On a recent night I saw a local production of “Death of a Salesman.” I’ve taught the play many times as a sort of dated cautionary tale, one which eschews values that now seem old hat: live your life; money didn’t make your parents happy; savor the Earth; the world is full of phonies. The moral was even simpler: Don’t be Willy Loman. Don’t be a man talking to himself in public restrooms about his inability to accept disappointment. I like to think that if I had to choose, I’d eat disappointment for breakfast, lunch and dinner rather than risk the ruination that fell upon the dead-bird-inside-a-cage that was Willy Loman.
But I am Willy Loman. I write like I’ve never met myself or my circumstance. I write enormous analogies to avoid modest realities. I ride through these phony landscapes full of forests, and wolves, and giants, disoriented in the dream towns I’ve drawn. I am Willy Loman, and like Loman, I have found that the dream makes me preachy and angry and hound dog. The room I inhabit in the flesh here isn’t much, but it keeps me from falling through the floor and it is temporarily mine. I will stop writing about dragons and oceans.
I am unhappy with this assessment, the implication that the ephemeral is always suspect. Finally, I suppose, it is a question of honesty. It is not necessarily dishonest to write fantastically, or romantically, or anecdotally, or nostalgically, or with uncommon diction. Rather, honesty is the refusal to pass off someone else’s dream as your own. I will not stop writing about dragons and oceans, but I will stop poaching the dreams of the famous and the dead.
Lest there be any confusion: I am not of the mind that confession is analogous to honesty. In fact, often confession is a ruse to distract readers from a lack of honest ideas, sentiments, and descriptions. Confessionalists often behave like sea cucumbers, which when attacked will throw up a portion of their guts, then flee while the attacker is busy eating their ejected insides. Distracting readers with your entrails is not the same thing as engaging them. Just because you show me the body in the bathtub doesn’t mean you’ve said one genuine or true thing. Now I’m pointing fingers. Now I'm Willy Loman again.