AWP 2014: The Naked ‘I’ in Creative Nonfiction — Nude Desire

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

ponyA fresh take on AWP’s “Naked ‘I’ Panel”  from Jessica McDermott:

The night before I attended the “Naked ‘I’ Panel,” I explored Capitol Hill with a few friends. We hiked up the hill around midnight and made our way to the “Pony.” What I experienced in this bar was pure nakedness – the wall paper was fully nude men, the sole TV was playing gay porn, and there was a dancer wearing only a thong thrusting his pelvis beside a pole. When asked where the bathrooms were, the bartender told us to avoid the “Men’s” room – I quickly noticed only men entered this bathroom, and when it swung open, it looked like a different type of dance party was at work. As soon as my “Boy’s” bathroom door opened two men came out, arms draped across each other’s necks, “Don’t worry, we put the seat up,” the one closest yelped.

By the time I got into the bathroom, someone had already put the toilet seat down. While washing my hands I tried looking into the smeared metallic mirror, but I could only see fragments of my face.

The “I” in nonfiction is like “hearing self in a mirror.” It is an embodiment, not a construction. It is a mask, but only a partial one.  It works like a connective tissue of inquiry.

The pounding techno-music and overload of people, along with the stark nakedness drove us to leave after twenty minutes and head to Wildrose, a lesbian bar down the street. Inside, I kept smelling what I thought was food. I asked my friends if they smelt it too, but after a couple of minutes, my nose led me to look down and notice a pile of vomit below the end of our table and my chair. “Oh nasty,” I said. “That isn’t what I was expecting.”

The fuckups, that’s where the good voice is. Locating the ‘I’ in nonfiction is like blood – you only hear it pumping once you place your hands over your ears.

At Wildrose, only about ten people were dancing on the hardwood floor. Beside an open door where pedestrians would stop and throw up their hands to join in on the movement, I started dancing. Smooth late 1990s and early 2000s tunes like TLC’s, “No Scrub” were softly sung along with like forgotten nursery rhymes. At first I didn’t know how to move – I had a surge of nervousness, as I usually do when I first start dancing, but I convinced myself to stay put.

The ‘I’ must linger in awkwardness.

We danced beside women in baggy sweat pants who moved in low sweeps of their arms and bouncy legs, beside women holding each other and kissing, beside two men doing ballroom, in a circle of sweet pivots and twists. After only an hour we were told it was the last song. I felt the longing for more – the want to get lost on Capitol Hill just a while longer, but like good things do, the music ended.

What is important is the longing the ‘I’ reveals; the proximity to distance and distance to desire.

Jessica McDermott is an MFA student studying creative nonfiction at the University of Idaho. She and her twin brother recently started a small press called The Yellow Mountain Collective. This was her first year attending AWP.

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