This is the one thing that’s true

To start a blog is to make an implicit declaration: that I have something to say. That I have something worth saying. But what’s it worth? If it was worth something, obviously I’d be writing a column or hosting a show; I’d be Karl du Fresne or Paul Holmes or, God help us, Paul Henry – one of those curmudgeonly white males who find a congenial habitat in New Zealand’s media and colonise it like weasels. But what I have to say isn’t worth anything. I write poems, so I know a thing or two about worthlessness, and I know that what I say has no value.


When I read or listen to the pundits of newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, I’m struck by the absolute confidence these people have in their own opinions. They know what they think, all the time. I have no such confidence. I never have done. To find out what I think about something, about anything, I write it down. As E.M. Forster says somewhere, “How do I know what I mean until I see what I say?” But even then, is this what I mean? When I write something down, the act of writing produces something else, something other, something still tentative and provisional but more concrete, more pleasing than the vague, half-formed thoughts – feelings, really – that curl and thicken and dissolve against the ceiling of my brain like cigar-smoke.

So, if even I don’t know what I think a lot of the time, how can I hope to persuade others to my way of thinking? The answer, I think (I think I think, I’m not sure), is to make a virtue of not-knowing. After all, there is so much we don’t know. If we stick to what we know, we leave an awful lot out – not just the Big Questions (“Does God exist?” I don’t know!), but also the little ones, like why does my cat, Pru, repeatedly butt my hand when I’m trying to put food in her bowl? She knows – she knows! – that this slows me down, and makes me spill Friskies on the floor, but still she does it, every morning. There’s no answer to this, but it doesn’t stop me asking, sometimes amused, sometimes exasperated. I like questions that stay questions.

There is a peculiar condition with a beautiful name that I suffer from. Not suffer, exactly – it doesn’t hurt, and at worst it’s the cause of the occasional, mild, social embarrassment. The condition is called echolalia. People with echolalia echo other people – they will pick up and repeat the tail-end of what someone has just said, parrot-fashion. Mine is slightly different, in that I repeat what I myself have just said. No sooner have I said, “I hope you have a good day,” than I’m repeating under my breath, “… a good day.” Why do I do this? It probably has to do with a severe speech impediment I had until my mid-teens: repeating in a whisper whatever I’d just said, I was carrying out a pronunciation-check. But it’s just as likely that I’m trying to convince myself of the veracity of what I’ve said aloud – a different kind of check, a reality-check. “Yes, that’s correct, I do hope you have a good day.” This blog is, perhaps, a kind of echolalia: a writing down that comes from unsureness.

Albert Einstein, a distinguished echolalian

I hope that these posts may yet prove, after all, to be worth something, outside the bounds of the market and of utility. I think people generally are less sure of things than they seem, but still wonder about them. The heading of this, my first post, quotes the final line of a poem I wrote some years ago. It protests too much, and gives away the fact that really, I’m not very sure about anything. This is the one thing that’s true.


5 Responses to This is the one thing that’s true

  • Great to see you’ve started a blog. I agree with your sentiment that people generally are less sure of things than they seem. My own PhD is testament to that. It’s good to be sure of some things though, like knowing you love someone, or that you really like vanilla milk shakes with peanut butter. I try to give myself permission to have an opinion as a way to get on with life with minimal angst.

  • Tim says:

    Yes, peanut butter is a kind of absolute. Pic’s Peanut Butter, anyway: I don’t speak of other brands. The PhD road, I agree, is beset by uncertainty. I tend to nod fervently in accord with whoever (I just wrote ‘whomever’ – more uncertainty!) I’ve most recently read.

  • Yes! Pic’s Peanut Butter is a kind of absolute. We only buy it on special occasions because I eat it by the spoonful (sans toast or any other PB vehicle) and can’t seem to stop. Yum.

  • I think you have a lot to say. At least I enjoyed reading about how you’re unsure of many things (I also hope most of us are – otherwise things would be rather boring) and love the idea that the writing is a way of processing the unsure-ness.

    I speak in circles. Never concise. People wonder what I’m trying to say, but I circle around because I’m figuring it out, too. But when I write, I say what really needs to be said, but what I can’t say. Or wouldn’t ever say.

    Anyway. Now you get to read my circles.

    …I learned about you from the Tuesday Poem blog. How I never knew about that site until tonight, I don’t know. Someone posted your poem, “When we watched movies.” The last line got me. The room filled with snow. That line aches.

    Thank you for writing. I’m going to find a way to get some of your poems.

    (Writing from Myanmar/Burma.)

    • Tim says:

      Hi Becky. Please forgive my long delay in responding! Yes, unsureness seems to me the only natural response to complexity – and everything’s complex. Confident people bewilder the hell out of me.
      Glad you like those poems. Thank you.

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