Photo Credit: Karl Griffiths-Fulton
AS PER USUAL by Tamas Dobozy
I read somewhere recently—I can’t remember where, a story or an interview or a play by Sam Shepard—that it was important at a certain point in life to create a certain kind of face. A tough guy face, naturally (it was, after all, Sam Shepard). The face would make you powerful, unapproachable, dangerous to mess with. The ultimate aim of it was to help ward off the aggressions of others, in the same way, say, that twigs tied in the shape of stick figures hanging from trees in a trail in the woods will make you think twice about continuing on. Now, the development of this face is made easier by spending long days in front of the mirror, or, in someone like Shepard’s case, in front of movie stills, which for the rest of us would be what, selfies? One would prefer to be open to the world, no doubt, you certainly start out that way, with no thought at all for how your face, or anything else, looks to those around you. But as time goes by you come to realize, or are made to realize, that certain aspects of your appearance invite commentary. Your haircut, for instance. The bad clothes your mother buys you, cheap as humanly possible, taking no care whatsoever for how they look. Why should a child give a shit? that’s what she thinks, digging through the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. The outfit corresponds to some perfect mix of thrift and what a moderately well-dressed child looked like in her mind twenty years ago, which was the last time she really put any thought into it. So, you look like a garbage man, that’s what one of the other kids—there’s always that one—tells you. Like a garbage man with a pig-shave, he adds, not to be accused of inaccuracy. So you develop the face, in the meantime doing your best to make the clothes drape in a way that stifles rather than invites commentary. Silence becomes victory. Invisibility becomes triumph. Years go by. At this point, you’re in full camouflage. You have the shirts, the coats, the pants. You’ve even got the socks. They’re all brands—you’ve got that too. You’ve got that set to your features. A certain length of stare. A way of walking past strangers. Plus that tone of voice—corrected and honed after all those times you lost control and it went high with pleading, those defensive notes, the falsetto that gives away, right off, the argument you already know you can’t make. Your outward appearance, or (using a term borrowed from a philosopher) the structure of your form, carries on almost without you. Walt Disney, boxing coaches, therapists, they all agree this situation is a bad one, a sign of trouble, withdrawal being typical of failing mental health, but you, you’re not so sure. It frees you up inside. You’re the technician behind the controls, except that you’re always on coffee break.Do it just right and you can be entirely elsewhere. There are whole continents inside. The world will never see them. You can spend a lifetime traveling through that geography and nobody’s there to care if you’re buck-ass naked piloting the raft, scaling the cliff, eating at the three-star Michelin restaurant. Nobody cares that you cut your hair with garden sheers, or that it all fell out by itself. Nobody cares that your voice thrills to emotion like the baddest of all bad jazz flutes. Once in a while, you can let a message slip to the outside world, like this one. But, honestly, you don’t even need to do that.
Tamas Dobozy is a professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. He lives in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. He has published four books of short fiction, When X Equals Marylou, Last Notes and Other Stories, Siege 13: Stories (which won the 2012 Rogers Writers Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, and was shortlisted for both the Governor General’s Award: Fiction, and the 2013 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award), and most recently, Ghost Geographies: Fictions. He has published over seventy short stories in journals such as One Story, Fiction, Agni, and Granta, and won an O Henry Prize in 2011, and the Gold Medal for Fiction at the National Magazine Awards in 2014.