Thinking today of blocks other than writer’s block. A person block is a big one; the force that keep one from putting one’s true self into the world, that keeps one from being publicly one’s self.
When I say “being publicly” one’s self, I’m not referring to celebrity. (Although, weirdly, the subject makes me wonder again about my fascination with Robert Pattinson. If there is anyone who has a hard time being himself in public, it would seem to be him. See e.g. screaming girls and clicking paparazzi.)
But I wasn’t really thinking about Robert Pattinson. I was thinking more about people like me, perhaps you too. How hard it is for me (us) to take actions that might make us vulnerable to criticism. How difficult it is to show openly the parts of ourselves which do not fit so well into a mold of other’s expectations. (Or really, one’s expectations of other’s expectations.)
These kinds of pretenses are deeply ingrained, at least for me. Even as a little kid—I was not an especially hip one—I felt the need to pretend I knew all kinds of rock bands that I’d never heard of. For years afterward, a more complex camouflauge seemed to be called for. I won’t go into the specifics. I’m sure most of you know the types of things I mean.
What seems strange is that we actually live in a fairly tolerant society. I compare my situation with my mother’s, for example. A teacher, she happened to move shortly after I was born to a county where women teachers were only entitled to substitute’s pay (about 50% of the scale) during the full school year following the birth of a child. It was a rule apparently motivated either by (a) a wish to keep mothers of infants at home; or (b) an assumption that mothers of infants would be at home, whether working full-time or not (i.e. an assumption that women with young children were inherently unreliable.)
My mom, both reliable and unwilling to take a pay cut, spent the whole first year of my life pretending I didn’t exist.
My mother had a concrete reason for hiding a fairly big part of her life. But for many people (me at least), the reason for the camouflauge boils down to the simple fear that if others really knew me better, I would be deemed very very imperfect. (Not just imperfect, downright faulty.)
Unfortunately, however, a failure to be openly one’s self can doom one to being less than one’s self. (Even less perfect! And much less happy.)
My ex- husband, an artist, gave me some good lessons in this area (though I am only beginning to follow them.) He is a master of carrying out what sometimes seems to border on the silly. (I admit, carrying out the silly is a whole lot easier in the art world than in the average professional arena.)
In an early performance piece, he played a violin with a loaf of Italian bread. He does not play the violin. His lack of expertise with the instrument wasn’t important, however, since the violin he used was broken. Besides, the bread, though shellacked, wasn’t a great bow.
You can probably immediately intuit the piece’s potential silliness. In fact, it was truly magical.
I am not extolling performance pieces. Many are self-indulgent, and full full full of pretense. (One reason my ex-husband’s violin playing was so powerful, I think, is that it was not a piece about himself, but about Paul Klee during the World War II.)
I’m not extolling confessional art either. (Remember, you may someday wish to talk to your friends and family again.)
What I’m urging, I guess, is not to be afraid to risk some silliness. The unabashed showing of ignorance. (Sure, ignorance isn’t something to be proud of, but pretended knowledge is way worse.) A lack of hipness. To be, in short, more openly yourself.
Here’s a sonnet (unfortunately not terribly silly) about the long-term price of protective coloration:
After years, pretending to be what you’re not
becomes a nature; a second skin
coating you like a heavy make-up, caught
in your pores, nestled in your grooves, a twin
of features, caked, you need not reapply.
But habits, faces, fail; pretense wears thin,
until, worn through, you can hardly try
anymore. Too wary, weary–the word
“cagey” describes so much of what you’ve been,
the opposite of free-flying bird,
while unheard, and hardly there within,
is all you’ve been saving, what you hid, why
you did this, what wasn’t supposed to die.
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