Pamela Lu to Magdalena Zurawski. "the propaganda part" 8 June 2001 Dear Maggie "The People's Troubadour" Zurawski, Thank you for your high-adrenalin epistle of March 8. May the gods reward you for your gumption to dive off the sound stage straight into the heart of things. You're right - the heart of Pamela is its prolonged moment of self-creation, its "ragged and singing" self. I've been waiting all along for another queer child of immigrants to point this out. The court jester in motley threads really just wants to grab the mandolin or pi-pa reserved for poets and empty his voice out in song, until the song becomes real and his soul passes into legend, that social eternity. I've been thinking about Pamela a lot lately, in retrospect. This letter is going to take a personal turn and settle there because after all, what's the difference between the twin delusions of the intensely private and the intensely public? In either case, who "I" am loses its hard edges, becomes malleable as flesh and projection. I was 23 when I started writing the project to save my life. When I finished, I was 26 and the project had become a book. What happened during those years? I came of age. What age? Well, maybe a premature one. I could say I named Pamela after myself, but that would be wishful thinking. Really my original intention was to make a book that I myself could be named after. And it worked for a while and I was overjoyed. Now Pamela and I have parted ways, and it's a weird feeling. Is the book a ghost of me, or am I a ghost of it? At 23, I wanted to belong to those experiences that memoirs are made of. I set out to write a confession disguised as a propaganda piece, a psychological propaganda piece driven by a desperate need to convince myself of my own reality, my own tenuous existence. The piece was going to be my savior; it was going to push me toward health and sanity and the land of the living. Did it succeed? Am I all better now? After a public reading I gave in Hawaii last year, a woman rushed up to me and asked, "Are you well?" In many ways I'm as "ill" as ever, only now I've experienced, in moments, what it feels like to call oneself into existence, to be both creator and creation. Finding the power to name oneself is a heady, exhilarating, ecstatic experience. While writing Pamela, I felt the presence of a mythology much greater than myself and the span of my lifetime (call it what you will - ancestry, culture, revolution, coming out...), yet the presence was also inside me, demanding that I wrestle with it, subdue and capture it with words. I was living in an altered state, but it felt strangely like my original state, the one I was finally being returned to. I felt the rush of being convinced and more importantly, of being convincing - here at last was a loophole in metaphysical grammar logic that would enable me to construct the joke-filled machine of myself piece by piece, Dr. Frankenstein-like, with hand-me-down, rigged-up tools of language. True to the Gothic core, I transformed all my squishy interiors into grand belief, and I gambled all my convictions on the ever-shifting phenomenon of the sentence. There's the propaganda part: words that exist simply because they are believed. And the author exists too, in the moment that the words are believed. All this has to do with the American idiom, which is really perhaps what you, Citizen Zurawski, are getting at. Baudelaire felt an abiding compassion towards Poe because the latter was fated to live and work in the "horror" that is America. Resulting in tales of mystery and imagination. To become American, perhaps all one needs is an American imagination. In America, one can invent oneself all over again, maybe even for the very first time. One can also be swallowed up in the process. Once there was Wilderness. Now there is Wilderness City, with its late-late-capitalist signposts and attendant, somnambulant suburbs. I try to imagine my life out there, and I usually can't. It's all so vast and alienating and potentially murderous. And so I concentrate on the inside. I behave like a settler; I find a clearing and make an enclosure in it. I stake -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Page 2 The `open letter' OPEN LETTER issues - 1 (Eleventh Series, No. 3, Fall 2001)2my claim in the tradition of the traditionless, and I use its language for my private purposes. This is assimilation as a utopic, reversible garment, willing outer reality to conform to the shape of inner desires, no matter how impossible, how hallucinatory. But is it really that simple? It's possible, I've found, to be a pirate of your own dreams and wishes, plundering the whole lot on the promise of ever greater and greater treasures. If this opportunism serves yourself, wonderful. If it serves art, perhaps so much the better. Books prolong the giddy moment of their inspiration, and that is their gift to the world. The trick is making the transition from page infinity to the ground. In chapter infinity-plus-one, equivalent to ground zero, all the ragtag singers - the monster sinking on the iceberg, the exiles shipwrecked offshore - invent the future of their own survival. They invite themselves in to the land, they enter it fully. The anthem they march to is not the Pied Piper's, but the resident's. And I'll stop there, because that's the part I've only partially imagined. love, Pam ) 2001 Open Letter, Contributors. All rights reserved. // To respond to this letter, contact: Issue Editors: Louis Cabri , Nicole Markotic