the ones who got windows shot out of their cabins and skipped school so often they had to petition to pass nearly every year. Ginsberg and the beats let me see how similar the impulse to write and the impulse to break the law really are.
They’re both games–the creation of a blank slates, rules and codes destroyed and reassembled. They’re both magic, in that they’re ways to manifest what you’d like to see when you close your eyes. They’re both looking for reversals, that moment when you can slide hands through mirrors, and find things a little softer, your feet floating, the wind unmoving, balls rolling across ceilings, mouths moving on statues, telling you “essayez, toujours essayez” or anything that you want to hear.
Some of us wake up one day and say, “This is not my world, these are not my rules, this is decidedly NOT my poem NOT my story…here let me show you how to make this a little better.”
So, we write and show you the error: destroy. So we write and you show the beauty: create. Some call this the process of unveiling the unutterably beautiful, the fueling of the eternal poetic flame. But the unutterable can also be hiding Siamese Fighting Fish behind trench coat to free them from Wal-Mart. It can be pushing some asshole off a barstool. It can be a earsplitting chord progression. A door opening to a costume room with a stolen key.
It can be anything that you’re writing completely for yourself. Anything that’s discovering new fuel for the flame.