Set Fire To The Third Rail; Break Down The Fourth Wall

This morning, just after arriving at work, I received two communications. The first was an e-mail update from our parent company’s payroll department reminding us that employees needed to have their timesheets finished by 8:00AM PDT, and all managers needed to approve all hours by 9:00AM PDT. The second, which came shortly thereafter, was a message from one of my coworkers who reports to the same boss that I do, who was very concerned that our pay would be delayed because of our boss’ reputation for being somewhat dilatory about approving timesheets under normal circumstances, much less those for impending holidays. I shared these concerns, and since the unwelcome responsibility of dealing with the matter was delegated to me, I decided upon a way of implicitly reminding my boss about the need to approve timesheets promptly. However, since I do not have the liberty to search for pictures on the internet during my work hours, I requested a coworker known for her clever and entertaining memes to find me some suitable pictures, which she promptly did. I then forwarded the images to my peers, so that they could send their own messages with the pictures reminding our boss to approve our timesheets or poking gentle fun of not approving the timesheets, and went about my normal daily reporting duties, confident in the fact that my witty and sarcastic sense of humor would be able to convey this point in an indirect way that would amuse rather than annoy, or so I hope.

In politics, and in many other areas of life, one does not want to touch the third rail, which is an expression that refers to the fact that some subjects are so touchy that even bringing them up can be fatal to one’s reputation and popularity. For example, it is said that discussing Medicare and Social Security reform is a third rail of American politics, because the dedication of our elderly to receiving all of the entitlements they feel they are entitled to as a result of long and productive lives is so great that it is politically infeasible to discuss the looming inability of our society to pay its debts of honor, more euphemistically known as unfunded liabilities. Breaking the fourth wall, on the other hand, refers to the way in which some media (whether visual media like movies or television shows or books and other written media) break through the barrier of the screen to attempt to communicate directly with the reader. As a writer, much of my writing, even though it is public and accessible to all, is either indirect or direct communication with others. I do not write as a profession, at least not yet, as my writing has never earned me a particularly large income (except paid in kind through books), nor do I write for personal pleasure, rather I write as a form of therapy as a way of coping with a stressful existence and seeking to communicate with the outside world in the hopes that others who read may be encouraged to communicate back. It should be noted as well that my lifelong participation in music is similarly a self-prescribed form of therapy for my life as well, but that is another story for another time.

How does one behave as a writer? My goal, as imperfectly realized as it is, is to respect the expressed sensitivities of others and also to express myself in a way that is open and honest. There are many purposes to writings such as mine. If I write a private note, for example, my writing is intended to be private to the recipient, even though I tend to expect somewhat fatalistically that even my private writings will be shared widely enough so as to lose all benefit of privacy, and so I write even privately with the expectation that it will be public writing, and that it may become necessary for me to defend my own reputation and honor in the course of writing honorably to others. There are times where I write in order to praise, and where the people being praised will likely be reading what I write, whether a book review or an ode to the generosity and warmth of good friends. There are times where I write to express my own thoughts and concerns, and my own recognition of the concerns of others, in hope that this public avowal of concern may lead to personal communication to deal with those concerns. At times my writing is a pointed rebuke or an apologia pro vita mia, where such a rebuke or such a defense is necessary in the court of public opinion of which this blog forms a small and fairly inconspicuous part. At times my writing is in order to share something I have read, or thought, or felt with others, because I thought it worth sharing. No doubt many writers share these same tendencies, in their own proportion, according to need or situation.

Due to the context of my own life and personal experience, a lot of what falls under my “beat” as a writer involves holding on to the third rail of public communication. When I write about corrupt authorities, the shame and horror of suffering abuse, the frantic attempts of an honorable man to preserve a reputation in a world full of vicious and wicked slander, and many other similarly unpleasant matters that generally do not occur in polite conversation, I do so out of the resources of my own painful experiences. Likewise, as a writer who self-consciously uses blogging as a way of communicating with others across physical and emotional distance, I write knowing that people will recognize themselves in my stories about my experiences. I will often seek to gain either specific or blanket permission from such people to write about them in my oblique and elliptical fashion, and I consider such permission to last until it is explicitly removed by the person who gave it, via personal communication. As someone who is compelled for a variety of reasons, including survival, to write about that which is close to me, if someone is in my orbit circling around my life and interacting with me in particularly meaningful ways, they will be in my blogs, whether they like it or not. It is not always easy for such people to feel honored by the fact that their behavior and conversation is worthy of my own reflection and pondering. And like Einstein’s experimental insight about electrons, once someone has been in my orbit, they will always be the subject of musing and thoughts to a greater or lesser degree as their own interaction with me mirrors that of others who are the subject of present concern. The past is never entirely buried so long as it is relevant to the present and its shadow hangs over the future. How to deal with that is a matter of particular delicacy and difficulty, and one in which I never cease looking for help.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Set Fire To The Third Rail; Break Down The Fourth Wall

  1. Pingback: Jane Austen, Outrage Culture, And Me | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Movie Review: Deadpool | Edge Induced Cohesion

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