Mostly I talk to people by email. This is not because I suffer from some kind of social dysfunction (well, I do, but that’s different) but because I live on top of an isolated Tuscan mountain and there’s nobody adult to talk to. I talk to the dog. A lot. In emails I am angst-ridden, lonely, weeping, a bit mad. The people I write to are mainly the same. The depressed and alone reaching out flickering signals of desperation to whoever might be listening. In person, however, I am chatty, confessional and always genuinely amused by absurdity, pomposity, sweetness. I am friendly and bright. So, it is odd that so many people seem to have a very separate e-personality of searing emotional openness that they would never show in real life. And which one is more real?
I am thinking about this a lot because right now I miss Samuel Pepys. I have just finished writing a dissertation about him for a masters in psychoanalytic theory and I can’t bear not to know what he did after he stopped writing the diaries in 1669. I don’t mean what he did in terms of jobs and stuff. This I know. But I want to know whether he saw Deb again, how he got over his wife’s death, whether he recovered from what I think was pretty much post-traumatic stress after the Great Fire. Whether his eyes got any better.
My thesis was basically this – that he went a bit nuts and started thinking he was going blind when really he was just scared of how the diary-personality was seeping into this public life. His wife caught him with his hands up a maid’s skirts and, while he loved writing about all this kind of thing in his diary, he really didn’t want anyone else to know that he was this more shameful type of person. So he stopped writing the diary, essentially killing off the embarrassing diary-self so that he could be the publicly presentable man in a posh wig.
The terrible and strange thing about this is that the diary self won. Since the diaries were found and deciphered from his shorthand (in about 1850), the whole world has known only the man in the diary – the lascivious, funny, ambitious, cruel, anxious and sparklingly observant Samuel Pepys that he never wanted anyone to meet. I’ve written a diary since I was nine and I know exactly who I’m writing it to – myself. I actually address the person I’m going to be in twenty years directly and, reading 1988 the other day, I wrote back to her in the margins.
It is bizarre and frightening that you could just die and that would be you, the person on the page and not the carefully constructed out and about person everyone actually knows.
And it is the same with these emails. I have one correspondent who is in fact someone I spent the night with after a very drunken evening fifteen years ago. I knew vaguely who he was but he wasn’t a friend at the time. (He is now.) In the morning I was appalled at myself and I tried afterwards to see him a few more times in order to make sense of it all, but I failed. Anyway, now we are Facebook friends and write to each other probably five times a day. He has a brilliantly put together outward personality, I gather. He is rich, handsome, accomplished, with the kind of life a lot of people would deeply envy. I think his life is like that for that very reason – in the hope that if people envy it then he will be happy in it too. It doesn’t work of course, just as it didn’t work for Pepys either. And, God knows, it doesn’t work for me.
It struck me that very many people are unintegrated like this. Their outside shells bear very little relation to their inner emotional lives. And this friend and I are connected by our inner selves, though who knows if we will get on when we meet again (perhaps this summer) in our ‘real’ lives, with our real families. In fact though, our conversation feels more real to me than the trappings with which we both surround ourselves (he’s gone for mega flash, I’ve gone for a more crumbling bohemian cherry tree thing).
Anyway, I deleted our whole correspondence when I finished with Pepys (for now – PhD pending) just in case it somehow comes to represent us – lonely, sad and a bit desperate instead of beautiful, glamorous and accomplished. Control, Alt, Delete. And here I am in the sun wearing white Ghost and actually eating cherries from our tree. The other miserable cow just doesn’t exist at all.
Or does she….?