I wrote an autobiography once. It was a disaster. It started with, “I was a boy…” and went downhill from there. Granted I was nine and had no idea what an autobiography actually was. I had accidentally picked up a copy of one of my mother’s many biographies on Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana, Natalie Wood, and so on and dove straight in; I had no idea what half the words meant so I didn’t make it very far. I decided to write my own. I wrote a page. And by page I mean three sentences and printed it on a dot matrix printer. I proudly handed it to my mother. She gave it a read, crumpled it up and kissed me on the nose. Freud would have a field day analyzing my mother. She was to be my first reader of “The Autobiography of James Pavlick” and my first critic.
It wasn’t that my family couldn’t afford to buy me a laptop. They had all the money in the world, my world that is and they sought to torture me with not buying me a laptop but three spiral notebooks, a package of ballpoint pens and a book light so I could write in the dark. Batteries not included. “It’s a perfect way to practice your cursive handwriting,” they said. I begrudgingly accepted their gift and ‘practiced’ my cursive. To this day, I have horrible handwriting and I blame them and their ‘gift’ for allowing me to practice. Life was good. My writing, though limited in experience, was beginning to blossom.
Then I got to high school. Everything changed. My prose, my thought process, everything about my writing changed. It went underground. I wrote lots of poetry, haikus and my dark thoughts in general. My next few critics were not only my English teachers but my friends as well. I couldn’t think of bringing my new era of writing to my parents; a conservative Catholic household that spawned a child like me? They’d send me to confession then to the mental hospital for strict evaluation. Those minds around me could not keep up with mine. I was writing stories weekly and destroying them when I felt I just missed the mark. Then along came a friend.
His name was Zane. He told me something that I would remember forever. To this day, I live by what he had told me. I learned about the concept of writing about yourself without actually stating your name. Roman a clef or “novel with a key” is a terrific way of writing about your experiences and keeping yourself out of the fray. I learned that libel is a thing people take seriously; write the right thing about the wrong person and your ass lands in court. So I took this new advice from Zane, used roman a clef and wrote about the worst day of my life. It is 70 pages long and written Memento style with the end of the story at the beginning and the middle of the story is the end with alterations between future and past meeting at the present. I called it “Paper cuts and lemon juice baths” because it is a day that added insult to injury. A great friend of mine killed himself at the end of the night; I broke up with my girlfriend and entered into a tryst with a close friend’s friend-with-benefits while courting a woman who become my worst enemy. All in one day.
Reading this week’s chapter really got me thinking about that story and that particular day. It dredged up the bad and what little good there was to be had. I still have the story. It was the first story I wrote without trashing immediately. It was well liked amongst all my friends and those who knew my good friend too. Now any attempt I make to write about myself fails. I aim to make what I have to say as objective as possible and in the end, I come off often times as a bastard. Naturally I could sweeten the storyline and come out squeaky clean and saint-like. I am neither and were I to write that, it would be all lies. So I understand how that my reality may be someone else’s fiction or distorted sense of reality. What I see is real to me but maybe not to others.
What my friend Zane had told me to write to what I knew. Pain. He knew I was in pain and that I knew the subject unfortunately too well. So I wrote to that, and “Paper cuts and lemon juice baths” were the result of that. Since libel is still a thing, I changed all the names around and skewed a few notable locations. The only people that can identify the events now are but a handful. I doubt that they would step forward and say, “Yes! It was me that gave (blank) that length of rope!” or “he asked me what of his did I like and I told him and he gave it to me at no cost! Awesome, right?” Nope. No one would do that. But I would. I remember who said what and when. I remember and it was my duty to bring these things to like even though I utilized the roman a clef concept to hide, to an extent, the truth. Because that’s what autobiographies are. They tell the truth to hide the lies beneath. If you’d like to read a copy of “Paper cuts and lemon juice baths,” I am happy to publish it on this blog but under my other blog, not the travel one.