Sandra Tsing Loh

I’ve just re-read yesterday’s “Diary” entry and am full of shame. I so wish I had written about something else. Not to put too fine a point on it, I so wish I’d written about something other than what I was actually thinking! Idiot!

Here is an object lesson I should have remembered from the time, years ago, when I tried to write daily, diaristic Artist’s Way “morning pages.” In this exercise, the Creative Person is supposed to clear his/her head every morning by sitting down and writing three pages, longhand, of whatever comes out–a k a: dumping your mental baggage. This is supposed to unblock you, unleash you, etc.

Instead of unblocked, what I became was concerned. Indeed, going back and rereading weeks of self-reflective output (which you weren’t supposed to do) I became … self-repulsed. What these pages clearly revealed was a person whose inner life was unremittingly petty, whiny, and repetitive.

I was not a person whose natural instinct was to think deeply and generously about things, like an Emerson. No. My brain’s natural sitting wave pattern was more like:

“Saw Paul again today, at the screening. As usual, Paul has that perfect way of pretending to compliment you when actually he’s being incredibly condescending. Why does he do that? It is so disrespectful, and so divisive, especially when he’s always talking about how we’re all supposed to be building bridges and blah blah blah blah blah. After talking it over with Nancy, who certainly has experience on that score, not just with Paul but with the insufferable Dennis Martin, what with his Santa Barbara “music consortium” and the Tibetan monks and all his other BS, my new plan re Paul is not to fax him any more in regards to Amy or Bob’s screenings (even though he explicitly e-mailed me and Nell asking me to!!!), but just to let him phone in, and if–”

Do you see? This … this is the cottage cheese that lives inside a human head. That’s why we create fictional selves, in fictional narratives … that seem real … for public consumption.

(P.S.: This phenomenon is especially pronounced in NPR commentators. Because that’s what NPR commentators do–create fictional selves with fictional interior monologues that sound … like people. (Although weirdly enough, these ghost people are typically all one and the same: Garrison Keillor.)

It’s an incredibly crafted, mediated, intentional art. At writing conferences, for example, I sometimes teach a course called Write an NPR Commentary in Five Minutes. To wit:

Take some ordinary, quotidian task–doing laundry, mowing the lawn, resoling a pair of shoes–that was done one way several years ago, but is done a different (presumably more “modern”) way now.

Tell us how wacky, eccentric (nay, even Andrei Codrescu-ish) you prefer, a tad irascibly, in spite of the protests of your (ceaselessly Miata-driving, food-irradiating, cell phone-yakking) neighbors … Tell us how you prefer doing this task … the old way.

Give a rhapsodic physical description of the details: the white porcelain tub, the fuzzy, well-worn backs of the vintage baseball cards with their distinctive inky smell, etc., etc., blah blah blah, which leads to …

The memory … of your old dad/mom/grand-uncle in the ‘50s/etc., how with their great silent kindness they used to resole their shoes with potting soil/whatever enervating, time-consuming thing you now claim to be doing and how this thing is therefore not just a task but a humble homage to a simpler time, a time as faded as _____, when we still had rotary dial phones/Yankees could still win a pennant/etc.

Anyway, what happened today was that the first review of my show came in … from a critic who always hates me. Unbelievably, this review was kind of loving. And, to my horror, instead of the cool, witty, extremely well mediated person I played yesterday, I reacted by falling on this thing like a rabid dog! Like a quavering, pill-popping, desperate-for-love Judy Garland! We are talking hurling myself bodily onto this review, reading and rereading it and feeling, Nosferatu-like, these fists of lifeblood pumping back into my veins.

Afterward–I won’t lie–I continued to sit on Ventura Boulevard in my filthy 12-year-old Acura, eating the remains of a (cold) carnitas burrito right out of the paper, and read, word by word, everyone else’s (including Jean-Claude Van Damme’s) much-worse-than-mine reviews, chuckling darkly.

It was sheer heaven. It was a peace I haven’t felt in a really long time.

For this awful, wrong, knee-jerk behavior, is the boom (i.e., a bad Los Angeles Times review, like last time) going to fall tomorrow?