Open Book

Several months ago I exchanged a series of emails with an old childhood friend. We had not been in touch for decades. In one note the friend expressed apprecia- tion towards my openness, declaring that she, too, considered herself "basically an open book." (Somewhat ironically, I learned very little of my old friend in the four or five messages I received.) I came across the expression reading the press this morning, and I guess that got me thinking a little bit about this metaphor. Perhaps, too, it's because yesterday I read something about another of these destructive, tell-all biographies, this one about John Lennon. In any case, I certainly do not consider myself "an open book". It is one thing to share deeply felt emotions, or to be open regarding certain realities that condition one's life in important ways. This has little to do with revealing all the personal details that traditionally, and for good reason, belong to the realm of the private. Indeed, it seems to be the case often that those who are most eager to hand out the intimate minutiae of their personal lives in some kind of weird groping for "sincerity", are too often really just tossing out the garbage. And an empty garbage can is just that, empty. Maybe our culture suffers confusion regarding the nature of personal dignity. Let me clarify: I don't mean to disparage the rich inner lives of others, not at all. I too value all the little details I hold inside--thoughts, fears, hopes, fantasies, delusions, etc. But some of it would be garbage to others, and as a common courtesy, I try to act as a good filter. Open books can be a dangerous thing; there may be pages that are better left unread, and not really because of the content of those pages, but rather because of their capacity to distract from getting to the truly important pages. Pardon the insistence with this tedious metaphor (which is almost always used in a complementary way: so and so is an open book, isn't he/she wonderful.) Good editing, that's what we need! But what do I know? (Not much!) In any case, now this has got me thinking about Whitman, about the distances between the voice of Song of Myself and the voice of the old man who lived in Camden; the distance between the poet and the man. (By the way, the Whitman Archive website is a marvelous treasure!)

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