I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited. — Sylvia Plath
I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. — George Orwell
Welcome to Breaktown · Jewish Problems · Rainbow zebra by Olechka
Sixteen - Wanting
It was all I thought I wanted.
An imagined cure to loneliness,
it made its home in every vein.
Hope swam in schools through oceans, reaching every cell.
Yearning occupied my soul.
Pieces of you filtered through my dreams:
your feet crunching through dry leaves
your fingers strumming a guitar
your hand, warm, against mine.
I wanted to fill your worn-out copy of Catch-22 with four-leaved clovers,
press them through the pages of your favorite John Green’s,
their luck showing through each chapter,
green stark against white,
your love stark against my heart.
It was never meant to be.
I always sort-of knew,
yet never wanted to admit it,
always needing to believe.
Your words still haunt me.
I wonder what you’d say if you knew
I never prayed to G-d in shul;
I always hoped for you.
Now, I am no longer wanting,
but still, somehow, aching,
if not for you, then for what I thought might be,
what never was, what you never hoped for.
It was all I thought I wanted—
you were all I thought I wanted.
Fifteen - Can
I can name all fifty states in less than four minutes.
I can pluck four-leaved clovers from the weediest fields.
I can speak any word backwards, so long as I can spell it.
I can croon a slow tune as sweet as maple syrup.
I can convince a child the tooth fairy is real.
I can write poems and essays and stories around just about anyone.
I can walk for miles without stopping for a rest.
I can contort my body into various poses.
I can wiggle my ears independent of one another.
But I cannot make you feel about me the way I feel about you.
And I cannot trade all of these talents, these so-called charms, for your affection,
even though I promise, I would if I could.
So against all good sense and friends’ advice,
I lie back to try to get you to feel the same,
and each time, I know
it will never, ever happen.
Fourteen - Why
Because he saw the hospital bracelet
and asked with genuine concern,
and held me in his arms while I told the whole story,
and instead of running when I finished,
he kissed me.
Because he is honest.
Because when he touches me,
I don’t feel sad or tired
or angry or numb—
I feel happy and content
Because I knew for sure I was ready.
Because he knows what “hegemony” and “heteronormative” mean,
and he knows how to use them
as well as he knows
how to use his hands.
Because it felt good.
Because he knows what depression means
beyond textbook definitions.
Because it felt right.
Because when we slept next to each other,
I kept waking up and moving,
and as he slumbered
he grabbed my hand
and kissed it
and held on.
Because I wanted to.
Thirteen - Beautiful
He called me beautiful.
like sunsets and roses,
like the first green of spring,
like oceans and autumn leaves.
I don’t believe him,
but I like the way it sounds.
I take comfort in the idea.
I am not beautiful;
my hair frizzes if you look at it wrong.
There are scars on my legs
from when the pain became too much to bare.
He doesn’t care.
He kissed my legs up and down,
and declared them beautiful, too,
so that I felt his words between them.
He said he likes to look at me,
that it makes him happy
to see me happy
I like to look at him, too.
I like his broad shoulders
and his wide eyes.
I like the soft muscles of his upper arms,
and the size of his hands.
I like the soft dip below his throat,
gently curving just beneath his Adam’s apple.
Most of all, I like him
when he is with me.
I may not believe him,
but I find pleasure
Twelve - Maybe
Maybe you will never feel the same way,
but maybe what you do feel is enough.
Eleven - Remember
I can remember the pain.
I can remember it,
crisp and clear,
like a blustery autumn day,
crisp and clear
as the image of my mother reciting Winnie-the-Pooh,
changing her voice for each character.
I am still changing.
I am in recovery
from the person I was,
both not entirely myself
and very much completely me.
I can remember the pain,
and I know it, more than I know most things,
sure of it, more sure than my longest-held convictions.
One of the hardest parts
knowing this is possible, this is within the realm of possibility, this is
within you. Within your soul. Within your mind.
And I can remember the pain.
I can remember feeling
too far removed and very close-by.
Each episode, clear and crisp, flashing past:
Not leaving bed for forty-eight hours.
Crying in the bathroom, holding the knife.
Completely numb one moment and feeling everything the next.
Staying up all-hours to do homework,
finishing a week’s worth in one night
and still having the energy for more.
Throwing the knife on the floor,
the quiet clatter it made,
the click of the blade dislodging.
Never showing up on time, or never showing at all.
Never knowing how to ask, or even utter,
Seeing the disappointment and anger eventually turn to fear.
My own fear, my worries, my everything, screaming at me that I’ll never be good enough.
Weeping on the subway, reminiscing a long-ago mistake.
I can remember the pain
as the doctor utters the diagnosis,
and all this and more
comes rushing back
it all makes perfect sense.
A new pill
and all is forgiven,
but never forgotten.
I can remember the pain,
only a few months removed
and I hope never again to forget it
if only so I never repeat it.
Ten - Identity
Maybe if I dye my hair
all the colors of the rainbow,
ends, locks, frizz, ponytail, braids, curls,
and I won’t be
who does everything wrong.”
Nine - Wants
I want someone to give me a giant hug and tell me everything is going to be okay.
I want 4:45 PM on Tuesday to come around already so I know what’s going on.
I want my dad to stop throwing around words like “tumor” when the doctor thinks it’s something else.
I want both doctors to know what it is.
I want this damn art project to be finished already.
I want the future to be certain.
I want to know I’ll be fine no matter what happens.
I want a nearby friend, not far-away pals.
I want so much, but have nothing to show for it.
An Open Criticism of John Green
I love John and Hank Green’s videos, and I thoroughly enjoyed Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars—especially TFiOS. The thing is, I’m a hundred pages into Paper Towns and feel as though I’ve read it already. It uses the same formula as LfA: Well-meaning and intelligent yet dorky and nebbish boy is hopelessly in love with beautiful, curvy, popular girl, who eventually befriends him and takes him on a grand adventure in which they use pretentious language and become romantic without developing a true relationship, and so on and so forth. The female character mimics the manic pixie dream girl stereotype; she is there for the male narrator, to turn his boring life upside-down and to teach and help the boy grow. Meanwhile, the young woman disappears in one form or another, leaving the boy to pick up the pieces this “hurricane” has behind. John’s female characters have their own autonomy and express thoughts and feelings separate from the protagonist’s, as shown in Alaska’s flippant comments and political passion, but are mostly a vehicle used to chauffeur the boy into manhood. They are also often one of very few women mentioned throughout the volume, and don’t necessarily interact with the other girls, if there are any.
Additionally, there are also very few poor people or people of color featured in John’s novels. Yes, Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman are Jewish, yet their Semitism is a seldom-mentioned trait, used for background and nothing more. Chip Marten is poor, but he is privileged by his education, and is the only non-affluent character to use proper grammar. Some may argue that his stages are set in mostly white, middle-class areas, or that as a middle-class white man, it would be difficult for John to write minority characters. I call shenanigans; people of color are not at all invisible in the midwest or the deep South, nor are the impoverished, and authors have been writing characters of different backgrounds since the invention of the craft. John never had cancer, but through careful research was able to portray the experience realistically. It should also be noted that the few characters of color he does create, such as Takumi Hikohito of Looking for Alaska, or Radar Lincoln of Paper Towns, possess strong ethnic identities without becoming their ethnicities. This serves as evidence he is more than capable of writing characters of various heritages and classes.
The loci of John’s books are young love and grand, sweeping, fantastical adventures. His plot lines are reminiscent of 1980’s teen movies, such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Breakfast Club, but do not translate quite as well on paper. TFiOS almost worked around this through Hazel’s sensible attitudes toward life and illness, along with her recognition of her trip’s idealism, yet it would have been more pragmatic if, perhaps, her doctors had protested the trip with more force, or if her dinner in Amsterdam had featured some inclement weather, or if she and Gus weren’t so irritatingly attractive. It is frustrating to read characters described as incredibly gorgeous and adding that the characters do not view themselves as beautiful, or creating them so that they are physically immaculate yet internally flawed, does not help.
John does, however, make a point to avoid the sex-is-magical prototype, and, to an extent, embraces the grittiness of youth, rather than constructing high school and the teenage years as the best years of one’s life. Although his characters’ speech is ostentatious, the intent is not to be pretentious, but to give teenagers and their intelligence a bit of credit.
In fact, it is this fair understanding of young adults, along with his intellect, that lead me to believe he has the potential to write better novels. The Fault in Our Stars was published seven years after Looking For Alaska, and is lightyears ahead of his first work. Hopefully, it will not take another several years for John to produce a more-inclusive, better-crafted novel.
Eight - Knowledge
I want to know
how it feels
to hold your hand.
Instead, I hold the knowledge
that my want
will never be yours, too.
Look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too.
Seven - The Five Stages
I’m fine. This isn’t a problem.
Everything will be
No one needs to know,
Was this really necessary?
Did this really have to happen?
Out of everything possible, did it have to be this?
Isn’t the rest of it enough?
Isn’t this brain already broken beyond repair?
it wasn’t enough.
It’s never enough.
It will never be enough.
If it turns out to be nothing,
if this can be easily fixed,
if every test comes back normal—
I will do anything.
Please. G-d, please.
This is the final straw;
the one to crush the camel’s skull.
There’s nothing to be done;
every symptom, old and new,
points straight to the worst-case scenario.
But it’s not worst-case any more, is it?
It’s reality, now.
Even without the tests, I
know. I know.
There’s nothing to be done.
Trying to explain
how camellias spoil and bloom at the same time,
how their perfume makes lovers ache. Trying
to describe the ways sex darkens
and dies, how two bodies can lie
together, entwined, out of habit.
Finding themselves later, tired, by a fire,
on an old couch that no longer reassures.
The night we eloped we drove to the rainforest
and found ourselves in fog so thick
our lights were useless. There’s no choice,
you said, we must have faith in our blindness.
Six - Statistics
13% of cancer patients worldwide will succumb to their disease.
10% of people diagnosed with depression will kill themselves.
15% of individuals suffering from bipolar disorder will successfully commit suicide.
Where are the colorful ribbons, the celebrity PSAs
for schizophrenia and OCD,
for personality disorders and bulimia?
No one talks about mental illness;
autism doesn’t kill and has millions in research
while the crazies are hidden away,
out of sight, out of mind.