Of Shame

by Eve Poirier

Normally, I would love to have somebody to talk to, someone who, as I explain to them the problem, I am also explaining it to myself. Someone to question me, not just as a challenge but as a clarification, after which I have no choice but to sharpen up my understanding and respond.

Trying to explain my problems to another person can be so illuminating. I think that the act of speech is a part of it, but it is also the act of opening up your thoughts to a real, living mind which will react, pick up on the subtleties of what you are trying to say, or maybe miss them entirely and in doing so induce further explanation. Thoughts! I have often said that to me, understanding something is tantamount to being able to verbalise it. Think before you speak? Speaking is thinking. But at the moment there is work going on under my conscious awareness – frustratingly out of reach of words, and thus out of reach of my own understanding.

Writing is different. I can go back and change a sentence. I can stop. There are no responses. And everything I say marks the page in front of me, reminding me uncomfortably that I’m going to end up coming back to read it, and then likely finding shame in my pretentious linguistic posture, needlessly complicated compared with how I speak. I am wary of my grammar, and of repeating words, and emphasis is only available to me through my little toolkit of punctuation. I wish that you, reader, could see me as I talk, for then my real meaning comes out, not just in my words but my mannerisms and emphasis and expressions also. I am ashamed to be seen in the act of imitating – is it not a little indulgent and presumptive of me to write as others have, telling myself that this is just to sort out my thoughts but at the same time revelling in the fantasy of you, right now, reading my words with any respect at all?

Even as a diary this can be helpful. But I write with the same narrative voice with which I read, now feeling forced and academic, unlike my speech to a friend would be, expressive and intuitive. Stop writing as if you’re a philosopher! And yet I still didn’t let myself type that last sentence in capitals.

This is the great conflict within me, that desperate need to share which rages against the wall of shame, built by my own consciousness to hold it in. It is one thing to publish an argument, but to publish this piece of ranting? I want people to read what I write, and enjoy it, and find meaning in it, but what right I have to such a privileged thing I do not know. I would judge someone for what I am doing, and indeed I judge myself. Why can I not just let myself write and express and discuss without doubting my own authority? Or perhaps instead, why am I not content to just do my own thinking instead of forcing it upon others?

Montaigne, who’s style I imitate, freely admitted he had no expertise nor good reasons to be listened to. I am jealous of Montaigne, that he wrote in this way and was lauded for it. And in my jealousy I feel shame at my own presumption – that I think my writing could be worth as much as his. And in that shame and questioning I feel only more closely aligned to him! The more I claim that my writing is not worth being read, the more I sound like Montaigne.

The only thing I think of now is that common reaction to modern art: ‘Anyone could have done that!’ Well, I cannot persuade myself that my writing is anything special. Anyone could have done this. And yet, you didn’t. I have fretted so much about my right to write, and yet quite frankly I am doing it anyway. It seems to me I should stop worrying and get on with it.

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