Philip Schultz “Googling Ourselves” in The New Yorker, October 23, 2017 issue.
“Googling Ourselves” by Philip Schultz, founder and director of The Writers Studio.
Audio: Read by the author.
These strangers with my name,
busy being kidnapped, embezzled,
honored and dying at a frightening rate.
The cross-dressing exterminator convicted of rape
in Kensington, Ohio, sentenced
to 72 years without bail, the policeman killed
stopping a burglary in Thermopolis, WY—could they
have imagined a Florida painter with their name
communicating with extraterrestrials through sculptures
made out of railroad tracks, or being written about
in a poem by another member of our redundant family
for a reason none of us can explain?
Sometimes I fear I’m imaginary, don’t really exist.
Catch myself wondering why I only seem to like myself
when, say, I’m wearing a teacher’s face—
because I see myself only through others’ eyes?
In that case, who am I really? Alone at night,
watching a ballgame, I’m always surprised when
I speak to myself in the third person, wondering why
this man cares so much about something he plays no part in.
It’s easier to wonder why Nietzsche sought
his soul’s sympathy, a truth he knew he’d despise,
probably feared he wouldn’t survive. To imagine him up late,
seeking his ever-evolving, unidentifiable self,
a past more inhabitable and less unforgiving,
anxious to know why someone with his name would say,
“Poets lie too much . . . who among us has not adulterated his wine?”
Late at night the Web is a dangerous swamp
of voyeuristic self-scrutiny and addictive impersonation,
the ego testifying for and against itself, seeking evidence
of triumph and complicity, sanction without malice,
pretext or God. Who is this man obsessively looking up
all his persona narrators, feeling like a hodgepodge,
trapped somewhere between Heaven and earth,
spitting against the wind? Is it because he knows
he’s getting closer to the end, will soon vanish
and become nothing? Is this why he’s studying
everyone who answers to his name, because
one may have invented time or sympathy or God
and will love him, even momentarily, for who he is?