Swimming in the Shallow Waters

October 25, 2012

Do you have a few minutes?

I’d like to sit down, share a cup of coffee, chat with you. I’d like to look at your face, see you eye to eye, know the way you shift in your chair and the way you brush your hair back from your face. I want to know the sound of your laugh and the things that make you feel insecure about yourself.

I want to know you.

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When I set out to write in this space it was 2001. My life as I had known it had fallen apart or was being ripped apart. I didn’t know the first thing about blogging. Certainly never thought a stranger would read what I wrote and never had any illusions of grandeur. As the poet Adrienne Rich said, “I came to explore the wreck, the words are purpose, the words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done, and the treasures that prevail.” That was the first tagline on my blog and it remains an important one to me.

Diving into the wreck, using words to find purpose, to find my way, to see the damage and the treasure—this is why I write. This is why I have always written.

But the past two years more and more people read here. Strangers. People from all over the world are reading these maps, these purposes. And the deeper the numbers go, the more I want to swim in the shallow waters. It feels safer to not come out and say how I really feel about some things. To keep quiet on matters about which I feel strongly. To omit needless words, as E.B. White said, but sometimes to omit needed words. Because I am afraid of the wreckage—not the one that has already been made, but the one I might make with my words.

I have never wanted to be a confrontational writer and I still don’t want to be. But I had a conversation recently with someone and his words sit heavy on me: your faithfulness to the craft of writing, the poetry you spin with your words, must never come before your faithfulness to the truth of what you write.

In other words, pick a seat or get off the ride.

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So I’m going to do something a bit scary: I’m going to come clean about some things in the coming weeks. I’m going to tackle some subjects that never make me squirm to talk about in real life, but make me all sorts of uncomfortable talking about online.

Because the truth is that I have picked seats on these rides, but I just didn’t want anyone to know where those seats were.

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But here’s what I want you to know: I want you to know that I wish I could sit down across from you, so I could know you and you could know me and we could be real people with real thoughts and real stories and real lives. It’s really easy to write things on the internet and cast people in pale shallow lights. It’s easy to create a monster from a man and to polarize politics. It’s easy to assume we’re right because these days it seems less and less about authorial intent and more about how that piece made the reader feel.

So here’s what I want you to know, and I’ll restate this many times in the coming weeks: this is not about making you or me or anybody else feel anything, it is about the intentions of my heart—and so too the intentions of your hearts.

You can’t know mine and I can’t know yours, so come play, but play nicely, because we’re all walking out of a wreck and we’re all walking into one—let’s find the purpose, the map, and the treasures in them all.

Yeah?

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