Monday, January 16, 2017

Leslie Stark on Tori Amos, Elizabeth Smart, Jeanette Winterson and Sylvia Plath

Looking For A Saviour
 (Tori, Elizabeth, Jeanette, and Sylvia, on love without boundaries)

A Portuguese boy who loved me gave me “Little Earthquakes” as a gift – okay, maybe he lent it to me and I didn’t give it back.  In those days I thought nothing of keeping borrowed things, I had a collection of sweaters from boys and books and CDs that had been lent to me but never returned.  People drifted in and out of my life back then as I needed them, or didn’t. 

            “I've been looking for a savior in these dirty streets
Looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets
I've been rising up my hands
Drive another nail in
Got enough guilt to start
My own religion”

            The album has stayed with me much longer than the Portuguese boy –  to tell the truth, I don’t even remember his name.  I remember leading him on and rejecting him, I remember avoiding his calls after.  I wanted him to want me, but it was just a game, and any man who made it easy wasn’t worth my time.

            Tori Amos was like me – a preacher’s daughter, conflicted between her love for her father and her loss of faith.  Winter can still make me cry, thinking of my father, when I hear it.  Precious Things spoke of the small town school I grew up in, suffocated in, ran from as fast as I could.  The first time I heard Crucify it resonated bells in me.  The album was the soundtrack of turning 18, and was all my longings and self-destruction contained in melody and poetry.  Tori reminded me esthetically  of the girl with the long red-gold spiral curls in my English class, the one whose smile made my belly flip-flop.  I sat behind her and dreamed of those curls wrapped in my fingers, her lips on my neck. 
“I want someone who is fierce and will love me until death and knows that love is as strong as death, and be on my side forever and ever. I want someone who will destroy and be destroyed by me.”
― Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

            I loved back then like it was epic battle, I was endlessly falling off cliffs, crashing into barricades, like I was Juliet and Ophelia and Desdemona and every tragic angelic archetype that heroically was consumed and destroyed.   I loved like sex was the answer to prayer, and I thought every man who wanted me was either target practice or a secret assassin.  I loved like I was Jesus in the garden, praying for another path.  And I always loved the ones most incapable of loving me back, or most likely to treat me as a temporary convenience, a confidante, or an escape hatch, but never their miracle.

One lover gave me a copy of “Oranges are Not the Only Fruit” after I gave him the money to take a bus to Toronto to chase down the girl he loved for years but never told.  We spent afternoons together on my lunch breaks, warming the Winnipeg winter with our sweat and desperation.  I was drawn to his brooding darkness, and he to my willingness to let us just lingering together.

“You’re not the kind of girl a boy brings home to his mom,” He told me one winter day, explaining why, after fucking me, he still pined for the girl in Toronto.

“O my dear, O my dear, drink a little milk, lie down and rest a little. I will comfort you. I can carry love like Saint Christopher. It is heavy, but I can carry it.”
            -Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

When I was nineteen,  I met Robin, and she was like the girl with the spiral curls, all sunlight and air and golden.  We sang Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos together, and dropped acid and danced naked in the rain.  But we both ended up hooking up with father-figure men because we were looking for saviors to take care of us instead of looking for the beauty in one another’s kiss.  I had no idea how to love without sacrifice, without worship and betrayal.

            I read “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept” for film/lit class the same week I was dumped by a man with whom I was temporarily obsessed, he was sex and whiskey and candle wax fantasy and he knew he could never love a girl like me. The book echoed my fractured ego, the beauty and the horror of being utterly consumed and abandoned.  I read the book religiously on buses going to and from school, while continuing to be the willing plaything of older men who couldn't love me while still somehow believing one of them might save me from myself.

“All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.”
                        - Sylvia Plath, Morning Song

            The girl with the spiral curls ran off and joined a circus in Mexico.  Robin left for Guatemala with her Jesus-man and I drifted from one self-destructive relationship to the next until I ended up pregnant and alone.  But see it was motherhood, not a man, who saved me, finally.  As a mother, I realized I needed to stop floundering like a Shakespearean ingenue.  I needed to transform from girl victim to warrior mother.  And with her I learned to love in a way that was nurturing, both to her and myself.   I rescued myself to the West Coast and I started writing again, and we grew together.

            I still love secretly like I’m sugar-crashing but I claim my own stake in my heart now.  My lover of thirteen years is kind, and although he is, of course, another father figure, after I turn 40 the age gap shrinks and we cuddle like a married couple, with no hierarchy.  I still write poetry about longing to be kissed by sunlight and I still listen to Tori from time to time.  But I’m tempered now – motherhood has tied my feet to the ground and no man’s darkness can uproot the depth of love I have for my child. 

When at 17, I see her scream and rage at a boy who wants to keep her caged, my heart cracks and I hold her tight, remembering.  And I tell her she is better than that; she doesn’t need to be saved, and I pray she will, in time, believe me.

Leslie Stark is a playwright, poet, performer, dancer, mother, high school teacher, and small business owner/hoopmaker (Serenity Hoops). She has a BA in Drama (U of Manitoba) and an MFA in Creative Writing (UBC), as well as a BEd (UBC). She serves on two local arts boards (Vice President of Touchstone Theatre and Treasurer for Vancouver Poetry House) and in 2014, started her own performing arts collective, the “Elegant Ladies Collective.” She has produced 3 Fringe Festival plays with the Elegant Ladies and a Cabaret night as well. The Elegant Ladies specialize in intimate, interdisciplinary, site-specific works of performance. She is also on the Slamapalooza Spoken Word Poetry team (2015 and 2016), dances with Polymer Dance, and sings in a band (the Appetizers). She is a member of the Wet Ink Collective, and her writing has been published in Geist, Kiss Machine, Fugue and Chameleon.

photo of Sylvia Plath

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