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Monday, February 22, 2010

Personalities vs. writers

A friend, Michael Hoffmann, just commented about a recent post, "Dude, when you have time to think, you are really funny! I never knew!"

He was just teasing, but he raises an interesting point: there is a huge difference between people who come across witty in person and those who can do so only on paper.

Michael himself is quite funny in person. He is a Personality: he always has a witticism at the ready. And he always, or almost always, says the right thing. I'm at the other end of the spectrum.

The French have an expression, "l'esprit de l'escalier," or, "the spirit of the stairs." What this refers to is what happens to dinner guests on their way down the stairs after leaving a dinner party: they think of the bon mot they should have uttered during the party.

I suffer from a terminal case. If I could freeze time for ten minutes after every comment by someone else, I'd be the world's greatest conversationalist. But I am not in possession of a time machine, so instead I'm one of the world's worst. This makes me a writer, but not a Personality. (You tend to become the former if you can't be the latter. After all, who would you rather be, a talk show host or one of his writers?)

On the blog I can restrict myself to subjects which will interest others, or at least things they will identify with. In person I'll blab about the weather, whether my cough is getting better, how my workout went, all sorts of things my acquaintances have exactly zero interest in.

Another advantage of the written word for us writers is that we can censor ourselves. In person I have a tendency to blurt out all sorts of stuff I regret the instant it leaves my mouth. At my worst, when in an ebullient mood, I won't even let the other person get a word in. (As happened in a recent phone conversation.)

Writers also tend not to be as good with their delivery. You often hear people complain how electronic communications can be difficult because it's sometimes hard to tell when the other person is kidding. I sometimes have difficulty conveying that distinction even in person.

Another thing that can make people come across dumber in person is wanting to be agreeable; this often makes them dumb themselves down. Often the most intelligent-sounding conversationalists are those who care least about this.

On the other hand, we writers can come across better on paper than Personalities. We know enough to avoid words like "dude," which tend to make one sound dumb.

Got that Mike?


Brent Haywood said...

Hey old friend!

L'esprit de l'escalier is nice, but I prefer Edith Wharton's Newland Archer plunging out into the winter night, "bursting with the belated eloquence of the inarticulate."

brent haywood

John Craig said...

Brent Haywood!! It's been a third of a century!

Send me an email at:

I want to catch up.

John Craig said...

PS -- You're right, Wharton put it better.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I'm a quoted blogger! I've made it!!!


John Craig said...

Dude -- Hate to break it to you, but if being quoted on this obscure little blog is your definition of making it, yikes.

Or are you making fun of me? (As I said in the post, sometimes it's hard to tell via e-communications.)

Anonymous said...

No. I make fun of lots of things, your proficiency at the standing broad jump for example, but not your writing. I can't back it up. You're actually quite good.

John Craig said...

Now I KNOW you're mocking me.