Obscurity has its Advantages

One of which is realistic expectations.

Or, rather, few to none, which works as well.

I’ve gone through cycles of seeking my “brand” or identity, or audience, pouring thought and wistfulness and effort into producing content days at a time.

The closest I’ve gotten to a theme is, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

Which is overstating it, as quotes will.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

John Keats (1795–1821)

For now, I more wish to belive that the unexamined life may perhaps be lived better (than examined), but without the benefit of reproduction. And I believe a scientist would say that any outcome, however perfect, is not useful unless it can be reproduced.

While I do not strive to live as a scientist, I do wish to be of use. And I know my deepest need (for an improved life) is not perfection, but consistency.

But, returning to obscurity (we left it for a moment), I think on what is necessary to leave it: nakedness. Utter exposure, whether voluntary or not, is the cost of coming out of invisibility.

It was Edna St. Vincent Millay, I once read, who said, “A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.”

My friend Becky and I have had (e-mail) conversations over this, the choice about how open to be.  She knows her audience. She has a sense of mission in her writing, and finds both power and purpose in choosing to open some very personal parts of herself.

I have none of those motivators. Much of my fragility and “intimacy” is very self-centered; they are things I want to remember on topics that are close to my heart and so are easier for me to write about.

Or maybe just easier to stay connected long enough to finish.

All my life I have heard about “masks” and “getting rid of masks.” The idea of presenting a false front is despised in all circles, even while (as a culture) we feel more disconnected from one another than ever before.

So people talk publicly about stuff that doesn’t make you blush any more, and shocking announcements are defended effectively.

I tried to explain the phenomenon to my mother (who doesn’t need anything explained to her), and she is simply horrified at the practice. “Why would anybody do that?!” she asks.

I proffered a few of my theories (the attempted explanation part), but she didn’t seem to hear any of them. And I can’t say I blame her. I don’t rightly understand it myself.

But I’m a part of it.

Apparently I’m in the early years of Generation-Y, and attribute it to what you will (I’ve read theories about this too), we are a “real” generation, where authenticity is the key word.

I’m a part of it without even knowing it.

I can’t tell you how many times someone older than me (and not always very much older) will laugh in an embarrassed way at something I just said and respond, “That’s what I love about you, Amy, you’re so real.”

Which, frankly, confuses me, because what else can a Believer be?

My answer came in the form of another poem.

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

And now I see both sides.

I do not crave to leave obscurity. I wish more to connect with similar souls and understand other hearts that I may make my path easier and theirs too.

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

This is what I mean when I speak of being useful.

In the last weeks I have been changing households, making plans, and I’ve regretted (oh, my weak, prideful self) not being missed more on this imaginary world called the Internet; but I’ve had work to do. Good work, that stays done, that begins and ends in hope.

And I’m thankful that nothing demands I do more (here, on-line) than I wish to do.

I can’t look too far, or think too deep; the more I learn the less willing I am to lay out principles for anyone else, but I feel sustained by God’s goodness and his gentle love to me.

Invisible me.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

from A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 1807–1882

3 thoughts on “Obscurity has its Advantages

  1. Amy, I so appreciate this post. Thank you for being so openly thoughtful. I look forward to rereading this post tonight after kids are asleep and it is a bit more conducive to thought. Still quietly stalking your site,
    P.S. I still want to read your next “release” of your book ;-)

  2. It’s very interesting, because I have people my own age making comments like, “You’re very real.” Although people today are shockingly indiscreet with what they do or say, I’m not sure I’d say that they are being “real.” There definitely is a fakeness with people our age particularly with everyone wanting to be politically correct.

    I always took the real-ness description as people commenting on the fact that I wasn’t afraid to put some noses out of joint by being honest.

    Actually I have been surprised by the number of believers who are not “real.” There I think the issue is wanting other people to thing that they are holy enough.

    Contrarily enough, I do wear a “mask.”

  3. Brooke K– did you read that first bit I sent you? Nice to hear you’re still around.

    Blue– I hear there are a lot of “fake” believers, but I’m trying to work toward what I feel God calling me to be. At the same time I don’t think the definition of truth is speaking everything all of it all the time.

    I think a “mask” has a purpose- that’s what I love about the poem: I agree with the question, “Why should the world be over-wise?” vulnerability of relationship is not the same thing as nakedness to the world. Relationships earn the openness. Living requires armor.

    At least in my experience.

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