When I lived in Thailand, I would occasionally visit one of the malls in Chiang Mai, which featured a movie theater and some good restaurants . Often, when I would go to the mall, I would be in a fairly pensive mood, because I was going to a local mall as a Westerner who obviously stood out and did not fit in (even less than usual). As someone who does not tend to react well to being watched intensely when there is no interaction (even in the case where no interaction is possible because of language barrier, as they did not speak English and I did not speak Thai), I was driven to ponder what people saw when they saw me. It was obvious that they saw me as a stranger, but whether they saw me and were puzzled that a “rich” Westerner would generally dress so plainly or read and write as often as I did (since this is not a habit among the Thai people) or would be alone in a realm where people tend to be more sociable, it was impossible to say, except that they were curious but not particularly friendly.
One time while I was sitting along in a restaurant watching people watch me, I decided to write a poem about it. I haven’t been able to find it of late, as sometimes my writing tends to be a bit disorganized, but the poem was based on a melody by Keane to a song they wrote on their “Perfect Symmetry” album called “You Don’t See Me.” It was, like many songs that resonate with me, a melancholy synth pop ballad with reflective lyrics. My own lyrics, as I remember them, ask questions about what other people were seeing when they looked at me, and the extent to which that which they saw was based on that which they were, or that which they feared, in the absence of knowing me all that well personally and knowing what I am about. It is, for me, all too easy to imagine that others see me through the fears that I have of them. Such is the life, I suppose.
I even had in mind a music video for the song, one that would resonate with my own experience and also include some interesting (to me) special effects. I had in mind a combination of two video views of the same scene, one with me sitting peacefully on a park bench singing the song while a time-lapsed view of the same scene is shown, with the sun rising and setting and people walking around totally oblivious to my presence. At times I hear songs and think of my own interpretations of the message or how to convey a deeper point of the song to others. As someone who watches a lot of music videos (mostly to listen to the songs that they are about), I suppose I am somewhat sensitive to the ways that video can repackage or shift attention of a song’s material to other elements, or even be totally unrelated to the message of the song to begin with. I tend to prefer videos that enhance some sort of conceptual understanding of the song, though, especially if they have some kind of quirky elements to them.
Of course, my interest in seeing what others see of me is not limited to music videos or poems written while being looked at in public places, but even includes my writing here. I am often, sometimes several times daily, looking at who views my blogs, seeing the patterns of which posts are viewed, and how often, wondering what people are looking for in this particular complicated display of my character and personality, my interests and behavior and life. Some people read everything (or almost everything) I write, which is a challenging task, other people seem to look for material that is at least potentially about them, and others look at book reviews or my posts on certain countries (like Thailand) or my posts on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (which tends to draw more comments than anything else), or my psalm commentaries. I wonder why people look for what they do, what they hope to find, and if they find it, and if they feel it necessary to keep coming back to remind themselves (or others) of what is written, or to seek to grasp some new nuance or layer from it. In many ways, the life of a writer is constant. We create our works in isolation, yet long for connection, and are never sure that what others see is what we have expressed, because it is so rare for that seed we cast on the waters to come back to us in any kind of recognizable form. Such is the life, though.
 See, for example: