I am never more naked than I am on a page.
Most things I write, I wouldn't show a single soul.
A handful of people have told me that's silly. You write pretty well, they say, Don't sell yourself short.
That's not the point. It isn't that I think what I write is bad. Sometimes it is, though. Sometimes it's bloody awful, to be honest. Other times it's okay. Occasionally I am fairly pleased with it. The problem is, that there is too much of me in it.
Why do you think that's not a picture of me? Did you think that was my real name?
Of course not. You have just burst into the bathroom and caught me in the middle of my bath. Almost all the bubbles are gone. My thighs crossed, mouth a shocked O. My arms are doing a fair impression of a frantic octopus, getting some mileage out of the small face-cloth which covers the last vestiges of my goose-pimpled modesty.
I think I am authentic when I write. I know I try to be. Even as I write that, I'm aware that "try" is the wrong word, and it needles at me something fierce. If the words come out wrong, it feels like fingernails down a blackboard on the edges of my mind.
You're here, so surely you write, too. Don't you do the same? Distil a line down to the words that resonate the sweetest on their way out? I don't know any other way. Keep honing each phrase. Go back to the start, trim away the fat. Buff. Squint at it, shave off a little more. Blow away the chaff. Polish.
Once I've done it, once it fits, once it feels right... it fits a little too perfectly and reveals too much of me. It is a skin-tight jumpsuit which keeps no secrets and forgives no flaws. By the last word, you know me better, in some ways, than a lover. A gyneacologist never knew a patient so well.
I am slightly in awe of people who have their work published, people who work towards seeing their book on a shelf in a shop. People who have their own name stamped across the front cover. Who have pride in it. Their legs in stirrups, clothes folded neatly on an uncomfortable chair. The courage, to bare yourself to all the world like that. To do it smiling! The delicious audacity of it. It skims near to voyeurism - not just to tolerate that level of visibility, but to seek it, to revel in it. I envy them a little.
Gawking eyes of strangers peeling back the covers with easy familiarity or curiosity or affection. Eagerly opening and devouring with undisguised relish. Or discarding callously, as if they didn't hold somebody's soul in their bare hands.
Letting other people see is a mundane kind of pain, I think. I don't mean agony, like a broken leg. No, never so dramatic. More like a stubbed toe, or a paper cut. The little stab of merciless eyes raking over your innermost thought-folds. Or the dull ache of disinterested eyes skittering over your humbly bared self. It's always one or the other, if you open yourself. If you say, "Look, I wrote something..." There is no cringe-free option for the uninitiated. You have a thick skin, if you write. Or you develop one quickly.
Easier, surely, to stuff journals under your mattress. Fritter away words on social media. Spend words cheaply on things that don't matter.
When I nail down the right turn of phrase, I get a sense of what a wood turner might feel when the stars align and a chair leg curves just so. Here is where he has an advantage: that curve isn't an expression of deeply held beliefs. It doesn't betray secrets, or expose fears. There are no hopes, desires and biases to decode in the grain. The craftsman can be proud or disappointed about what he's made with his hands. That's it. It's just a chair. You can admire it or sit on it, but usually, at most, all you can tell about the person who made it is how skilled they were. How much they loved their craft. Unless they carved it with words.
I don't believe any other art form or expression leaves us as raw and open as writing. Any kind of writing - stories, poems, songs, plays. Words are paintbrushes with serrated edges. Writing leaves us wide open like a fresh wound.
Whether people read my words or not, I write them anyway. I write like I breathe. Writing is an imperative. Not just for me, or for some people, but for everyone to some degree. Don't they say everyone has a book inside them? Isn't this the reason? Because we all have a bone-deep drive to talk, to share, to tell stories?
Fish swim. Moles dig. Sparrows fly. I write.
Often, I don't write words for anyone to do anything so vulgar as read them. They are for me, not you. Sometimes I'll eventually push them off the branch, but that can take a while. The more candid the words, the harder it is to proffer them, sheepishly, to anyone at all. Isn't that why greetings card manufacturers make so much money? Who really wants the awkwardness of a heartfelt note? Don't we all wince when the chap with the guitar at the party sings one of his own songs? It might almost be less perverse if he dropped his trousers. Please, man, put it away!
Words are for writing, before they are for reading. They are for having. For pinning down perfectly like butterflies. Rare ones, common ones, exquisite ones, plain ones. It is just a delight to draw them out and see them arranged pleasingly on the page.
Piercing a mind-boil and letting the goo flow is messy and raw. It hurts sometimes... but it hurts good. The deeper I go, the more authentic I am, the greater the swell of soul-pus and ink and the better it feels. Probably the more distasteful to some people, as well. I don't care. I squeeze unctuously. Without thinking, in that moment, of the intrusive and jarring speculum of other people's opinions.
Isn't it funny how speculum and speculate come from the same root? They even sound similar.
I revel in the weirdness and power of words, to puncture or soothe or paint any picture you can imagine.... Prodding at old memories, old wounds, pinching and milking, and letting stuff pour out.
Authenticity is both vulnerable and powerful. I think people are naturally drawn to it. Maybe each person is as likely to hide it under layers as strive towards it. But not, I think, a writer. Even when a writer lies, they tell you a great deal about themselves. It's all stories.
We cannot pull words from a vacuum. The substance has to come from somewhere, and we only have one well to draw from. We spin the words like candyfloss, making almost nothing from almost nothing. No matter how finely we spin it, there's always something of us in there, melting to almost nothing on your tongue.
The water is cooling and red, there is a chill draught on my bare wet skin, and my fingers and toes have turned to prunes. You're still standing here, looking.
I am caught in the oscillation between liking that and really not liking it at all. I live and write there.
Please close the door on your way out. There is a draught, and I am naked.
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