I’m doing something in the room and The Boy walks in stealthily from behind me and suddenly there is a shower of bubbles in the air and lots of childish laughter. I turn my face and I see a host of bubbles floating up and up and up towards the light, their shiny surfaces catching the light and turning them into iridescent rainbow hues. It’s hard to tell how each bubble will float away, where it will stick and when it will burst. But together they transform the room.
Actually I’m not just sitting here doing something. I’m writing yet another blog post. It isn’t unusual at all, while I’m writing, for a childish face to peek in and insist on typing a word or two or close a window or want to check out a blinking light below the touchpad. But bubbles? They are new.
The bubbles floating around me make me think of a lot of writing I’ve been doing lately. Light, beautiful, polished, iridescent and ephemeral.
What really has been the end goal of these pieces? To live for a bit, to catch the light, to stick in someone’s mind for a moment and then to disappear? To float directionless, to dazzle and to die?
There’s other kinds of writing I do too—heavier, academic writing with more substance as opposed to these blog posts, tweets and updates I’ve been doing lately. The other kind of writing seems more anchored in logic and research, aimed to prove a point and to last a long time until someone comes to extend my work or to burst my bubble.
It is at that word substance that my mind sticks as I trace the movements of The Boy as he changes his tactics from surprising me from behind with his shower of bubbles to blowing single large ones out of the wire loop, letting them float for a bit and then making them sit on his loop again so each bubble looks like a huge glass ball at the end of a stick for a few moments before inevitably bursting again.
I watch him as he tries over and over and over again to make each bubble live as long as it can. He positions his eye such that he can look at me though the bubble marveling at the distorted view of my face. I am amazed at his perseverance at mastering such a pointless task, the end goal of which is nothing but an out-of-proportion eye, a nose or a cheek seen for a moment.
Yet he carries on and I realize that the task is not easy. It is a delicate challenge to blow through the loop just right so the bubble doesn’t burst prematurely, to blow just enough so it can form properly and then let it go. If one’s timing isn’t right, if one is too forceful or too tentative, one ends up bursting one’s bubble.
And so it is, I realize, with my style. My pieces on social media lately have been short, well-rounded, light, beautiful, somewhat iridescent but I worry about substance. I worry too that I cannot control who will see it, how it will be shared, in whose mind it will stick and how it will be used. It will last a few moments and then it will surely drift to die no matter how much I persevere in the making of it otherwise.
It is then that I start to ponder with some uneasiness a piece I read by Dani Shapiro this week about writing memoir in the age of social media in The New Yorker. Shapiro talks about how we’re increasingly confusing the “small, sorry details” of our lives that we post on social media, things that provide immediate gratification, unpolished stories not grounded enough in “the chaos of our own history” for the work of memoir itself. In this context she quotes Adrienne Rich to make her point about artistic creation. “It is always what is under pressure in us, especially under pressure of concealment—that explodes in poetry” and this pressure does not get a chance to build up because it is released prematurely via social media before it can transform to art.
Not that I am presumptuous enough to say I’ve been writing bits of memoir here but I must admit I’ve been worried about revealing some before concealing some in my writings on online platforms, yes. “One of literary memoir’s greatest satisfactions—both for writer and reader—is the slow, deliberate making of a story, of making sense, out of randomness and pain” says Shapiro. In other words, you have to wait before you put it out there and I haven’t.
So then I begin to wonder: Is my bubble-making on social media making any sense? Should I have waited for delayed gratification letting the pressure build until it burst so I would have made a story out of whatever this is before letting it out into the world? Should I have waited for critical distance?
It is then that I go back to the words of a favourite poet for help. He says that poetry is the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” but also confuses readers by saying it is “emotion recollected in tranquility” leading to a general opportunity amongst my college professors to assign hard essays for us in my day on how he reconciles the two. But I don’t want to drift off here like my bubbles.
After all, Shapiro quotes Emerson saying abiding gratification is about “finding the universal thread that connects us to the rest of humanity.” In my book, that’s what social media is. Why can’t a new generation find new ways of telling stories by concealing and revealing at the same time forging its own form to tell its own stories in its own way? What if that new form embraces the immediacy and ephemerality of social media?
The point is, should I continue to let The Boy make his own bubbles? Or should he go back to his lessons?
I let The Boy continue for a bit even though a bubble or two threatened to come stick on my keyboard because it becomes clearer by the minute that he has yet to learn an important lesson that he doesn’t seem to have figured out yet. That no matter how hard he tries, each and every bubble will inevitably burst in the end no matter how beautiful they are or how much he might try to control their destiny.
It is a lesson I cannot help him with but one he has to learn himself by making his bubbles in all the ways he possibly can.
But then I realize that I have an important lesson to learn from him too. It is that there can be more boyish pleasure in bursting the bubbles you’ve made with great pain and effort than in preserving them for a lifetime.