In art school, I left things untitled that had no obvious name. I felt like a phony and a douche almost every time I forced a name on a piece, so if the name didn't leap, fully formed, I did without. In critique, someone would invariably ask me to justify the *title* of untitled. Like, what was I trying to say to the viewer with my refusal to give them a way into the piece?
That word, refusal, is why I gave up being an artist. Also other words, like juxtaposition and conversation. And more I can't think of because it's late. Because anything I left out was a refusal and any two things I put in we're being meaningfully juxtaposed or were in some conversation that we (the critics of one another's work) had to transcribe and decipher.
'No conversation' was never an option, and I had no words or skills to assert my refusal of that paradigm.
When I refuse, it is awkward and stilted and uncomfortable and you know it's happening. I mentally rehearse asking for feedback, and try to have a socially acceptable response at the ready--one that will give me space to move away and think about that feedback somewhere alone for awhile--once I've gotten it. My unmitigated glare can shut down the conversation otherwise.
My enthusiasm, untempered, can be just as awkward. I will interrupt your conversation with a non sequitur daily, if not hourly, without some complex system of inner filters that always seem frayed and penetrable. And I've asked over-casually in my mind a million times who you had dinner with, rejecting the answer of "some folks" every time. But in my mind, I reject your lie in a way that will allow you space to answer. All in the hopes of a casual delivery, but what comes out is tensely predetermined. And you've no option but to lie more or defend.
This is how a crack forms in any commitment. Why I dropped out of artisting. And my marriage. And the corporate world. It is difficult for me to fit in without practice and repetition. I can learn the words of gracious disappointment or of curiosity in the face of misunderstanding. But they sound learned to my tin ear, not felt. I cannot be gracious under the heat of your stare that says "I can't believe you just said that." Even if your stare is only saying that in my imagination.
There's a near constant near panic to my inner monologue. The sentences in there all end on tremulous little scared notes, high-pitched voices. (Not real voices, she said, reassuringly.) O the histrionics! O the end is nigh! Forsooth, forswear!
All semester, even all year, I've struggled with the fact that my *writing* resists my voice at every turn. (That concept of refusal again, when I know damn well that my voice withers and scampers off at the glare of my pen. I can't believe I just almost said that.) But all evidence seems to point to my voice being more interesting and readable than my writing. There is a chasm of trust that I am afraid to leap across. Yes, this is a synecdoche: for everything, always. What's wrong with your writing is what's wrong with your life.
And writing, like life, is harder than I thought it would be. Or so my poster with a kitten stuck comically in a tree says.
Somehow I'm supposed to learn to trust myself and others and everything this summer. My chest gets tight and my thoughts spiral out hysterically like people out the doors of a theater fire just thinking it. One jump and I'm over the chasm. When I look back, it will seem so much smaller of a space to have crossed, I know this to be true. Everyone in front of me seemed to have hesitated for so much less time than I'm taking. My mind is screaming two things: JUMP and RUN BACK, NOW.
This cannot be subtractively analyzed to a tidy root I might lever out like a wailing mandrake. Neither can I tease it out slowly like a snarl in mohair. Some things are hard and take time. Some things are hard and take time and fail nonetheless. We are supposed to keep trying even in the slack face of it.