I sometimes have delusions, or maybe daydreams, of grandeur. I sometimes give interviews in my head about books I haven’t written, I think about the kind of windows I’d like in a house that I can’t afford, or imagine people sorting through my disorganized notebooks for clues of genius once I’m dead.
When I was studying abroad in Spain, I took a North American Literature class out of curiosity and laziness. I was curious how the canon of US Literature would be taught in Europe, and frankly, a class in English seemed like a nice break from long-winded lectures in the heavily accented Spanish of Andalusia. My professor was a weird and bitchy woman named Rosa Morales, who was perhaps unanimously hated by every English student in the University — many of whom had to repeat her class after failing. She had a bleating accent and subjected us to long lectures full of questionable biographic information about the authors we were studying. She’d tell us how Poe was sensitive and deeply affected by his relationships with women, how Chopin never got over the poor reception of her novel The Awakening — “Although she never told anyone.”
She apparently possessed a trans-temporal intimacy that gave her insight into long dead writers, and she was unmoving in her analysis of their intentions. She punctuated these lectures with the strangely inflected semi-question, “You know?” at frequent intervals. My friend Carlos and I once attempted to tally the amount of “you knows” that appeared in a given lecture but gave up after 10 or 15, as our eyes unfocused and we resorted to doodling unflattering illustrations of her round head in our notebooks.
Once I’d returned home and cleared my head of my adventures abroad, I returned to an easy rhythm of school, work, and fantasies, and found that Rosa Morales had inexplicably infiltrated my daydreams. There are many ways to visualize literary success, and I had imagined a great deal of them, but not, until recently, these kind of pseudo-academic, vaguely biographic projections and clichés. Did Poe know that years after his body had disintegrated, literature students would speculate about the psychological impact of his childhood experiences? Did Dickinson foresee the scholarly papers that would posit her potential homosexuality? Did Chopin know that Rosa would share her unspoken secrets with a half-empty auditorium?
If I wrote something worthwhile, that miraculously stayed in circulation, what would someone like Rosa Morales say about me? I now had an entirely new branch of speculation to waste time one.
It’s impossible to think about yourself objectively, so we do silly things like look over our Facebook pages, imagining how we come across to new acquaintances and old lovers, or play back conversations in our minds when we should be sleeping. In my case, I write poems about myself from the perspective of Rosa Morales, the asshole who gave me a C in a class that was supposed to be graded partially on English fluency, a class based largely on Wikipedia-generated clichés.
I know that even if I do “succeed” and write some well-received novel some day, Rosa will most likely never read it. In fact, in all probability, she has already forgotten whatever trace of recognition my face may have sparked in her last year, but somehow she has become a strange marker of success for me, and a certain kind of lens for my identity. When prompted for a brief bio recently, I found myself thinking of those weird notes I’d written, imagining myself from her perspective. I imagined her putting my bio on some shitty PowerPoint presentation, talking about my awkwardness, my promiscuity, or my inextricable ties to the redwoods. Who knows what it would say…
It’s not so much her as an individual that interests me, but the identity that can blossom from any given person, and the ways in which we lose control over that as our identity becomes a subject of interest. The one certain, validated photograph of Emily Dickinson was taken when she was teenager. Can you imagine being remembered forever by a teenaged photograph? Obviously, in this age of technology, we are extremely conscious of our outward identities, and constantly updating, archiving, and inspecting them, but that, too, has its problems. When our generation of writers dies, will they mine our fossilized Facebook pages for insight? Will they scrape through the dregs of our hard drives and publish the Photo Booth pictures we thought no one would see? There’s no way of telling how history will write us, or what the Rosa Morales of the future will put on her PowerPoint when we’re dead.