Van Gogh was such a baby.
At least, that’s what I used to think.
I’ve studied Van Gogh, lived with him, actually, in a way, because I’ve performed Vincent, a full-length two-act one-man show about this eccentric artist, in multiple North Shore venues — and this coming weekend, September 8th and 9th, I’ll be doing three more performances at the Firehouse in Newburyport. (You’re invited: visit Firehouse.org for info.)
I first performed this play — written and originally performed by Leonard Nimoy (of Mr. Spock fame) — in 2011, which means I’ve been steeped in all things Vincent for a long time. His passion. His paranoia. His quirks. His genius. His “illnesses.” His “insanity.” His self-mutilation. His self-destruction. And to tell you the truth, I sort of came to feel he might have been something of a whiner. When he was misunderstood, and reacted badly to it, I didn’t cut him much slack. Buck up, Vincent, I sneered silently. Everybody’s misunderstood at some point.
But that was before the anonymous complaint.
“Doug you are not really that funny only rather obnoxious,” said the unsigned email, in mid-July, after the appearance of my Outsidah blog post about love and snakes in Willowdale.
I tried to take it in stride. “Good to hear from you!” I replied. “Tell me more.”
I didn’t hear any more till early August, after my blog post complaining about the four-way stop near the Episcopal Church, which ended with “It’s enough to make you a Buddhist.”
“I’m glad I’m Buddhist,” the subject line said. “How derogatory your comment on Buddhism,” the email began. “Did it ever occur to you, comedy is not your forte. Do you have another talent, such as playing the spoons or basket weaving from grass clippings.”
Somehow this email didn’t seem to square with the spirit of Buddhism, but maybe I don’t get Buddhism. Certainly this reader seemed to misunderstand my sense of humor. But now I’m not sure whether I’m being misunderstood, or I’ve misunderstood things myself. Is this a Donald Rumsfeld-type case of “You don’t know what you don’t know”? Maybe I need to tune in to the clues. Sure, I thoughtI was humorous; but here are the facts: My writing is so awful it makes even a Buddhist lash out.
I am now beginning to grasp Vincent’s paranoia. Thinking back on all those years of people saying they enjoyed my writing — “Hilarious!” “Laughed till I cried!” — all the people who came to my book launch events, and laughed when I read aloud, and bought piles of my Only in Ipswich books — it’s possible that they were just a vocal minority. People are happy to tell you if they like you, but avoid telling you if they don’t. So are there actually thousands of silent Outsidah-haters out there? Have I been spreading misery to multitudes all these years? Are there people who wince as they visit TheLocalNe.ws, hoping against hope that my name won’t appear? Or when it does, do they read it aloud from their phones to their family at the dinner table just so everyone can howl with derision? Am I personally responsible for a decrease in the number of TheLocalNe.ws followers? Do people move to New Hampshire because they can’t stand my writing? Am I a drain on the local economy?
Maybe I should post one of those online surveys to get a clearer sense of the situation, with various menu items, so readers can indicate how they feel about “The Outsidah”:
- Gags me.
- Insults my intelligence.
- Brilliant, but in a stupid sort of way.
- Occasionally makes me smile, although I hesitate to admit it because so many of my friends are gagging.
- A waste of screen space.
- A waste of screen time.
- Je ne lis pas l’anglais.
- I like it because it gives me something to complain about to my colleagues at work even on those rare days when things are going well at work.
- Often inspires me to fling myself into Lord’s Square traffic.
- Has brought me into emotional harmony with the wildlife in my backyard and, to some extent, the rodents in my kitchen.
- I prefer greenhead season.
- Infuriates me when he writes about the weather, the traffic, the animals, and town government. Otherwise, he’s okay.
- Motivates me to avoid a career as a writer.
- Once made my skin break out.
- I like it when he writes about talking with that deer in his backyard, and the deer smokes cigarettes.
- I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m new in town, so I’m an outsider too; but on the other hand, I’m reluctant to be a fan of someone who’s universally despised.
Vincent, I apologize. I’m not a genius like you, not by a long shot; but I think I can relate a little bit to how you felt. A little sad, a little nervous, a little misunderstood. I don’t think I’ll cut off my ear, though, or do that other thing you did.
Instead, I guess I’ll just do a show about you, buddy, this coming weekend at the Firehouse — and with a little more sympathy than before.
Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, where an elocutionist teaches him to speak tongue-in-cheek. Follow him by clicking “Follow” in the lower right corner of this screen.