Friday, October 21, 2016

Public Stories: On Doubt and Debt

These days we write public stories not private ones.

What is the difference?
I say, what is the difference?

A public story is not a private one.
A private story is not a public one.

A public story is when someone wishes to believe--but you withhold, withal, some doubts.
You do not share them.

In other words,
a public story is when debts make doubts unutterable.

A private story is when when doubts are spoken softly,
as if inside a closed book.

Eyes shut, like in a dream.
Perhaps you believe wishes, but will not share them.

In other words,
a private story is when doubts make debts unutterable.

Doubts, debts, what is the difference?

These days we write private stories in public
and bury the public in private, tamping down its grave.


In searching my old journals for some ships' log notes, I came across a short dialogue written in southern Mexico in February of 2006 that began "these days we write public stories not private ones." I'm not sure to what I was referring (how quickly memory fails us!), but I can tell from other nearby entries that all the ship's company were very ill then with salmonella poisoning, and we had not in fact communicated the extent of that to our friends and relatives, so perhaps that's what I was writing about. In any case, I felt a sudden urge, once I had stumbled across these words, to seize and remotivate them, to do something with them.  It seemed as if my 2006 lament was a prefiguration of the crazy mixed-up media and political landscape of the present, in which, at once, both privacy and the commons have become radically eroded, facts a matter of opinion,  public debt irrelevant (and private debt increasingly crippling).

Public, private, what is the difference? So many of us no longer clearly know, and yet this boundary feels crucial, even sustaining, particularly in private, if not in public. Although perhaps it should be.

I reflect that a personal blog, like this one, sits sometimes oddly on the boundary between public and private; it represents a space of limited publication, but within a potentially unlimited public,  like so much of whatever we who post do post on the internet. How limited? How unlimited? How can we know? No wonder we're confused, and cannot keep our accounts straight, our debts and doubts either separated or aligned.

Why have I stopped writing so frequently here? In part because I am publishing in other venues more and they do not like to be scooped by my own blog; in part because I have been working in other media and on other projects; in part because I keep several teaching blogs when I am teaching and just cannot bear to spend too much more time on the computer. Everything seems to flow through these narrow portals, and some days I spend far too many hours sitting at a desk and staring at a screen. In fact I must ask what are you doing here now, peering into that the odd doorway/ mirror of your computer screen? Hurry, get up, push back your chair, step outside and go for a walk! Get your your private in the public, where no one can see you!

Images from a walk at Taylor Head Provincial Park, Nova Scotia, October 15, 2016.

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