I don’t always iron. Ironing a shirt means it’s time to look especially sharp. Ironing means it’s time to appear as if you’re a knower of important things. And at work, when I’m on the air, I have to convey all that with my voice. Nobody but my coworkers can make fun of my questionable fashion decisions because only they can see. So I don’t iron shirts often.
But tomorrow I’ll be on WCAX-TV talking about The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013, which means ironing a shirt is probably necessary.
So I’ve ironed.
(Brief interruption for those turning to this website after seeing the WCAX interview: Hello! Welcome! Please do consider joining us at a meeting. We have an interesting procedure with which you should be familiar before you attend, so check it out, and let me know if you have questions.)
As I was saying: The ironing of a shirt is an obvious sign that you’re aware someone is about to be looking at you, and it makes me wonder what it is I’d like people to see when they look at me. Since I’m talking about a book by Vermont writers, it makes sense that I’d look like a writer, too. Maybe at least I’d look like an editor. But what does an editor/writer look like? And, if there’s a specific image, should one aspire to look the part while trying to play it?
It may sound like a shallow question, but it’s pretty serious, especially since social media force us to create and (in some sense) sell an image of ourselves, and that image is a huge part of how we survive in modern American society. People form opinions about you based on how you look, and writers live and die by the good opinion of the general public. So do we, as writers, put on the hipster outfit and pretend to shun everything that’s considered “cool” and then write something that also shuns whatever’s “cool”? Or do we clothe ourselves in burlap and live in a cabin in the woods (posting pictures on FB, of course) and then sell the brilliant masterpiece we’ve pulled from the depths of our loneliness? Or do we take our cues from Tom Wolfe?
I don’t have an answer here, nor would I dare tell someone else what his image should be. For what it’s worth, I take my fashion cues from my father, who is not a writer. He studied business. He never went without a tie on casual Fridays. His default in moments like these was to look professional, and so that’s what I’ll do, even though I’ll go without a tie. I’ve shined my shoes, checked the creases in my pants, and, yes, ironed. The whole outfit is simple, unassuming, and boring.
Because I’d prefer to disappear behind what I have to say. I’m grateful people care about the book, and I want people to continue caring about it, without any intrusion from me! Perhaps that’s why I love radio so much. There’s nobody to look at–just words to listen to and absorb and think about.
And it’s the same with my fiction: I’d like people to forget that I’m there, as the author, and enjoy the story I’m trying to tell. Nothing flashy. No tricks. No gimmicks. Just a story, just a book, just an author/reader relationship free from pretense and nonsense.