The other day I received a comment on my site that stopped me in my updating tracks. It wasn’t offensive or revolutionary, but it struck me as strange and somehow inappropriate to this weblog, despite its sincerity. It was Dan from Seattle, who responded to my fanciful photo essay “The Shrivelled Balloons of Montreal” with the note: “Thank you for having the courage to open up and share your thoughts with others”.
I’m pretty sure that you’re responding to my preceding comment about missing my wife while travelling (and not to my story about searching out legendary balloons in a godforsaken Montreal), but still. Dan from Seattle - I truly appreciate the sentiment, but it gave me genuine pause. I felt like a little boy on Christmas day who has unwittingly opened a package meant for his older sister. But no - I glance around the room and there are my parents, expectant smiles stretched over their jaws, happy to see me handle the gift they picked out especially for me.
I think it’s the nouns that confound me.
Dan from Seattle, let me make this clear to you: I’m a big old coward. There’s nothing revealed on these digi-pages that gives me any pain or requires me to dig deep into my soul. This is the place where I feel safe: where I twist language and experience around and admire the resultant shape. It’s a bit like being a potter on the wheel - there is perhaps the anxiety of performance, but there’s no Pot of Pain and Shame that the potter spins off the wheel and takes brave ownership of. Unless there really is a pot of Pain and Shame, a pot of Adolescent Trauma, a pot of Mistaken Identity That Promises Gain But Leads to Tragedy (that’s a complicated pot). What I’m shaping here is a Pot of Ironic Engagement, and that requires not courage, but ironic engagement. Which is cowardly.
Not precisely a noun in Dan from Seattle’s formulation, but I can bend and break a few rules here in this environment (I think that’s air I’m breathing?). As I’ve mentioned here and there, I am not in the business of revealing myself, except in the most oblique fashion – if you want to ferret out my psyche from my writings about the Philippines or the latest B-movie, you may have some success, but that seems like a bit too much work for the casual reader. It sounds a little sweaty, and what we want here is a nice dry time, with all the moisture nicely wicked away. It’s not that I’m particularly coy, but I don’t feel that my personal self – what self there is behind what persona I project – would really entertain or edify anyone. On the other hand I’m a self-absorbed extrovert, so I build a palace in my mind, install myself as pseudonymous potentate, and besiege the internet. Watch for halberds.
It took me by surprise to realize that most of what I write here isn’t “thoughts”. In fact, what’s here is barely the result of thought. It’s the result of one word, one phrase, one clause suggesting another, and so on. I often don’t know what the end of my sentence is going to look like when I begin one. But I have great confidence that my ending will refer, at least nominally, to the beginning, and if it doesn’t - well, most readers are generous and kind, and they’ll make some meaning out of the whole mess. I told that to people in a writing class, and their reactions ranged from indulgent dismissal (which was correct, since I was being fatuous) to outright disgust (also correct, because I wrote pleasing sentences).
This isn’t to say that I don’t have opinions. I have tons of opinions that I’ll unleash anytime I please. They droppeth down like acid rain from my bully pulpit high up on my cyber-peak in Darien, people (What?). I even have an opinion on the new Keanu Reeves vehicle Constantine: yech.