23 April 2007

Talk to Me


A couple of years ago I wrote a little story about an encounter I'd had with a woman who lives on the streets of San Francisco. In the story, I also talked about a friend without calling him by name. Although my intentions were honorable, my friend was upset when he read the story because he felt it cast him in an unfavorable light. Among his complaints was the fear that someone might recognize him and take a negative impression.

On a couple of occasions, as a child, I was banned to the playroom during my mother's card parties because I could not be trusted to know what--and what NOT--to say.

Recently the executive director of our non-profit expressed disapproval of a running joke I started some weeks back: my signature line on my emails reads

Alex Mercedes
Administrator
Turkey Creek Community Initiatives

At least that's what it reads most of the time. Every now and then, though, I change "Administrator" to "Administrative Desire" or "Administrative Intention" or "Administrative Dream" or some such. Nothing uproariously funny; mostly just a release valve for me in a very stressful situation. I suspect most people don't even notice that the signature changes. Certainly this was the first time the director had noticed it.

He believes that if my signature fell into "the wrong hands" it could be misconstrued and somehow hurt him or the organization or....something.

The thing is, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've intentionally tried to hurt someone using language. But it would be impossible for me to count how many times in even the course of a week, I hold my tongue to avoid hurting someone with language.

The truth is, few things are harder or more distasteful or difficult for me than the whole process of second-guessing and self-censorship. I hate trying to figure out what other people can stand to hear me say.

Perhaps more than anything else, I lay claim to the title "artist" because I believe it grants me the freedom to express myself.

It's the John Lennon thing again. My dream: to live without the deep, constricting wrinkle on my heart and mind that comes from "watching my mouth"; to live in a world where people know the difference between an inconvenient truth and an insult; where there is true freedom of speech; where people recognize the bland impossibility of never offending or being offended and instead of prohibiting more and more expression, encourage the reclaiming of phrases like "I'm sorry" and "I beg your pardon" and "I forgive."

It's insane: every public utterance is taken personally. We must be "politically correct" at all costs, at all times, in all settings. How can this be done without sacrificing every shred of creativity, freedom and curiosity? Have we become so coarse and simple-minded that we're no longer able to appreciate tone and timing, context and volume nuances of verbal communication? Are we so fed up and impatient with each other (and perhaps with our lives) that we are only willing to read and hear opinions and stories that match our own?

Is the goal to create a society wherein no one is ever embarrassed or offended or intimidated or confused or challenged or otherwise made uncomfortable?

Wouldn't it be simpler and neater to medicate all those who want an unruffled existence and let the rest of us have the whole, full, glorious messiness of living?

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My life these days is consumed with my work at TCCI. Not surprisingly, when I sit down to blog, it is usually a TCCI-related event or person that I take as a theme... None of that writing makes it to the blog. What makes it here is the odd day here or there when something other than TCCI captures my imagination.

I'm not living as an artist these days. I'm an Administrator. I'm trying to maintain a standing in the mainstream, still confused after all these years by the mysterious, tacit rules curtailing expression.

1 comment:

  1. Intiguing entry! I hear frustration and hurt....."Is the goal....." when we respond to others taking offense by shutting up and/or taking offense ourselves, aren't we furthering that implied goal? Is someone else's offense at what we *say* neccessarily informed by our *intentions*?

    It's a shaky platform we stand on when we rely on the Other to provide a safe place for our own self expression..... equally difficult to provide a solid platform for the Other....

    My experience as "administrator", called "director" in these circumstances, is in the arts and skilled nursing.... in both cases, I was hired as director- not as Pam, Artist, although at the costume bank artist was part of the job description; representing the organisations meant representing the organisations in the way they wanted to be represented..... and in both cases, my irreverent, harmless (I thought) emails and comments provoked backlash; not for the organisation- they took me out first!
    Second-guessing our acceptability to others is so often based in our projections, our OWN needs for placid communication, our OWN desire to keep the little boat calm..... are we, after all, responsible for knowing what someone else can "stand"? Is it up to us to protect others from our words? I think it's hard enough to know ourselves what we need to say, how we need to say it, based in our OWN truths.... and the same for the Other.

    I think that "artist", that making art, is our need for self expression transmuted, focussed, funneled, through spiritual alchemical processes that turn our dry tongues to silver, maybe gold.... the philosopher's stone is the Making, the Doing.... we are artists because we DO it, persevering through the lumps of lead we usually come up with.

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