An exquisite compulsion
… to say that one dread thing
Like Anne of Green Gables, I have the exquisite compulsion to say the one thing nobody wants to hear at precisely the moment they least want to hear it.
A more common gift is to say what people want to hear. We have just invited a number of politicians with this gift to feed at the public trough. Soon we will hear their slurps and grunts.
My reward for this untimely gift is fodder for another poem or story-and the great pleasure of occasionally finding someone who delights in this compulsion in others. That is perhaps a rarer gift than my own.
Anne had the lovely knack of summing up what nobody wanted summed up, and so she was incessantly reminded that she was a nobody. She came at last to understand that those who reminded her were the true nobodies of the world.
In my youth children like Anne were sometimes disparaged as smart alecks. You’d have to study lips and eyes to see the difference between a smart aleck and Anne: no pleasure in the discomfort of others played around her lips or eyes.
I’ve stepped over into the realms of smart-assininity in my time, but in general my impulse to say the unwanted and unwonted thing is related to a conviction formed early in life that the world consists of circles into which I’m not allowed and therefore I might as well stand at the moat and tell the guards just what I think.
There is nothing, of course, to stop them from shooting an arrow or two through me, and I have some scars, but the guards have usually refrained because of what might lurk in the woods. I have no idea what might lurk there. I certainly didn’t post any of my demons there. But I am more than content that the guards should fear the unknown. That, after all, is why something or someone is being guarded.
This compulsion of mine has more than once made an implacable enemy. It has the effect of hitting someone on the head with a sledgehammer. Once it’s spotted in you more than a few people avoid you strenuously, not because they’re certain you’re on the verge of saying something they don’t want to hear but because you’re the kind of person who might. You are as inconvenient as an outhouse. In any committee you attract wary glances and someone is likely to one-up you as a preemptive strike.
Anne’s triumph is that her innocence drew those who are not compelled to despoil it, a bigger feat than one might think.
I liked the moment I encountered her. The danger of saying a thing well is her gift to me. We have been coconspirators from an early age. But Anne was pretty, and I was something less than beguiling, however much some memorable people took a shine to me.
We don’t have many leaders with Anne’s gift. It’s not the gift of gab. That is common, very common. It’s the gift of acuity and prescience. Our society rewards these gifts even less than the Trojans rewarded Cassandra. We don’t like prescience, we like profit. We want to win the lottery, and that drat Cassandra wants to tell us the house is rigged.
Del’s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal Latte’s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother’s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt’s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com