At home, 9:10 a.m., really light flurries, 24°F — It’s funny how tempting it is to jump into meaningless arguments — the more meaningless, the more people seem to get riled up (myself included at times). How people argue which band is best, for example. My motivation to jump in is, I guess, to share my own subjective experience.
Radical openness: maybe I don’t really need to publish — don’t need to advocate — any idea at all.
As I emailed my friend Doug yesterday, I thought about how, even though Doug is a friend, and even though I’ve emailed him literally hundreds of times, I was still adopting a sort of narrative persona as I wrote to him — a bit jokey this time (and it’s not always the same tone). I realized how often I do that, particularly in my nonfiction, how, like a journalist or columnist or personal-essayist, I adopt a voice that makes me seem reasonable, normal, unexceptional, trustworthy, reliable — salt of the earth. In other words, I adopt a persona that is NOT unique. I want readers to see me as reasonable, as if I’m concerned about my reputation, and my online reputation isn’t far removed from my professional reputation, as students, colleagues, and administrators can read what I put on the blog. So, no, I don’t want to adopt a weird perspective. But there’s a space through which to pass between these two, perhaps a kind of radical honesty, posting pocket pages or journal text without context, without polishing.
I don’t want to publish ideas that are not situated in time. I’d prefer particular texts, so include times and places in which texts were written.
Radical openness: not publishing, not having any message to tell others, as if the message I’d have would be important or even entertaining — that’s probably the reason I post so many student quotes, the message being “read these, and you’ll laugh” — the implicit purpose I have for communicating to others. What if I give that up, that feeling of having something I want to say to others? Radical openness — not being judged by what I’ve said, because it’s already in the past. I’m not sure I even understand the implications here.
Maybe, with editing, the experience, the mental engagement, matters far more than the publishing of texts. Publishing is basically a mechanical process, and that’s what I fall back on when I don’t have the mental energy to engage in editing.
Maybe we as a culture ignore experience all too much in favor of the material product, the physical evidence. But what good is it to have published in the past, as I have? What good does having published do for me, at least, as compared to the unique learning experiences I have when I can really engage?
Reading some of my own personal writings, I no longer felt that these ideas were as important and urgent as I must have felt when I wrote them. Not that all ideas feel urgent at the time of their writing, but these writings really didn’t feel that way on the re-read. Maybe that’s brilliant, in a way — it goes against the idea that what I would publish should be urgent, should have a news peg. How many times people (including me at times) write things that are connected to news events, people writing about externals such as artworks or political or social issues. It’s Not that these issues don’t matter, but to write about issues or news or externals is to adopt a position, a persona, toward both the topic and toward the reader.
Even here, today, I’m writing about a topic, though I’m not writing to anyone [which is why this post may seem more blunt than if I rewrote it specifically for readers], so there’s less persona interfering with or guiding word choice.
Letting go of whatever ideas come to mind: for example, expressing to my wife my frustrations with how we don’t have extra money. But I’d just be kvetching about a circumstance of long standing, something not easily changed, and frankly, that’s just a background condition. I don’t need to have no debt or lots of cash in order to keep living, thinking, writing, teaching, etc. So why say my complaint at all? And I didn’t. I didn’t go dwell in an abstraction (wishing I had more money) when instead I could let go that idea and be open to new ideas — that’s also radical openness.
You don’t have to come up with “others will like this”-type ideas, ideas that I have where I think, “hey, I could package this idea, explain it, justify it, for others.” That’s so limiting. And it is easy to living within the mental world of known ideas, especially when I’m stressed, say. It’s hard to let go when I’m stressed.
Continued in next post.