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
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?
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.
posted at 4:07 AM