“When I turned eighteen, the cult just turned into the Devil’s playground. The cult was insisting on things from me and harassing me. They shaved my head, they forced me to do hard labor, I was being told I didn’t deserve nice things and I believed it. I think having my head shaved caused me to go into shock, but I then went to my dance teacher and I said to her that at Synanon, all the women shave their heads. My dance teacher couldn’t handle my shaved head and threw me out the school. And then it got worse and worse and worse.”
While working in service I began to feel a bit like Simone Weil, the sheltered, awkward, mystic-intellectual who at twenty-five decided to work in a factory for a year, not out of financial urgency but for political solidarity, as a kind of investigative journalist. It didn’t go well for her. As Czeslaw Milosz wrote, that year “destroyed her youth,” and taught her that such self-sacrificing labor is not noble but in fact degrading, as it required her, just like her less privileged comrades, to wholly give up a sense of self. I told myself I would keep writing no matter what, but after placating the herds, mopping floors, and cleaning toilets, I didn’t always feel inclined.
Even after I decided I wanted to be a writer—a career path that everyone, especially my parents, agreed was nebulous at best—I eventually saw how one could become a “successful” writer. Get into an MFA program, get published in a literary journal, get an agent, sell a novel, win a prize maybe, and, obviously get writing. I don’t think I’m alone in this way of thinking. I think we all, generally, have some idea of the signifiers of success.