Saturday, June 25, 2011

On Self-Expression, Flashers and Chinese Finger Traps

Photo by Casey Fleser

Do you ever suffer from those dreams where you are somewhere-for instance, at your work or back at high school and, while doing something simple like walking down the hall, you suddenly look down and realize that you are naked? You are filled with horror and embarrassment. It is never clear why you weren't wearing any clothes anyway, and, mortified beyond belief, you attempt to cover yourself with whatever is handy-perhaps a coffee mug or a nice potted plant.

This is what is like being a writer.

Unless you are somebody who is good at writing journalistic opinion pieces, or fantasy novels, writing is an act of desperately dangerous self-exposure. In my case, I am driven to write by a sort of narcissistic fascination with my own thoughts. I like to think that this preoccupation makes me an artist.

Probably, it just makes me an ego-maniac.

I read avidly and I am unbelievably hungry for the words of other writers which illuminate corners of the world previously cast in fuzzy shadow. I enjoy them on the level normal people enjoy chocolate and orgasms. For instance I love Jenny Lawson's blog. Although someday, because of what she writes, men in white suits will probably come to her house to claim her child and commit her to rehab, I am profoundly grateful for her writing.

So, this is what causes me to expose my metaphorical private parts on the Internet, despite otherwise being the kind of person who is happiest operating with a sort of relative anonymity. My practice of remaining largely under the radar is supposed to prevent other people from saddling me with the kind of responsibility that I think will lead to a prodigious public face-plant. Almost my entire life is a scheme to avoid embarrassment. Except my writing.

In writing, honesty seems crucial. Not literal honesty, cash register honesty, necessarily, but saying or describing something with a sort of blind integrity dedicated to revealing the truth that lies at the heart of a particular piece of writing. If there is an ethic of writing, this, for me, is it.

The question I have is how do I reconcile that with my desire to avoid unwanted attention? I think the easiest thing would be to adopt a public alias and and keep my own identity secret. The inherent problem with this is that the only people who ever find and read my writing are friends and family, so, without my true name, I think I have no audience. And, although I write basically for myself, the practice does require at least the illusion of an audience. So I guess I'm basically stuck outing myself as a heathen, foul-mouthed screw-up with a questionable past.

Two metaphors come to mind for this:

The first is the Chinese finger trap. One sticks one's finger into the end in vain hope of some sort of cathartic self-expression, whereupon one finds the finger, and public self, are trapped in the fucking thing, because somebody read it and took it seriously, not realizing the all writers have Multiple Personality Disorder and there is no reason to take anything they say about themselves as entirely true, since it's unknown which aspect of their split psyche actually produced that thought. The finger only comes out when you stop fighting the trap and allow it to remain trapped.

I always feel good about it when I can mix several metaphors only a sentence or two into an explanation.

The second metaphor I have for myself is the Empowered Flasher. Let me explain.

Since I am not willing to deal with the repercussions of actually living a totally self-expressed, naked life, and desire all the benefits that come with keeping everything covered, I will have to deal with my desire to commit my crazy thoughts to writing by writer-flashing people in a creepy-guy-in-trench-coat sort of way while they are on their way to somewhere else. Then, when they look back, they will see me fully clothed and affecting an attitude of disinterested boredom, like "What? I'm just hanging out here on this street corner doing something normal people do".

Photo by Fashionby He

If I could see your thoughts on the Internet, you'd be this crazy, too.

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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License