I'm dropping out from the 'MU' school of minimalism
THE OTHER DAY, someone was in the office to interview my boss and a photographer came along. He was setting up near me, near the window, while the interviewer talked with the big cheese. To calibrate his light, he asked me to sit in as a stunt double for a moment.
I sat, posed, as he clicked the shutter repeatedly from slightly different angles. Obviously he wasn't really looking at me as a person, but as a figure in his composition. Still, it's embarrassing how much I liked it.
Does everyone like attention? Or does it have to be attention of a certain sort, from someone you already trust?
To me, the most romantic line in the 1950 musical "Summer Stock" comes when Gene Kelly tells Judy Garland that he'd like to converse once the show's over: "First, I want to hear the story of your life. Everything that's ever happened to you since you were so high. And then I want to know what you eat for breakfast, what's your favorite color, what comic strips you read. Then we'll talk about shoes and ships and sealing wax and shows. Farms. Families. Oh, it may take hours. Weeks. Years. I want to know everything."
I think that's enchanting. Whom does that frighten? The shy? I'm reading "MU Tales," an addictive serialized novel about a shy girl starting college (mutales.livejournal.com) and "Nothing Better," an addictive Web comic about a shy girl starting college ( www.webcomicsnation.com/ [http://www.webcomicsnation.com/]
tylerpage/). I don't consider myself shy, so I find these stories tremendously educational. They help me see how any attention from others feels overwhelming and invasive to the shy, and how they suffer a taboo on shunning attention, just as I worry about the taboo on seeking attention.
I do like getting attention, and that means I fear these slurs: "showoff," "narcissist," "just doing that to get attention," "grandstanding," "demagogue," "PR flack," "arrogant," "has a big head," "thinks a lot of himself."
I spent my adolescence learning how to turn down my showoff dial. Or trying to. Enthusiasm + intelligence = "brown-noser," right? And now, like so many women in the professional world, I have to lose my false modesty and trumpet my achievements — and certainty as loudly as my male colleagues, or I won't get the attention, raises and responsibility I deserve. I have to do PR for my company, but also for myself.
Oddly, the only place I've ever been comfortable with that responsibility is onstage, doing stand-up comedy. I caught the audience's attention and manipulated them into laughing by hacking their minds through humor. What audacity, to control others and to claim my work is worth your attention.
One has to jump a self-esteem chasm to think one's worth noticing. In Linda Crew's novel "Children of the River," Sundara's used to being scrutinized by her strict and disapproving aunt, and by her white peers and neighbors: "But now she had Jonathan. How much nicer it was to have him studying her. In his eyes she read only good messages: 'You are beautiful. You are special. I could look at you all day long.'"
When I read that passage in ninth grade, I despaired that anyone would ever feel that way about me. (Now I have a husband who moons over me often; yay!) And I had a flash of that weird yearning a few weeks ago, posing as a 3-D cardboard cutout for a man with a light meter. I enjoyed it, and worried that I was enjoying it.
My ambivalence about attention-getting and preening is one reason I've avoided applying anything stylish to Web pages I write, even for work. I left them ultra-plain — huge blocks of text with a smidgen of background color. I used to think well of my minimalist look, one that loaded quickly on slow connections.
But now that I've read Robin Williams' "The Non-Designer's Design Book," I recognize I've been foolish. I shouldn't confuse a fake-minimalist reflexive refusal to design with tasteful, simple style.
I should add elements of contrast, alignment, proximity and repetition (thanks, Williams) to make my writing easier to read. It's a matter of courtesy to the reader, really.
I've written some useful things, and they deserve a nice display case.
Only once I clear away the false modesty can I discover how modest I really am, or want to be.
You can write to Sumana Harihareswara at email@example.com.
My ambivalence about attention-getting and preening is one reason I've avoided applying anything stylish to my Web pages. I used to think well of my minimalist look, but now I recognize I've been foolish. I shouldn't confuse a fake-minimalist reflexive refusal
to design with tasteful, simple style.