This remarkable outpouring of wisdom, empathy and intelligence would not be possible without the Internet and without Salon. Where else could such an extraordinary and varied group gather? How else to overcome barriers of geography and occupation?
It is priceless, this exchange. And yet it is free. It is freely given. What a marvel.
Now, having spent the morning and part of the weekend reading the published responses and the many notes addressed to me personally, I would like to take the remainder of this column to talk about my personal evolution. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not making any big changes. But I have passed a couple of milestones and am evolving. I want to evolve in the open, in an open way, in a sensible way.
I have survived cancer and I have survived 10 years writing this column. And I am evolving. I'm not the same person I was when I started. I've been humbled.
Nobody evolved in my family. Things just exploded. My father would brood and be secretive and distant. He would be elusive and elliptical. Then he'd drop a bombshell. That was how change happened in my family.
I don't want to do that. I want to make changes gradually. So I am gradually trying to stake out new territory as a writer. Or old territory that has been neglected.
In talking about the letter writer's difficulties, one commenter spoke eloquently of how the outer and the inner become estranged in response to childhood difficulties. This struck me hard. I realized it is the very issue I am facing: How to move more of my "inner" into the "outer"; how much of the "inner" I continue to hide behind professional, writerly expertise.
So I am always looking for ways to express other sides of myself, and one way is in fiction and poetry, and one way will be to write more on my own site, which we have finally, at some notable expense, had redesigned so that it can serve as a nexus of community and as a communications tool.
I am sure no one at Salon would mind no matter what I say here. That's been proven, in fact, by the extraordinary freedom that's been granted me. No, it's about my own habit of viewing myself as the dutiful employee. That is how I see myself -- as a dutiful employee who has risen to the occasion, who has filled a vacancy and works diligently to reflect well on Salon, by showing the side of myself that is intelligent, caring, reasonably astute and careful of the feelings of others.
There is another side to me, though, the clueless dude who used to sit in bars, crack jokes, make trouble and stumble home. He hasn't gone anywhere. Just because I got cleaned up and sober, I'm no overachiever. I'm still a slacker at heart. I'm not putting myself down when I say that. I like that dude. It was a great relief to be that clueless dude sitting in a bar. What a wonderful place. All you have to do is sit and occasionally drink and pay money. What a wonderful relief! I am that guy! That's who I am!
I am struck by the difference between my outer and my inner selves, how I spend so much time performing as a person full of empathy and energetic regard for others, how I work so hard to formulate logical systems in which the suffering of others makes sense. I am still playing out that family role I learned so well, the role of the good son who will make no demands on others, who can rise above the petty squabbles, who will take a smaller share to keep the peace. I play that self-sacrificing role some would accurately call the martyr. Oh, yes, the martyr comes our fiercely to save me from conflict, to hide my face and to hide my excellence, too, to hide my excellence from possibly praise lest I appear above my station, better than my peers or my siblings.
That martyr has kept me down. The truth, the closer truth, is that I want all kinds of stuff. I want the big-time. I want the lights, I want the food, I want the applause, I want the love and the attention and the spotlight.
Tomorrow, and the day after and the day after that, I'll answer somebody's letter as usual. For today, I just want to leave you with a reminder that being authentic is not a luxury. It is a matter of life and death. It's better to authentically suck than to inauthentically excel. It's that big a deal. Otherwise you end up trapped in a persona that will never feed you. You get praised for stuff you're not really proud of and your real self starves for attention. And then you get sick and die. Or you go crazy. Or you drive into oncoming traffic or jump off a bridge or hang yourself. Or you commit the slow suicide of addiction.
Because you're not showing who you really are. And so you are not being loved for who you really are. And who you really are slowly starts to die.
That's what I got out of this episode. Like the letter writer, I have a veneer of competence behind which is a messy, contradictory, baffling and contrary but emotionally true person. It's to that person I wish to turn now.
So I'm going to goof off a little for the rest of the day. Maybe we'll go to Target and buy a new telephone. Damn telephone sucks. Know what I mean? Then tomorrow I have my psychiatrist. I'm starting to like her. It's helping. I've been actually kind of cheerful for a whole week now. Maybe I don't sound cheerful. But I am.
So, again, thank you so much to everyone who wrote. You not only did the letter writer a service but you did me a service and you did a service to a great many others.
Remarkable. Just remarkable. Thank you.