Excerpt from Marni Jackson’s “Turning into Talent.”
When you’re a writer or a journalist, you lose your innocence in several stages, like a space launch. You may write away for a while with no discernible relationship to your readers. But if you become a columnist or publish a memoir, you create a public persona that both is and isn’t you. The tension between these two selves may even be the tension out of which writing spins. When novelists publish their first book, they go through a similarly intense feeling of exposure; even glowing reviews aren’t a salve for the feeling of having handed over few of your internal organs to perfect strangers. This is part of the job of writing, apparently, and for better or worse, it is a searing passage.
Going on TV is another radical loss of innocence, one that more and more of us must undergo in the course of a career in the arts. Journalists who appear on panels, authors who go on book tours, experts who appear on the news—they all experience the strange conflation/deflation of self that TV brings about. You see yourself on tape, in the round—not as an image in the mirror, but as a set of behaviours and gestures. The way others see you, in fact. You forever lose a certain innocence about yourself.
But writing, it seems to me, is about not seeing yourself in the round—that sort of writerly self-awareness has a blind spot in the middle. It supplies some of the courage and foolishness required to write, and the unfinished puzzle of identity is what drives many authors on. Writing feeds on distortion, prejudice, and eccentricity. Honing your TV self, on the other hand, requires a sleek and calculated brand of self-consciousness.
And self-consciousness, as the poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje once muttered in an interview, is the enemy of writing. On TV, the host has a fitted earpiece so that, if something goes wrong, the producer in the control room can tell him what to do and say. In writing, an author deliberately turns down the volume of the world around her, so that she can detect the inflections of her own voice. The exhilaration of TV is its potential for democracy—its leveling effect. The danger lies in the way it likes to turn people into smooth, simple shapes, like soapstone carvings.
By the end of my first year on TV, the show had been subjected to a focus group, one of those marketing tools that tries to evaluate what the “public” wants. I was designated Host B. “Host B’s style,” the report stated, “was either liked or disliked.” This sums up most of the wisdom concerning who works on TV.
The way strangers relate to you is illuminating too. Being the host of a book show with 35,000 viewers (on a good night) is minor celebrity indeed, but it did happen that people would give me puzzled, do-I-know-you looks at the Y or sly smiles in the parking lot. And what they said is revealing: not “I liked your conversation with Grace Paley” but “I saw you on TV!” It’s like you’re a raccoon that wandered into their living room—a refugee from the wilderness of TV, come down their chimney. When people say “I saw you on TV,” they’re saying “We have a history now—we’re connected.” What they feel is the powerful indiscriminate relationship people have to faces on TV. What you feel is the curious blend of being visible and erased at the same time.
Lisa Coriale’s Modeled Version :
When you’re an author and disabled, you see your confidence in various phases, like onion peels. You may get carried away for a time, with no sustained awareness of your audience. But if you are a poet and disabled, you project public images that are and are NOT real. The tug-of-war between these images may also be the tug-of-war out of which poems come. When poets publish their first book, they experience an incredible feeling of accomplishment; on the other hand, it’s like revealing every part of yourself for all of the world to see. This is a difficult aspect to writing, an intense journey to the unknown.
Being in a wheelchair is another bash to confidence, one that many more will understand in the path to publish. People with disabilities who are writers, poets, athletes-they all experience the strange highs/lows that being in a wheelchair brings about. You see yourself in the mirror - not an image that you often forget, but one that presents intelligence and vision. The way others may NOT see you, in fact. You perpetually lose a particular confidence about yourself. Writing it seems to me, is about seeing oneself more clearly – that sort of clarity that brings a broader sense of direction. It provides some of the perseverance and determination that enables one to write and that challenge is what drives writers on. Writing feeds on originality, resourcefulness and creativity, ……self, on the other hand requires a fair amount of self-confidence.
And self-confidence as my professor Dr. Maxine Ruvinsky once proclaimed in a lecture, is the companion of scripture. When alone, a poet has an inner voice so that if confidence waivers, the voice whispers and tells you what to do and write. In writing, a poet purposefully shuts out the noise of the crowd around her, so that they can decipher the whispers of their inner voice. The solidarity of writing is the platform for expression-the energizing force. The trappings are in the direction in which it tends to turn poets into ignorant, prideful souls, like hardened stones.
By the end of writing my first book, the poems had been read aloud at a book-signing, one of those presentations that shows my talent to the community. I was displayed author. My reading evoked emotions both delightful and somber. It summed up all of my feelings concerning my faith in me.
The way the audience accepted me was exciting too. Being the guest speaker with 35 listeners was a major milestone for me, but realizing this feat did give me the drive, an “I-can-do-it” attitude or uplifting spirit as I went on my way. And how I felt was empowered, not “I will never reach the end of this process,” It’s like my heart was awaiting their acceptance-a hidden self from the public eye, invigorating lives. When people say “I heard your reading” they’re saying “We have a connection now-like no other.” What they felt was the joyful, incomprehensible, spiritual bond between poet and reader. What I gained was the momentum to press forward and conquer all of my dreams.