The Ruricolist is now available in print.

On Quirk

Quirkiness is what breeziness was: the style of the writer who writes not as a maker, but as a performer. It may be interesting to compare the two. Breezy and quirky are both inexhaustible. When you lay two breezy or quirky pieces by the same author end-to-end, the grain matches up where the word count cuts off. They are as reliable and predictable as utilities and readers love them for it: the breezy or quirky writer who is not absolutely incompetent can expect their following, however small, to be loyal and loud.

Breezy and quirky do the same job, but in different ways. Breezy is world-wise and wide-awake; quirky is innocent and dreamy. Breezy is suspicious and confrontational; quirky is trusting and fragile. Both are overbearing, but breezy is pushy where quirky is cloying. Breezy is cool and takes things in stride; quirky is breathless and labile. Breezy is a mover, in constant, purposeful coming and going; quirky is a dweller, a homebody. Even when quirky travels, it settles. (Corollary: breezy and quirky both value living light, but for different reasons: breezy streamlines where quirky simplifies.) Breezy and quirky are both fun, but both under false pretenses: breezy is fun because it pretends to be ignorant; quirky is fun because it pretends to be crazy. Of course since real insanity (like real ignorance) is no fun at all, the insanity is aspirational: boredom becomes ADHD, neatness becomes OCD, absentmindedness becomes Alzheimer’s.

Both are ridiculous, but neither deserves mockery. True, breezy and quirky both talk about themselves, endlessly, but neither is narcissistic or needy. They claim interest vicariously, by representing something: whenever they are an x they are just another x. True, breezy and quirky are both indiscreet; but though they are highly personal they are totally unrevealing – a sacrificial persona intervenes between merely human writer and insatiable audience like a patronus.

Of course neither is bad in itself. Archie Goodwin should be breezy; Amélie Poulain should be quirky. For the writer, breezy and quirky are both shams, but shams have their uses. Someone who demands that you be yourself deserves the same reaction as someone who demands that you go naked. Still, when they go wrong, breezy is very bad, but quirky is worse. Breeziness is at least an adult sham; but quirkiness is falsely childlike in the fairy-friendly way that only fools adults who have forgotten being children, when they would have caught fairies to pull their wings off.