37, day fifteen.
Late last night as I was avoiding sleep, I got an email from WordPress saying I had a new follower. I am still new to this blogging thing, so every new follower is a big deal. Does that ever goes away? This new follower was named “Eli Glasman- Author (published and everything.)” I thought that was funny – it’s the sort of thing I might add to my WordPress username, if I ever become published. WordPress recommended a post of his called The Most Useful Piece of Advice My Shrink Gave Me. I clicked on it, even though I was tired. You owe it to someone who gives you a follow to read some of their work, right?
As I read it I barely blinked. You know that feeling where you read something, and you feel like the writer is pulling the words right out of your head? It is electrifying.
“Although I’d shown an aptitude and love of writing when I was very young, I used to freeze up whenever I sat down to write. He’d say that it was a similar thing to talking to girls. I was getting ahead of myself.”
In my “writing” file where I ramble on about thoughts just to get words down on the page, I use the phrase “freeze up” constantly. I freeze up a lot, when I write or do anything that makes me anxious. If I had a therapist, he’d probably tell me what he told Eli. I get ahead of myself. As I read the rest of the post, it sounded more and more like it cane from my brain. The circumstances were different. The prose was cleaner than mine (he’s published and everything.) But it felt like me.
This almost never happens to me. I love to read what people write, but I rarely get that tingling sense that it was written just for me. I read about people who have been through the same events that I have all the time. When I see an account of people working on stressful kitchen lines, I think, “Oh yeah. I’ve been there, sister!” In my head I call everyone sister.
But it isn’t experiences that move me. I’m not built that way.
My most valuable personal experiences happen inside my skull. Inner conflict interests me more than outer conflict. Those who write about similar events to those I have been through don’t resonate with me because, more often than not, their interpretations of and reflections on the events are different. Experiences don’t strike with me as much as ruminations. It’s because I’m all thinky and stuff.
That being said, experiences form the backbone of thought. Our thoughts are shaped by our perspective, and our perspective is shaped by the events of our lives. I live in Seattle, but I can often tell people are from the east coast not only because of how they talk, but because of their attitudes. They remind me of the people I grew up with in the way they acted and the way they thought. Because of our shared experience, there is a thread of thought that we also share. This writer, Eli Glasman, must have a similar background to me, right? Isn’t that necessary to produce this kind of sympathetic effect?
I could see from his picture that he had glasses, just like me. He also had a beard. I don’t have a beard. I have never had a beard. I could grow a beard. The only reason I don’t is my wife doesn’t like them. So that was one difference. Were there others?
I kept reading.
As it turns out. Eli Glasman was raised an Orthodox Jew. He has Crohn’s Disease and was diagnosed with OCD. He is from Melbourne, Australia. He writes realistic fiction inspired by his life.
Let’s look at each of those, shall we?
I am not Jewish. I was raised in a weird amalgamated form of Christianity. When I got older, I hopscotched through a variety of faiths before I settled on my current exasperated agnosticism. A lot of people over the years have thought I was Jewish. I sort of look like I could be, and my personality fits a few stereotypes. I’m proud to have played my tiny part in teaching those people that stereotypes are stupid. I know more than the average American about Orthodox Judaism; I worked in a kosher catering company for a while, and learned a lot. But it is not who I am.
I do not have Crohn’s disease. The worst health issue I have are allergies. They are bad enough that I could never have been a surgeon or an airline pilot, but that is nothing compared to needing seven surgeries and a colostomy bag. Comparing my allergies to someone’s Crohn’s disease, even a little, makes me feel like a jerk. I do not know what it is like to live with such a fundamental illness. I probably will, some day, if I live long enough. I’m in no hurry. It’s not part of my perspective.
I very much do not have OCD. I have been diagnosed with ADHD. This is a tiny data point, but it has large implications about the differences between the two of us.
I am definitely not Australian. I don’t know what growing up Australian does for your perspective. Like most people from the US, I have an embarrassingly narrow knowledge of other cultures. Americans view Australians like a crazy uncle. Crazy Uncle Ozzie. Uncle Ozzie likes hang gliding into the sides of mountains and has at least four pet snakes. He has a hilarious accent, and uses the “C” word in casual conversation in a way that makes Aunt Cathy’s mouth drop open and your mother cover your ears with her hands, even though I am thirty-two and I didn’t need her to do it when I was six.
I very rarely write realistic fiction. Most of my blog posts are memoir style, but that is because it is fast and fun and easy. I am more interested in writing informational non-fiction and stories about girls who can project their minds into spiders.
I read more of Eli’s blog posts. I stayed up later than I should by…what time is it now? The more I read, the more I saw the vast gulfs between our circumstances. He responded to many of the trials of his life differently than I have in similar situations. Yet the more I read, the more his reflections continued to resonate. Why is that? I have two theories.
Sometimes people just think in similar ways. Personality tests may be over-generalizations, but they tap into something real. I have a few different fundamental psychological traits from Eli. I have never been clinically depressed. I am probably more of an extrovert than he is. Personality tests catch my extroversion only about half the time, because it is weird. I have a sort of Bruce Banner/Hulk relationship to introversion and extroversion. In the right kind of social situation I get huge and green and start to smash things. Metaphorically. Well, mostly metaphorically. I certainly don’t turn green. These differences aside, there is some commonality displayed in Eli’s writing that struck a note with me.
They second reason Eli’s writing resonates with me is because it is so damn good. I say this despite a fear of sounding sycophantic, and with a healthy desire to maintain the “ironic distance from sentimentality” that typifies the modern age. I say it because it is true. No one can ever get inside anyone else’s head. We are all trapped inside the cages of our own perspectives. But we have so, so much in common. We are all human, and we have more similarities than differences. The two most different humans on the planet have more psychologically in common than either of them has to a chimpanzee.
Communication, at its most basic, is an attempt to use our similarities to convey to others our differences. We want to feel what others are feeling. We want them to feel what we feel. A good writer takes the clutter from his own head and turns it into something other people can understand. I don’t imagine Eli’s writing is going to resonate with everyone the same way it resonates with me. But resonance is a skill, and Eli has it.
Some day, I hope to have it too. I’m working on it.