Thursday, April 14, 2011

Me, Myself, and ...

Many years ago, a few days into a new job, I was getting to know a handful of coworkers when the subject of Only Children came up. We were a small public relations office on the frontlines for a desperately beleaguered larger institution, so on the occasion of my arrival we were taking more than the usual time to bond, like soldiers. Sitting together, drinking coffee, talking for hours while waiting for the battles ahead. We hadn't gotten to family histories in the long, deep conversation yet. But I looked around, decided these people were A-OK, and deemed it safe to pronounce, "All the Only Children I have ever known were completely socially inept."

This did not sit well with one of us who, come to find out, was an only child. Man oh man, he was touchy touchy.

Time is a teacher. By the time I left that institution several years later, I had learned that the Only Child situation was far worse than I had ever thought. Some people with no siblings could be virtually crippled by their inabilities to get along with others, to cope in team projects, or to have the spotlight swing off of them even briefly. I was astounded by the lengths to which some Only Children could go for attention.

* * *

The purpose of this story is to illustrate "why I hate writing in the first-person," at the very same moment I am announcing that henceforth, I will be embracing the first person in this blog! Well, maybe not “embracing”  --  more like fully engaging in the exposure therapy. Up to now I’ve loathed it and I think it shows. If blogs are going to be so conducive to this particular point of view, though, I need to quit delivering it with the ambivalence of a housewife bringing a Jello salad mold to the table. (She might be smiling, but inwardly she's wondering what she was thinking when she stirred pecans, cottage cheese, celery and pistachio pudding into the same bowl, and then expected them to hold together in a fish shape. Awfully easy to screw up, for a recipe that looks like congealed vomit and nobody likes in the first place.)

How easy is it, to screw up the first person? Let me count the ways.

1) You can really step in shit, as I did in that PR office so long ago. This is something a little more forgivable (or at the very least, forgettable) when speaking off the cuff. It's a little known fact that in Journalism 101, however, the first rule taught to fledgling writers is, "Do not step in shit for no good reason."

2) It's the trickiest of all Points of View to write, often coming off as self-centered at best, or desperately needy of a constant spotlight. With the exception of bad seeds, I like for people to like me. I don’t want them to wish to slap me, if they have to endure one more moment inside my brain.

3) Don't we have enough of narcissism in our culture already? Really  --  Facebook status updates are surely all anyone needs of me.

4) Worst of all, first-person is frighteningly revealing. Much safer to report a story in the third-person, rather than deliver your Jello mold stark naked, the word "I" sprinkled liberally throughout the dish in case anyone missed who is responsible for the mess. Plus -- for good measure -- some stories from your own personal life stirred in, the better to piss off people you actually know.

* * *

I am aware of the irony of the story that opened this blog, and that some percentage of readers will be Only Children. I trust they've cursed me mightily all the way to now, but that is precisely my point. Time is a teacher -- and some students need a lot of it. Maybe they ought not to be writing first-person until they are good and old, sticking with simple, factual reporting instead. I needed about ten more years to see the flaw in my logic about Only Children, beginning with the fact that undoubtedly, I had many perfectly normal acquaintances whose sibling status was not known to me. I needed personal experience:  when I remarried, I discovered an only child in my new husband’s family was one of the most well-balanced, likable, Zen-like fellows a person could know. Really -- I'm not just saying that so that when someday he is, indeed, rich and famous, he includes me in his will. Though that would be OK, too.

Oh well. Skin to the wind.

* Written with insincerest apologies to everyone who loves Jello molds.