March 4th, 2011


On Being Earnest

"True wit," wrote Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism, "is nature to advantage dress'd: / What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd."  This typographical poem/video certainly fills the bill.  I got it from Terri Windling.  And I believe Every Single Word.  Passionately.

I like to think I am a moderate person.  I don't enjoy flaps, foofaraws, or kerfluffles.  Loud voices make me wince, extreme opinions send me searching for exceptions.  I prefer shades of gray to black and white thinking.  But I am not, and never have been, a fan of being too cool to commit.  I don't mind irony in the service of passion (see Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," or Pope's "The Rape of the Lock").   But irony for the sake of irony?  That's passive aggression dressed up in superficial cleverness.  I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it.

Me, I like passion.  OK, I live for it.  (I'm talking about intellectual and emotional passion here.  The more physical variety is not something I talk about in public)  Squeeing?  I'm there, though innate self-consciousness keeps my decibel level down.  Waving of the hands and expansive gestures?  Yep.  Going up to people I admire and telling them I think they're the bee's knees?  Absolutely, even when I can feel myself blushing (and I do blush).  Fixing students with a feverish eye and telling them a really cool idea doesn't make a story if cool is all it's got going for it?  Yeah, guilty as charged.  Do I sometimes embarrass myself?  Frequently--I am one of God's Frozen People, after all.  I was not brought up to express strong personal opinions, or to think mine were particularly important.  Have I died of it yet?  Well, I'm here to write this post, aren't I?

And I think--no, I know--that learning to say things without hedging, mindful of my audience, but not paralyzed by my fear of displeasing it, is one of the great ongoing projects of my life.

In "The Second Coming," Yeats wrote: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."  What I'd like to do is keep the passionate intensity, tempered (in my daily life) with the ability to listen to and respect opposing views.  And in my writing and my teaching, to be as intense and passionate as possible, because otherwise, what's the point?

Whaddya think?