Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Correspondence Course

While pruning my virtual "sticky" notes this evening, I came across many that contained the text of messages I never got around to completing or simply decided not to send. Like a number of others, the one the following excerpt is drawn from can be assigned to both of those categories:
While it would be foolish of me to state that I would definitely rise to the occasion in a Virginia Tech-style crisis -- how can we know, in the end, how we will act under that sort of distress -- I'm pretty sure A) that I would not be cowering in fear and B) that I would be willing to risk my own well-being on behalf of others, including total strangers. Historically, I've performed best in times of greatest crisis.

For what it's worth, my general response to disasters natural and man-made is either ironic detachment or passionate rage. I can count on one hand the number of times I've truly cried since leaving pre-school. And I spent the latter years of high school, when you were apparently reading and reporting on poetry, devising what I and others referred to as a "hit list." I used to have students come up to me to ask where they were on the list. Seriously. I'm not proud of playing up the idea of myself as a potentially murderous sociopath while a high-school student. But I do think it sheds some light on my emotional response to events like the Virginia Tech massacre.

In closing, let me note that, for someone who is as into facts of a math-and-science nature as you frequently claim to be, I find it curious that you would build your perception of who a person is on such a limited statistical sample. We've only talked a few times in person. And, while you have read many of my Live Journal entries over the past few years, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to draw conclusions about who I am and how I would act in a given situation in light of what I write here, particularly insofar as so much of what I write here is heavily coded.

Then again, I have often had the impression that you take statements literally, for better or worse, even when they cry out for a mode of interpretation attentive to indirection. I can't fault you for that. It speaks to the sincerity and forthrightness that you so effectively present in your Live Journal-related correspondence. But, if I'm even partially right, that quality would go a long way toward explaining how you have ended up with a picture of me that any of my long-time friends in "meat space" would refute in a second. Take the entry in question, for example. Although I did mention being upset by the news of Hurricane Katrina, I did so, at least in part, because I wanted to set up the conceit with which the entry closes:
Before Kim came home I brought the futon out of the garage for Bean and put on the DVD for Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers and Tides. It lulled her to sleep very quickly and made me feel considerably more relaxed. Now I have to go run an errand for her, however, and then rush down to teach, so my stress level is heading for another peak. It says something about my state of mind that I keep seeing a mirage of rising water everywhere I turn.
Clearly, I wanted to play off the idea of overflowing water invoked, not only by Katrina, but my "weepy" state and the film Rivers and Tides, which features a sequence in which a rock sculpture created by the artist is gradually submerged by the sea. I almost feel the need to declare, as I did above, that I'm "not proud" of the fact that I spent so much time working a conceit into a throwaway "everyday" entry. Still, that's how I write and why I write so slowly.
Frequently, as in the case of the letter in question, I labor over my message for so long that it becomes too long to send long before I'm finished writing it. Because disproportionate responses trouble me, I've learned to avoid making them in my own writing. Sometimes I forget what I've learned, mind you, but I do try to remember. Even when I'm drawing a blank, I'll let a letter lie for a few hours or, better yet, a few days, in the hopes that I'll be reminded of the reasons why it might be better left unsent. In this case, I've managed to wait nearly five months. Since I'm tired of having to keep confronting my muted words, however, I will finally provide them a destination. It may not be the one I'd initially intended, but at least the important part of my letter will have arrived.
Tags: archive, autobiography
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