Breaking the fourth wall

4th-wall“Oh, you’ve gotten tickets for the inauguration…what a thrill. I’m so happy for you.”

These words were not said to me, nor do I think that they ever will be directed towards me, for you see, I voted for Mr. Trump, now President-elect. Even as I pen this blog, I have some trepidation. Those colleagues and friends, for whom I have only the greatest respect, will  judge me harshly. I have some confidence that their high regard for me will lessen, in some instances, substantially. Forget that I have the benefit of my own personal interaction with the man, as my guide, they will not want to hear that, nor will it affect their opinion of me, or of him or those other 60+ million people who voted for him.

The words in the opening sentence of this blog, reflected my actual delight that a good, intelligent, well respected colleague of mine obtained tickets to President Obama’s second inauguration. She was deliriously happy, and I was happy for her. I had my own feelings toward the man, but that did not get in the way of my realization that millions of intelligent people placed their faith and hope in him and his capacity to deliver hope and change. My candidate did not win. I was disappointed. As an advocate for rule of law around the world, it did not elude me that like charity, belief in the the rule of law and the orderly of transfer of power, “starts at home.” And so, with my long list of reservations, I demonstrated publicly and privately, respect for the man we have called Mr. President these last eight years.

Now the scene switches. The tables have turned. It is I who am not only decidedly not deplorable, but a thoughtful and intelligent person, also hoping for change. I watch with quiet contentment as my preferred candidate begins to make his way to the White House. As a resident of the east coast, there are few places where one can publicly display the pleasure at that prospect.  Make no mistake, I am disappointed  that I will likely not see a woman be President of the United States in my lifetime. But, I am equally determined never to vote along any line, party, race or gender, simply to break a ceiling or other metaphorical barrier.

Speaking of barriers, comes the perfect segue to the title of this blog:  The fourth wall…a dramatic convention often used in pantomime or children’s theater, rarely broken without artistic purpose. Once a tool  used to “heighten the comedic tone of a show” last week’s fourth wall break in the Broadway show Hamilton instead  reflects something of a tragic milestone for democracy. Recognizing the futility of discourse on the subject, I leave you with this quote from Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

“He licked his lips. ‘Well, if you want my opinion-‘
‘I don’t, ‘ She said. ‘I have my own.”

The Observation Effect: The Fear of Not Filtering

Its been sometime since I published this blog. Mind you, not for lack of thoughts and ideas I was willing to share, but more due to the discovery that my blog was likely being monitored by litigants with an interest in  generating inferences where none were intended.  I have decided to blog again, this time influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by a recognition that it might be read by a more diverse spectrum of readers than I had originally anticipated.

You might think, don’t all writers, especially those who publicly publish their work expect to be observed? And do not authors expect to have their writings criticized?  All that is true, but at least this former trial lawyer oftentimes tempers speech through a courtroom lens. On a fairly regular basis I query myself: “How would this sound in a trial transcript?” Or, “What kind of cross examination would this comment generate?  And, “How would I rebut the inferences from this or that remark?”

Familiar with how words may come to haunt someone, many people, I think, reachdoubleslit1 a point where commentary is more and more measured– mindful of how one’s words might be construed in an entirely unrelated context, years from when they were originally uttered. At work is a sort of personal  iteration of the “observation effect” alluded to by quantum scientists–considering what one wants to say (the particle), observing the two slits ahead (what you mean and what someone else might construe you to mean) and the “interference”–your inner voice modifying the words and modifying  the thought process that generated them–resulting in the original thought differently (and more safely) expressed.

Politicians engage in this process fairly regularly. And, those politicos who don’t, probably should.  When I read my grandfather’s travel diaries, he often “broke the fourth wall” and addressed the next generation of readers directly with comments like, “Your grandmother looked beautiful tonight.” His descriptives were careful and measured, in a way one might not expect of a “diary.” He was masterful at filtering. Now, nearly thirty years later, his words, so carefully constructed, are what is left for the next generation who barely knew him, if at all.

My own return to blogging was spurred by a reader who recently reached out hoping that the failure to post this last year was not due to any misfortune. So touched was I, that I decided to resume writing,  with some modest filtering.

But, I wonder whether  in this age of fact-checking and instant and meticulous googling, coupled with fear of not-filtering,  will we lose grasp of the genuine? Will the process of change, growth and progress be inhibited by the apprehension that one’s unfiltered words will return to haunt them?

Will we not be able to trace a writer’s or public speaker’s transitions of thought over time, as we do the evolution of the artist or composer? Will the time come when we all filter, out of necessity, abandoning the spontaneous and mud-luscious in this puddle-cummings_quote_spring2
wonderful world?

I am reminded of what a senior judge once counseled when I could not overcome opposing counsel’s recurring objection to my leading examination of a witness: “Say this, ‘And then what…'”?

Happy Vernal Equinox. Glad to be back.