I was lying in bed last night, warm and comfortable, but I had a nagging urge to drag myself back to amend this blog. (I know … there’s something not quite right about that …) In the end, comfort and laziness won out. Nonetheless, I was troubled – and my few regular readers (whom I appreciate far more than they may know) did not get my retraction.
What was bothering me? Falsehood, of course. The same thing that always bothers me in writing – more in writing than in living, I think. The whole narcissistic point of this project is to be honest; I mean, I chose anonymity to maintain a space where I could be more frank and self-disclosing. I have my moments of course, but I envisioned a far more involved effort. Dishonesty and disguise is the weakness I see in my writing, and in much of the writing I read. It is produced for consumption. It is aware of an audience. It is about presenting an image of one’s self to the world – almost a brand name. I feel obliged to point out the same is true of most of our personal interactions, whether these are professional, familial, political, religious, or even those among friends and lovers.
Most importantly, there are some details, some thoughts, some feelings that are too personal – we conceal them. If we could see these – the hidden selves around us – we would find some parts beautiful, some parts precious, some parts repulsive, some parts pathetic. That line of thought contains both voyeuristic and exhibitionistic tones. In my own aesthetic – which is much more significant to me than I am able to communicate because it encompasses how things appear, but also ethics, virtue, vice, and value and even what is real – art includes those tones, but involves more. It must also have a transcendent quality.
I don’t know what that transcendent quality is, exactly – but it is meaning; it involves transformation; it touches something deep that is hard-wired in us. In moral terms, we can feel it when we see acts of kindness, empathy, courage. Something mundane becomes remarkable. We can also see it in so-called negative things. When people are in pain, we respond because we also hurt – it touches a place in us that is deep and hidden. In our natures we are often repelled by things like cowardice, weakness, illness, but it is because we fear them and want to live in a universe where we have greater control over them. Yet those things, if we let them, also speak to that same deep, hidden place. We have been afraid – we want a person to overcome his fears, but we understand and are kin in feeling the fear. We have been weak – we want a person to show strength, but we understand and are kin with the weak.
Mostly, what attracts me is longing. That pang is the feeling for which I have no defense. I see it and respond instinctively – almost like a parent who wants to make the hurt go away.
Take all that as read. The thing that bothered me last night was something else entirely. It was the feeling that I had been dishonest. Yes – I know I have yet to succeed in my intent here. The notion is not wholly falsified, but I have a long way to go. I have failed in disclosure, but I have never been actively dishonest here. Then it occurred to me that I had.
I’ve tended to post poetry disproportionately because it comes up. When I go to write, it is what I most often produce. It is, at least, what I tend to like best. None of my novel attempts this year have been that appealing; scenes or phrases or characters or ideas, yes, but in the main, no. I have avoided posting much of the short fiction I have been working on – because it tends to be more time-consuming. I have avoided politics because it is complicated; I find it tiring, and I find people only hear in terms of their preconceived political categories. I have avoided religion – at least in part, for much the same reason. Now I want to make something perfectly clear: I find all of these important, I have ideas or notions about them, I spend considerable time on them, and there are even issues about which I care deeply. As topics for ‘creative’ writing, they are fine. They can fit my aesthetic.
The thing is, when I write poetry, I tend to get in a particular mindset. Some of this is, of course, habit. You tend to write poems about the same types of things that you like to read poetry about. I abhor most overtly political poetry, for instance – there are profound and wonderful exceptions, but most of it consists of “art” in service of some alien agenda. It ceases to be art precisely where it seeks to accomplish something other than itself. Thus, I rarely write on political themes. As I said – it can be done and has been done with beautiful results, I just lack the skill or desire to do it. Similarly, I avoid cloying greeting card items. (I’ve been told more than once I should avoid sharing my poetry with actual people I love … it is sometimes just plain hostile.) Again, some ‘greeting card’ sentiments are real, and true, and valuable. But if I said them, my tongue might fall out – they would ring false. Same deal for religion. I love religious themes. But it is so easy to depart from honesty – to work ourselves into a frenzy trying to imagine we feel what we should feel rather than what we genuinely do feel. Also, religion – more than many topics – is perhaps not best explored by feelings. Things are true or false whether I feel good about them or not.
The combined effect is to produces a narrowly defined series of writings that convey only one aspect of me. All of the things I have written here are true – honest, at least, but the true parts when put together form a false whole. They give you only a narrow and warped perspective. It is analogous to viewing a single puzzle piece and trying to extrapolate from that piece the whole scene of the assembled puzzle. It is viewing a scene from one perspective only. But the perspective is not my perspective; it is a narrow subset of my perspective. It is one of my perspectives.
I was seven or eight the first time I flew in a jet. I remember all the details of that flight, but one image has stayed with me. It was an overcast, November gloomy day – gray clouds, gray leafless trees, chilly but not cold, misty without rain. I had a window seat, and I watched as we gained elevation. The city grew smaller and smaller, cars and trucks on the interstate became indistinct – first they were toys, then almost dots. The whole area of city and suburbs began to look almost like an organism, a living thing. Eventually, we broke right through the gray cloud canopy. And I was shocked. The world below was obscured, and all I could see was a bright sun, a blue sky, and numberless white clouds. In spite of infinite variation, the effect was one of changelessnes: it was always sunny; the sky here always blue. At the time, I did not think of the difference night would make; instead, I remember having one distinct, crystal clear impression: this is how it really is. I find it interesting now that I gave preference to the view from the sky – that was more real to me. But my conclusion wasn’t quite true: it really was both. It depended on where you looked and on the position from which you looked.
The thing that specifically bothered me last night: love. I have spoken a lot about love. About love’s beginning, about desire, about want, about need, about love’s ending, about being pathetic, about failure, about my mistakes and cruelties, about those mistakes and cruelties of which I have been the victim, about memory – good and bad, about loss, about passing time, about unsated longings I can only inarticulately own. Specifically, I have wallowed in how these things felt, their mood, their textures. It will be apparent to readers that my failures outpace my successes. It will be apparent to readers that I am talking to and about different people in spite of my over use of the word “you”. The details are incidental. Everyone loves; everyone hates; everyone remembers; everyone hurts; everyone aches. But there is one fact that warps this – one omission that is negligent enough to render the whole false. I only realized what is not apparent last night. There is not one person I have loved (in any fashion – this goes beyond romantic and wannabe romantic love) that I regret loving. I might regret how I acted; I might regret what happened; I might dislike how I was treated; but I do not regret the love at all. It is not an occasion for pride … or shame. It’s just, when I put words to this nagging thought, I realized I am blessed. I am blessed to feel what I have felt; and I am blessed to have people – fellow travelers – who are my soul’s kin.
And so, today, at least, I am a penitent liar.