Out of all the things I attempt to express through words, exposition eludes me the hardest. Specifically, how to weave exposition together with everything else in a balanced way. To whisk the matcha powder into the water thoroughly enough that the person drinking from the bowl doesn’t choke on the clumps. Stirring cocoa powder in a mug seemed more relatable but also way simpler.
Maybe exposition is like stirring hot chocolate for some people, but not for me. In my manuscript, I’ve felt myself improve a lot at balancing the tones of tragedy and comedy, drama and satire, all of that. But I’m also examining topics which are stigma-laden and triggering, so I can’t just be like “True Art is Incomprehensible.” It would also be against the spirit of the book to leave it at “True Art is Angsty,” though.
When I think of examples of the True Art is Incomprehensible trope, David Lynch comes to mind. I watched a video essay (or more accurately, played it in the background while I did other things) which was 4 1/2 hours of a guy attempting to explain what Twin Peaks was actually all about. The video has nearly 2 million views. This tells me that a lot of people (A) know what Twin Peaks is, (B) are invested in considering the meaning of Twin Peaks, and (C) aren’t/weren’t sure what the hell Twin Peaks was about.
The very existence and view count of the video indicates that Twin Peaks is defined in the public consciousness more by being intriguing and strange than by whatever it is Lynch may or may not have been trying to say. I started thinking about it when considering the phenomena of my “catchphrase poems.” At some point I decided to stop using the word “unmitigated” in everyday speech because people would shout my catchphrases at me. I didn’t want the meaning, and the stakes behind why I wrote those poems to be watered down and reduced to memes.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the audience reaction, and it’s gratifying to know that the rhetorical devices I was trying out actually work. I also realize that referentiality is easy to remember, and making references is the easiest way to indicate familiarity and appreciation over a work. But if I were David Lynch, and I had something specific I wanted to say with Twin Peaks, I’d be frustrated and upset that so many people obsessed over trivial details, or assumed I was being weird for the sake of being weird. Because those takeaways would be so much less than the ideas and feelings that inspired the work’s creation.
The expression of CPTSD has a magnetic property. It attracts and repels depending on the connection between listener and speaker. CPTSD makes it difficult for people who suffer from it to effectively contextualize where their heightened emotional reactions are coming from, particularly when communicating with people whose lived experiences have not imparted upon them an intuitive understanding of complex trauma. I ran into an example on the CPTSD subreddit which made me feel on a visceral level like I was on both sides of the fence. The post is unpleasant, and with no chaser, so I’ll provide alternate/supplementary representations below since it could legit be triggering.
Here’s a video of a sheep that got stuck in a ditch, and after a human frees it, it immediately runs and jumps into a different part of the same ditch and gets stuck again. Here’s a video of a bobcat kitten (bobkitten?) who was transported to the wilds in a cage, so that it could be released. But the bobkitten keeps swiping at the hand of the person who is trying to unlock the cage, mistaking the attempts to free it for a threat of bodily harm. Here’s a video of a raven (or crow?) approaching a human in hopes that the human will remove the porcupine quills stuck in its face. The last video is significantly longer, because even though it’s clear the corvid wants assistance, it still instinctively flinches away from letting the human get close enough to help the first several times.
Species-wide behavioral differences aside, the videos all speak to me about the fact that accepting help requires trust, and trust is the last thing your instincts are screaming at you to develop if you’re in pain, or confused, or otherwise endangered on some level. Actually I don’t know if the sheep video is about any of those things but it made me laugh. The videos also indicate the perspective of the people trying to help them, if you felt like reading into that.
It’s harder to sympathize with people than with animals though. In the aforementioned reddit post, the person is expressing a desire for sympathy and understanding and patience, while at the same time venting rage and pain. The post switches back and forth between pleading and demanding, and lashing out at imaginary aggressors. This, along with many directly and vicariously-experienced incidents of a similar nature, lead me to conclude that any sufficiently intense defensive strategy is, in effect, an offensive.
The conflictual nature of this process is cute when it’s coming from a bobkitten and you’re wearing heavy-duty gloves. When the ravencrowbird flies up to the human, at a glance you notice the quills lodged on its face and can put two-and-two together about what it wants. Though these animals sabotage the efforts that others make to help them, it’s easy to see why they are responding the way they are. Whereas with the reddit post, a more primitive part of my mind reads the angry outbursts as the person lashing out at imaginary aggressors.
Except, “imaginary” isn’t correct. “Internalized” is more fitting. Dangerously negative internalized representations of people are one of the hallmarks of CPTSD. But if the impetus for the person’s behavior is interpreted as imaginary, then their emotional state is irrational, therefore unjustified, therefore invalid. The reddit post was self-described as a rant, but it’s an example of something I want to attempt to make knowable in my book, maybe because I still would like to believe people would care more if such misunderstandings could be cleared up. Whether or not my desire to address this constitutes yet another trauma response, I can’t rely on linking animal rescue videos in order to explain a few marginalized corners of the human condition in my book of poetry.
1000+ words on this post and I’m still speaking in abstractions and cutesy animal analogies. But imagine if I just opened by posting this image:
For most people I know now, this would just be an absurdity. But for most of the people I grew up with, this was not only a specific belief, but the basis for broader convictions that shaped our reality and development. This is the kind of messaging my church engaged in. Eating bacon is a matter far more grave than life or death. Bacon is a matter of salvation or damnation, which is like Life or Death666 (incidentally this is my first Antichrist + Math double pun. It probably works better in speech). Because death is just something that happens. Damnation is something you choose because you are wicked, and wicked people eat bacon.
None of the people I grew up with became poets, so as far as I know, I’m going to be the first representative of a poet with a Filipino-American ex-Adventist background and I want to speak to that. The brand of hyperliteralism showcased in the image’s Answer section permeated the most miniscule facets of my life, and not just mine. I remember a 12/13 year old girl from that church telling me she asked her mom if she could get her ears pierced, and her mom responded by asking her, “How do you think that would make Jesus feel?”
Something in her expression made me realize I must have had a moment like that, but it got lost in the shuffle. And I wondered how many more times she would try to make herself knowable to her mom until she decided her mom would always interpose Jesus in between them. If the shadow of the Cross would always be an obstacle preventing a mother-daughter heart-to-heart conversation. In hindsight, I was projecting pretty hard, despite the gender discrepancies. And while I’ve struggled with figuring out how to account for that tendency when it come to interpersonal relationships, it’s also the primary ingredient for why there are people out there who relate strongly to my poems.
Also, I recently rediscovered one of my old Bibles I had when I was somewhere between 7th-10th grade. Its cover art was this:
Upon seeing it, I realized why I have an overwhelming tendency to catastrophize, an underdeveloped capacity to conceptualize my own future, and why I think I’m going to be harshly judged for every little thing I do, along with all the anxiety and depression that develops from that. Because giving kids a Bible with this cover and expecting them to read it every day makes sense if you and every other adult you know believes the world will end before those kids grow up.
I’m tempted to commission a spoof of this art for the cover to my book, although that idea may just be appealing in the abstract but bewildering when considering how to actually pull that off. If nothing else, it would match the spirit of Your Funeral Sucked, by the Way perfectly.
Instead of the Earth, there would be a dodecahedron made of sandpaper.
Instead of the gargantuan hourglass, there would be a gargantuan boba milk tea.
The hand would have something like “Thug Life” or “ButtMaster” or “FLUIDS” or “Beware the Velocirapture” tattooed onto it, and it would have long painted fingernails of different colors for the thumb, index, and pinky, but leave the middle and ring fingers cut short to imply a configuration suitable for fingering AND style.
The meteors arcing through the atmosphere would have smiley faces drawn on them in crayon.
I don’t know what to change about the clouds yet, but they’d be stupid too. They’d probably still be dark and foreboding clouds but they’d take incongruously festive and whimsical shapes like donuts, and Nyan Cat, and the mushrooms from Super Mario, and that paperclip helper mascot from those older versions of Microsoft Word. Honestly I’m starting to talk myself into seriously considering this, which incidentally is how a lot of my poems start off.