Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stuff I'm afraid to write about

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”  (Matthew 23:27)

In my efforts to try to get back in the blogging habit again, I'd been looking over the 20+ postings that I had lovingly deposited at the feet of the Internet over the past few years, and thought, wow, good on you, mate; you've really made the Internet a much richer place, haven't you?  (My inner voice is sometimes sarcastic, often with a fake Glaswegian accent.)  I had recently challenged myself to consider what I'd be afraid to write about, and then, well, grow a spine and write about it.

Yeah...that hasn't happened yet.

But words are fun, and the opportunity to play with them like Legos (which I also still like to do) is appealing.  Now, I don't need a blog to do that, but a blog would allow me to fish for affirmation and experience the inevitable sting of disappointment when it's not forthcoming.  And after all, that's what a blog is all about.  So thanks for reading this, you tiny handful of friends, and maybe that one stranger who landed here accidentally after a Google search involving the words "foie gras" and "despair".

Anyway.  As I was going over the stuff I'd written in this blog, I realize that it's all pretty safe.  I don't mean that it's all marshmallows and butterflies, but still, I haven't written anything all that dangerous.  And by "dangerous" I mean stuff that would make me feel threatened or vulnerable knowing that it could actually be viewed by anyone.  (It probably wouldn't be...but it could be.)

That's the weird thing about hanging out your life to dry on the laundry line of the Internet. With the advent of the social network phenomenon, we have obtained unprecedented control--or at least the illusion of control--over the persona that we construct for the world to see.  And let's face it, a skillfully-constructed persona is much more about what we leave out than what we put in.  Case in point: just as I typed that last sentence, I spilled half a mouthful of coffee on my shirt.  Now, if you were sitting here with me, you'd be laughing, and there'd be no hiding the stain on my shirt.  But my online persona is impeccably dressed, and quite capable of drinking liquids from a big boy cup.  Unless I choose to reveal my clumsy little mishap, in which case I did so to deliberately make a point.  (And maybe to paint my constructed persona as quirky and random and a little self-deprecating.)

My point is, while we might strive to keep our protective masks in place in our "off-line", face-to-face interactions, it usually involves a lot of effort, and not much success.  But when we're online, we can metaphorically (and sometimes literally) photoshop our lives to approximate the image we want to project (or that we wish were the reality).  And we can do it with dangerous ease.  Don't think that my Facebook profile photo hasn't been tampered with.  If the beautiful people in magazines can get photoshopped, why should you expect anything different from unattractive, overweight, middle-aged folks?  Vanity is an equal-opportunity sin.

When I'm "off-line" having a real conversation using actual vocalizations and real eye contact, I tend to blurt out whatever pops into my head, I leave thoughts unfinished, and I sometimes am unable to string two coherent sentences together.  But when I'm online, my comments are deliberate, I can try to measure the tone and intended effect, and once I've edited it, I am usually coherent enough. (I've been known to agonize over--as if I were composing a presidential inauguration speech--a five-word comment on someone's Facebook photo of their kid wearing a bucket for a hat.)

Is it pithy enough?  Will it make the reader say, wow, what a clever guy he is, please tell me he has a blog?  Is it too snarky?  Not snarky enough?  Is there enough plausible deniability if someone chooses to take offense?  Is it too ambiguous?  Not ambiguous enough?  Is my grammar impeccable?  Should I capitalize "photoshop" when it's used as a verb?  Or a metaphor?  Will people catch the irony when I deliberately misuse those apostrophe's?

Did I spell foie gras correctly?  (Yes.)

So basically, my online life is a ruse. In my attempts at projecting a certain persona, I'm coming under the conviction that I invest too much in keeping up appearances (both online and off-line), and too little in seeking and developing true character in real life.

The clincher is that I live in a culture that is pathologically addicted to appearance at the expense of substance.  I realize it affects all broken humanity to some degree, but honestly, never have I encountered it to the ruthless, grace-less, soul-suffocating depths as here in religious Utah.  The terror of "being discovered" hangs in the air like the sulfurous odor of a pulp mill.  Window blinds are almost always drawn.  People look with envy at the white-washed tombs of their neighbors and feel shame.  They have it all together, why can't I?  And so then expend their lives relentlessly struggling to make sure their tombs are just as white...and preferably whiter.  If you can't be perfect, then look perfect.  If your tomb is white enough, no one will notice the decay within, and you might even manage to fool yourself for a while.

So I shake my head and tsk-tsk at all the shallow, white-washed graves that surround me...and then something happens and I catch a glimpse of the paint-encrusted brush in my own hand.  (That's the thing about self-righteousness.  It's kind of like "The Game."  The moment we recognize it in others, we become guilty of it ourselves.)

The irony is, we paint and paint and paint with the whitest of paint, and maybe we succeed--temporarily--in hiding our own rotting bones.  But when we get smeared and stained with the dark, red, sticky blood of Another, only then can we truly be clean...?

It's often been said that if a church could be filled with people who were truly and completely transparent in all our brokenness, where pretense and flaw-hiding were impossible, where all our stinky skeletons were dumped out on those pot-luck folding tables...what an incredibly, miraculously transformative place that would be.  The problem is, who would really dare to set foot in such a church?  Would you?  Would I?

And that is just some of the stuff I'm afraid to write about.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Read this. Or don't. I don't care. No, wait...

It's time to start blogging again.  Or at least, that's what I told myself when I got up yesterday.  A two-year hiatus from this blog is long enough, and by golly, there just aren't enough blogs in the world.  And besides, it's a good excuse to put off going to Ikea for those cheap, umlaut-infested wooden shelving units I need for the pantry.

In preparation for my re-entry into the blogosphere, I looked back on my very first blog entry, which I posted about four years ago.  It begins with the same self-deprecating statement that all new bloggers are required to say:  "I'm writing this blog simply for the sake of writing.  I don't really care if it's any good or whether anyone ever reads it."

Of course it was a lie.  I bloody well did care if anyone read it.  If I just wanted to store unread documents online, there's Google Drive for that.  So over the next couple years I posted a couple dozen entries.  And none of them...not a single one of them even got a nomination for a Pulitzer.  No book deals.  Not so much as an invitation from a major magazine to become a regular contributor.

The bulk of my day-to-day work has me dabbling in a lot of different communication arenas, everything from film editing to TV production to web and graphic design.  But writing is what I love most, and what I do least.  So why does it seem so hard to maintain any sort of consistency in blogging?  Yes, it could be argued that life gets in the way, days get busy.  But somehow I always seem to have time to watch Survivor and Walking Dead and Downton Abbey.  And let's not forget Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Nothing like Triple-D to make my own kitchen look pretty dismal.

For the longest time I feared that I had nothing of any real value to say, and so merely the act of starting a blog was, at best, presumptuous.  And yeah, I know what they say about this mass infestation of personal blogs being symptomatic of our society's increasing bent toward narcissism.

But as I ponder it more, I think the real thing holding me back is not so much a fear that I don't have anything to say, or a fear of giving into narcissism, but rather, the fear of actually writing down those things that I think are worth writing down.

When I started this blog, I had all sorts of expectations about writing my observations and experiences of being an evangelical Christian in a Mormon-dominated culture.  Hence the title of my blog, "Among the Saints."  But that hasn't really materialized to any significant degree, at least not to date.  It's not that I'm afraid of that subject matter.  After all, the topic of Mormonism vis a vis Christianity features pretty heavily in my vocational work.

But the question I'm mulling over is, what is really worth writing about?  I suspect that the only thing that has a chance of un-sticking the rusty wheels of this abandoned blog is a willingness to write about what I'm afraid to write about.  And there are plenty of things on that list. I going to rise to the challenge in the days and weeks ahead, or will my next entry be some sheepish posting two years from now?