J.W. Diehl Photos
Recent articles and discussions about the dangers of Internet candor are making me feel a little anxious, defensive, though as a writer I’m always revealing myself, and even when I wrote only fiction, half my readers assumed it was autobiography. They responded to my modest denials with a wink. Don’t people know one writes fiction for the same reason one reads it—to escape what really happened? Certainly, you put in bits of real stuff, like a bird making a nest, some tinfoil from the pill bottle, the razored-out spot on the blue dress, the love note your sister’s boyfriend wrote which you stole from her bedside table (an example I just invented, sis); but the nest becomes a nest, a small nest, a bird’s nest; it’s not a life.
Writing a memoir fulfilled a promise I made to myself when I was ten—a promise that shaped my life so profoundly that not to make good on it would have been just…wasteful…but it wasn’t fun. Memoirs are not histories or double-blind studies; you accept the skewed perspective of a deeply implicated actor; but still, one wrangles with truth. You want your fiction to be true (when you’re not just praying for it to be over) but in a much more expanded sense. That gives more room for play, for hours of sheer fun. Blogging is also fun; it has qualities of those conversations I hold with myself, crafting my argument minutely, pretending I’m rehearsing to speak to a certain person, who would of course be bored by my intricate weave of thus and so and because and then, all concerning some trifling event.
It’s like that and also like reading a novel where a grand old bore (resembling an ancient toad, a barbered ape or a warthog in shabby tweeds) is holding forth, and the writer describes the majestic, unrelenting waves of speech; the pop-up peregrinations; and most of all the magic circle the victim cannot leave, feet glued to the floor as she pales, flushes, sweats, endures, hears the hissing of serpents from a long-forgotten childhood dream of Hell—and you wonder how can a bore be boring when a description of boredom can be so exquisite? (Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis offers a classic example of this.) It’s like what Jerry Seinfeld said: Let’s make a show about nothing, and make it the best sitcom of all time. Not that he anticipated that perhaps, and not that my or anyone’s blogging has reached that level; still and all, I like blogging best when it starts out being about nothing and only gradually acquires shape.
This is the way writers think. If some HR person reads this and decides I can’t be trusted with children or CEOs, they’d be wrong. But I’m okay with it.
Anybody Can Write A Poem
I am arguing with an idiot online.
He says anybody can write a poem.
I say some people are afraid to speak.
I say some people are ashamed to speak.
If they said the pronoun “I”
they would find themselves floating
in the black Atlantic
and a woman would swim by, completely
dry, in a rose chiffon shirt,
until the ashamed person says her name
and the woman becomes wet and drowns
and her face turns to flayed ragged pulp,
white in the black water.
He says that he’d still write
even if someone cut off both his hands.
As if it were the hands that make a poem,
I say. I say what if someone cut out
whatever brain or gut or loin or heart
that lets you say hey, over here, listen,
I have something to tell you all,
As an example I mention my mother
who loved that I write poems
and am such a wonderful genius.
And then I delete the comment
because my mother wanted no part of this or any
argument, because “Who am I
to say whatever?”
Once on a grade school form
I entered her job as hairwasher.
She saw the form and was embarrassed and mad.
“You should have put receptionist.”
But she didn’t change it.
The last word she ever said was No.
And now here she is in my poem,
so proud of her idiot son,
who presumes to speak for a woman
who wants to tell him to shut up, but can’t.