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I also discovered the power of postcards. First, they are amazingly cheap to make. I had an early period where I copied Expressionist woodcuts, matched them to depressing quotations in German and had them printed in the hundreds by the local copyshop. I have now matured to homilies from Ruskin printed in woodblock on handmade paper by a master typographer, but the principle is the same. Then there is the question of the correspondence itself. Four or five square inches requires real ingenuity to make sense or be funny. Writing sensibly on a postcard is an exercise in data compression, similar to - but more demanding than - text message. No one exhibits your texts for inspection on the mantelpiece. Postcards are a personal form of viral marketing.

If you are pitching yourself in a letter or a postcard, the handwriting assumes terrific significance. I developed an extravagant hand, loosely modelled on what I thought was an architectural style: black ink, italic, splashy, a weird combination of high visibility and low legibility, but it nonetheless impresses. I have often thought that hearing a woman say: 'You have beautiful handwriting' is one of the most seductive moments of all.

Indeed, a newspaper once sent my handwriting away for graphological analysis, a sort of psychological blind-tasting. The result came back: 'His presentation skills are off the chart, as is his creative thinking. He is opinionated, innovative and people-oriented. Blessed with the courage of his own convictions, he leans to extremes, black or white. Never grey. You simply can't ignore him. The word "bolshie" comes to mind.' This delighted me so much I have it as a header on my curriculum vitae (just in case anybody should ever ask for it).

A certain audacity in conversation, a reckless promiscuousness with reference, are other elements of the self-invention package. It is said the recipe for happiness is good health and a bad memory, but a good memory works better. I learnt that powerful recall and an ability to quote quotes and cite dates gave a persuasive simulacrum of high intelligence. I discovered at university that a certain lecturer's notes were taken verbatim from a standard work (I used to amuse chums by running my finger along the lines in synch at the back of the auditorium) and this taught me that very few people are truly in possession of the intellectual or academic authority they claim. This was an invitation to boldness. If you have the nerve to say it, something like, 'There's a charming little panel by Valdes Leal in the monastery at Elciego' has an impressive effect. There isn't, but who will refute you? (来源:英语学习门户网站EnglishCN.com)

Stephen Potter advocated a similar device in the notoriously tricky area of wine snobbery. He recommended saying something completely meaningless, such as: 'This wine has great corners.' But the important thing is to say something interesting. There's a wonderful self-portrait by Salvator Rosa in London's National Gallery. It carries the inscription 'Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio'. Shut up, or say something useful. They do a very nice postcard of it. I have used lots.

Of course, there are dangers in designing your own personality. Marcel Proust and Cary Grant had a lot in common besides fastidious taste in clothes. Each knew that the most dangerous sort of plagiarism was self-plagiarism. Grant perfected a screen persona of dazzling suavity and effortless cool. Hauntingly, he once said: 'Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.'

It is said that we are all three different people: the person we think we are (the one we have invented), the person other people think we are (the impression we make) and the person we think other people think we are (the one we fret about). You could say it would be a lifetime's quest to reconcile this battling trinity into a seamless whole. Maybe, but for the time being I am convinced that, in Kurt Vonnegut's words (there I go, quoting again): you are what you pretend to be.
 
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