Of all possible hells, my least favourite is interviewing other people. Not because I have to be nice to them, which is bad enough, or because they're somehow famous, or 'cause they have publicists who look like they want to drink me through a straw. No, because after years of part-time doing it, I cannot stop hearing myself lie.
Interviews require a talent for real-time psychoanalysis that is both ill-gotten and impossible to lose. It's as if you're surveilling everybody, including yourself, all the time. It is not sexy. I used to think that, given my inability to hide extra feelings, the person I was most likely to deceive was me. Now I can't even do that.
Writers, I find, become journalists at their own risk.
When I say “writers”, I mean fancy prose writers, believers in our own words, romantics. It sounds like a Thought Catalogue-y glamification of writing to say that all the real writers are romantics, but it isn't. It is etymologically just accurate: Romance in its first, best, most basic definition is a story spun from – and away from – life, in which you are both narrator and hero. (Or anti-hero; same difference, honest.)
In journalism school they said “write what you know”. I, born to quit, said “write what you want to know”. I was right, and dumb. It would only get more difficult. The more seriously I wrote, the less sure I was of the difference between a) what I wanted to know, and could know, and b) what I only wanted to believe.
Last year, as a newspaper columnist, I felt stuck at not the beginning but the end of every piece, when I would stare unseeingly at the web I'd built until breaking down and emailing my editor some Holzer-y shit like THERE IS NO CONCLUSION. THERE ARE NO CONCLUSIONS. EVERY CONCLUSION IS A LIE.
So lie to me, he said.
I quit. At the beginning of this year, instead of making resolutions, I decided to try being a “better person” (what a dickishly hubristic phrase, as if I were “good” to begin with) by launching several “emotional projects". Of course, since I can't afford to do anything without writing about it, I'm writing about them here. So far, they include: “Being a woman” and “acting as reciprocally as possible” and – now, by far the hardest – “not lying”.
If anything is true of my generation it's that we don't even believe in truth, with or without a capital T. We've substituted it for another T: for Transparency. Transparency is the stated aim of Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook and Obama's government and Julian Assange's life. Old media outlets, from the New York Times on down, are obsessed with transparency. Old CEOs are professedly all about it. So are new artists: The coolest thing I've seen this month is Julian Oliver's “transparency grenade”, like a “truth bomb” for the now.
And yet in most cases where transparency is loudly declaimed, the meant word is "disclosure". Zuckerberg and Obama, to stick with the two biggest guns, practice glasnost by giving us more information than we know what to do with, usually ensuring we don't do shit. As a tactic to promote mass ignorance and apathy, that's genius. As transparency, it fails: We can't see the big picture for the pixels.
Same goes for smaller pictures. So many of us now are both the photographers and the stars of our own lives, the narrators and the heroes. The romantic tendency, mistaken often for “narcissism” or “famewhoring”, is enabled by new story-making tools, or what we're forced to call “social media”. All this we know. The question is whether we believe our own lives.
In trying to do just that, I began telling everyone my new thing was “full transparency”. Again, that doesn't mean "full disclosure": The worst thing you can be when you grow up is that asshole who says “I'm just honest.” Transparency isn't saying everything you think with #nofilter. It's more like meaning everything you say. It is first thinking about, then saying, that thing you mean, knowing 100 percent well you might mean and say something else another time. The process of transparency is also its sum.
And it's a tricksy process, because all our best ideas are obscured with too much information. Another trade hazard of mine is this Borgesian Rolodex of headlines, overheards, paraphrases, pull quotes, “new studies that show”. I think in the language of information. I talk like a notebook. What I need is not to know so much (so little, really) about everything, but to stop appearing to know more than I understand.
What maybe we all need, sometimes, is to stop talking. To stand in the middle of a feeling and not compose 140 characters, or 612 pixels. To not translate, or to translate later. To translate less.
Walter Benjamin wrote that the best translation is the most transparent, the sparest; it “does not obscure the original, does not stand in its light, but rather allows pure language… to shine even more fully on the original”. You know, like the crack in everything of which Leonard Cohen sings, or the Sontagian “luminousness of the thing itself, of things being what they are”.
That's what I want, for things to be what they are. Some weeks ago I told a boy I see almost every day that I wanted to have sex with him, because… I did. He said we should talk about it. I said no, but then I don't want to do it. The moment you talk about something you want to do, your actions become distanced from your motives, a long shadow falls and magic hour ends. There goes your best chance at transparency.
The next week we shared a cigarette in the half-blinding light. I was looking at him, thinking mostly that I was happy we were friends. He was interviewing me about my new sort-of-romantic situation. He asked, “What do you think will happen?” I said I wasn’t going to think about it. After all, the most important facet of “full transparency” is a clarity achieved by only looking at the present. He squinted at me, a little.
“You're an open book,” he said, “but you're not an easy read.”
It was so perfect I just laughed, and thought of Clarice Lispector, always contradicting herself, saying: “My mystery is that I have no mystery.” What does that mean? Anything? How can I tell you without disproving everything I'm trying to say?
More truth and transparency: