Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The mirror has two faces. . .

[I thought I should take a moment to actually write something on my blog (how novel, right?), since my pictures are apparently beginning to offend people; both with their having replaced real words, and also (evidently) with their offensively child-like, amature quality.]

I wonder in this life how much of a face we are forced to put on, or make up, for the sake of others. Do we fudge our own authentic selves in the name of acceptance, for the sake of propriety? One can never be too sad, or bitter, or angry, or excited, or overly confident, or happy. After all, people do not typically enjoy being around very sad, or bitter, excited, confident, or happy people. This, of course, isn't to say that we all do this all of the time. But don't kid yourself, we all, undeniably, have our own share of insincere performances, whether we simply temper our real emotions or simply flat out lie.

Undoubtedly, in the world it is necessary to pretend in order to live in a civilized, social society. But to what degree? When someone asks if you like their new haircut, for example, your acceptable available answers are limited, regardless of what your actual feelings may be. When you create or produce something, on the other hand, there must always certainly be some degree of false modesty, as we can never be too proud in front of others. After an awful breakup, there is only an acceptable amount of bitter grieving time you are allocated, before eyes begin to roll, and slowly your phone calls begin to go unanswered. Clearly the lines are out there, clearly there are rules, but what are they and where?

Where does one draw these boundary lines? When can we justifiably expect the right to step off stage, slip behind the curtain, into our true authentic selves, without having to prioritize what others might think? Shouldn't we be able to expect that our family and friends be able to cope with the real us, however annoying, depressing, or sickeningly sweet? Or is that really expecting too much? Are there layers of intimacy required to condone such behavior? Are we all constantly walking the tight rope of tolerability? After all, how we each choose to walk that line inevitably defines us. Should you always be an honest person and say exactly what it is you feel (and be labeled caustic, or selfish, or a bitch), or be supportive (and become the perpetual cheerleader), should you be emotionally honest (read: depressing to be around), or try to perform all of the time (and be the shallow, fake, insincere, plastic person)?

Surely we have all known people who just suck the energy out of you, whose presence is at times trying, no matter how much you love them. Is it horrifying to think that we might all, at some point be that person for someone somewhere? Is it only natural? Or should we expect more, from others, and from ourselves? I'm not sure I have the answers. I know that I often find it exhausting to pretend. I feel like my whole life I have had to "be on" all of the time, to avoid being beaten, or laughed at, or shunned. Is all of this make believe simply a societal obligation? Our duty? Is it better to be alone and yourself, than surrounded by people who have no idea or interest in knowing who you really are?

I am certain there are some of you, and you know who you are, who began rolling your eyes three paragraphs ago (oh brother, here we go again. . .), and I get it, it's fine. But should I care? Should I scramble on board the you-you-you train and change my behaviors/ emotions/ writings/ thoughts/ opinions/ beliefs just for your benefit? Suck it up and be happy that you were able to tolerate me for one more day?

I am just so tired of this constant feeling of obligation, of things I have to do in order to be a good/acceptable/worthwhile person. But I feel like it is often inescapable. I'm not sure what my point is. . .I'm not sure that I was meant to have one.

I don't make the rules. I just play the game.


gabrielle said...

/9for the record, i want it to be noted that i adore the food photos. i like to come to this site when i want to stab myself in the eye with fooddesire!)

I believe two things:

1. That my friends will take me for who I am: the obsessive, pontificating, art snob, cheerleader that is within me.

2. As well as, there is a need in this world to be compassionate with one another. I am not one that believes without shadows of doubt that honesty is the key to life’s success. If I walk in with a new haircut (terrific example), while many people may not like it, I do not believe it will ‘help’ me to hear all the ways in which the new ‘do enhances my protruding double chin. Sharing negativity under the umbrella of ‘honesty’ is just another sneaky way to be cruel to people. However, if I were to clearly ASK you what you REALLY think, taking off the kidgloves and everything, then it’s fine to share that you think I looked better before.

Life really is a performance, and there are very few people that we feel comfortable ‘being ourselves’ around. Is this a curse though? I agree that it’s exhausting, and some people ‘fake’ happy, or ‘fake’ sassiness just to get by. To truly express the depths of their sorrow or their rainbows can honestly be too much. So yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really have any answers either. Authenticity is valuable. Be yourself and others will just deal with it ----- unless you’re TOO this, or TOOOO that. Gawd, I just hate people like that! ;)

Hennifer said...

I love your photos but I love when you pontificate or ooze or whatever... this is your place and I'm always happy to see what you offer.

I like Gabrielle's example there in #2. I find that I find walking this fine line very intimidating and self doubt inducing.

I can't articulate everything that goes on in my head after reading this but I'll leave you with these 3 points.

1. I truly believe that we should assume that everything said/done comes from the best place and go from there (I know sounding like a broken record)

2. But I also believe that "too often what we think right to say is only what the desire or aversion of the moment urges us to say"

and trying to put that into practice myself has become a teaching method I'm kind of enjoying

3. I feel I am a sadder, lonelier, more sensitive person than I pretend to be on a daily basis and I could list a million reasons why I think this has become the way I live.

B Kinch said...

Since everyone is using a numbered order system here, please allow me to follow suit:

1. You might be over-thinking it just a bit, handsome. ;)

2. I totally agree with Gabrielle on her #2. Sometimes there are hard things you say to friends out of love and concern, like telling a close friend that she may want to talk to her doctor about starting antidepressants, and sometimes you have to call people on the carpet because they're treating you, or someone else badly. But often times people use honesty as an excuse to hurt the feelings of others. I don't buy the whole concept that "I was just speaking honestly, it's not my fault that she *chose* to be hurt by it." Not cool.

3.I say this a lot, and I'll say it again. Everyone has their shit. None of us is perfect. Some people are totally worth the shit and some people aren't worth having around, and you have to decide for yourself.

4.As a fellow foodie, I <3 your food pics! But as an aficionado of clever wit I do miss your writing, (though I'm not offended by the absence of it).

Jacob Blankenship said...

Yeah...so, I wasn't talking only about friends, or even necessarily to or about those who visit my blog regularly. It's family AND friends (new and old), AND the world. This expectation that I should be the one to care for everyone in my family to the point of losing myself completely, to constantly be self sacrificing, the one who always has time and energy and room to dump the burden of responsibility onto. We should never correct our patently racist older relatives, lest we offend them, and we must simply shoulder their abuse, lest we hurt their feels. But god forbid I should be unhappy about it, or be hurt when half of my family turns against me, and as I look around I am left with no one in MY corner, defending or protecting ME, or standing silently in solidarity. On paper, looking back over my life it has been about my giving, and the world taking. But it isn't cool to be sad about it in front of others,or deeply disappointed, it isn't cool to be angry, or resentful, or bitter, or to openly feel lonely, or to stand up and demand something in return. Socializing doesn't leave room for the emotionally vacant. These are my feelings and I am responsible for them. I get it. But when will it be MY turn to just feel my feelings, and say f*ck the world? Maybe I am just so sick of constantly walking on egg shells (in my own mind), as I have been doing it since I was born.

Gab-(2) You are absolutely right. A lot of my anger/resentment/heart ache comes from knowing, however, that no matter how compassionate I am towards others,no matter how much I give, I only ever see a very small fraction of that same compassion in return. And after 27 years I just feel spent.

Jennifer- I was thinking a lot about our quasi-conversation on Sunday, this "it's been a year" jeez get over it mentality. And I can relate to that a lot. And I am angry for you, and for myself. You know? Maybe I am just blaming the world for my being jaded, and bitter, and resentful. I never wanted to be this person, and I never signed on to be. But here I am, and suddenly it's just not okay to be not okay.

B- I don't think that I am over thinking it, I really don't. And somehow isn't your saying so kind of proving the point that my feelings do in fact need to be minimized, or tempered? And perhaps you are right, maybe I just need to make the list of you are worth the shit and you are not, and do some generalized life-keeping cleanup. Maybe it is all in my own head, these parameters. Maybe I just can't accept the fact that in order to feel my feelings I have to be a bitch. Maybe I just need to get over always taking the calm, supportive, my day will come, high road, and just find a way to be okay in my own skin, and let the chips fall where they may.

This really wasn't intended to be a bitter, or angry post. More just an exercise in venting, trying to find my own answer by releasing it, and putting it out into the universe. So I apologize to those of you who took it too personally.

Hennifer said...

Although I know little about your family dramas I do know that family, especially the older, more removed members seem to be the worst at dishing out this "you aren't entitled to anything but loving your family" crap.

I've always said it is just BS that some blood relationship suddenly means I'm going to like you as a person. Maybe that works as children but I DO have my own mind you know?

I'm all for respecting my elders but only if they are respectful people and if they earn my respect...

Moving on to this "high road" stuff. In this divorcing myself process I've been so damn sick of the high road. I keep saying that I'm sure on my death bed when I'm happy with how i've lived my life, treated MY "family", the steps I took to better the world we live in, the mother I've been that taking the high road will mean something but right now, in the thick of it, with all the venom and pain I've swallowed I think it is crap. bah... Ok. i'm going to stop before I get myself worked up.

Any time you want a shoulder/ear I'm here Jacob!

Hennifer said...

With all that other stuff being said I just think that there is a huge difference between social honestly and personal/emotional honesty... we all know that social graces have their place.

It is hard to make the move from "doormat" to "true self", moving too fast it is easy to forget their are so many nuances (speaking from personal experience)

gabrielle said...

I think that's a great point, Jennifer. We really are talking about two different things:

what is best for the group
and what is best for ourselves

Somehow, playing by the rules and not DUMPING on the librarian who asks 'how are you today?' by listing the millions of ways your day has been a living hell including details about hangnails, and your children's gas issues --- well that's just 'common courtesy.'

It is your friends and family, however, who should 'be able' to endure your REAL sorrows and your HONEST thrills in life. Why must life only come in these muted colors? Why must we just carry on superficially and never REALLY talk about what's going on?

I'm getting to be quite a little office caricature: the girl that prances and sings and rings her little supply cart. Yeah, that's me! Do I need to 'tone it down' a bit? Well...perhaps, but this really is the 'REALGABRIELLE', so they should just deal! so HA!

Cheyenne said...

In being true to myself, I refuse to format my response numerically. :)

I wasn't going to weigh in on the food posts either but decided you needed to hear my opinion, which is that it makes me happy to see images of something you do so well, something you enjoy so much, and something that has most definitely earned you the utmost esteem from the rest of us.

As for the pretending bit--it's both necessary and exhausting to find the right balance. I haven't known you long brotha, but you can let your true colors shine with me anytime, anywhere, be they bright, murky, or rainbow. At long last you have found some people who love you for who you are, whatever form that may take, and ask for nothing in return except that you never lose, to borrow from you, your true Jacobness


B Kinch said...

I don't think you are over-emoting about the state of the world, and I don't think any part of you needs tempering. The over-thinking remark was in response to
"this constant feeling of obligation, of things I have to do in order to be a good/acceptable/worthwhile person. But I feel like it is often inescapable."

In a law of attraction way, if the above excerpt is what you are spending your time, energy and focus on, it is the thing in your life that will grow.

If you focused on being truer to yourself, doing things that make you feel the most alive, then *that* would be the part of your life that grows. And the people around you would be excited for you, or they would fuck right off.

The truth is, there are scads of terrific people in your life who would love/accept you as you come. And if there aren't, you need to get out more, because there ought to be.

Also, this makes me really sad: "But it isn't cool to be sad about it in front of others,or deeply disappointed, it isn't cool to be angry, or resentful, or bitter, or to openly feel lonely, or to stand up and demand something in return. Socializing doesn't leave room for the emotionally vacant. These are my feelings and I am responsible for them. I get it."

I tell my friends a lot that I want to be with them even if they're not feeling well, even if they think they look bad, even if they've been crying. Even if they are depressed for a really long time. I hang out with them for who they are, not their entertainment value. I would love to know you, and everyone, a little more authentically. Cheyenne and I both abide by the rule that grief needs a witness. Otherwise you're in trouble and going to be carrying shit around for a long long time.

Ok, two last things, and then I will shut my trap, I promise:

1. I don't look the other way when elderly family members make racist comments. I treat them just like anyone else.

2. One thing I have really wanted to say to you but don't really feel like I know you well enough is...Um, it's INSANE that your family doesn't realize what a gem you are. Really crazy. Any of us would give an arm to have you in our corner. I can't imagine taking someone like you for granted.

Puja said...

Just wanted to chime in before I left the office to go do my homecare job (I'm a little tired, and a little bitter myself, if you haven't noticed): What about the people we take care of? They get to be their true selves and complain and complain and be nasty. I guess being my true self means I get hurt.

Fuck anybody who can't take the time to hear me out. I work hard, and I take good damn care of my family. I am proud of myself--bitter as I may be, because I, like you, give from my heart.

So, the friends I have that I can't be real around, well, tootaloo pal. I want friends who listen, who try to understand, who feel pain that I'm struggling. I'm just saying Jacob, don't worry faking it. Your real friends are right here. I am standing in your corner--at all times. We shouldn't have to be fake happy or whatever, because our friends don't have experience to say 'i know what you mean' or the empathy to feel the pain. I can't tell you how infuriatating it is to me answer the how are you question honestly only to be greeted with a blank stare or obvious discomfort. And, all I think is, Well, fuck you very much for asking.

(And, yes, I'm a little off topic, but, I think you know what I mean. You don't have to be fake with your real friends. Being emotionally vacant is okay. You got there because shit was hard, and family was disheartening. Learning our lessons and feeling at peace with the past takes a lot of time. No need to be fake in the mean time.

The world would be a much better place if we only we weren't such polite, socially pleasing fakers. If only we knew what those around us really felt. Maybe it would be easier for everyone if we did.)

adam said...

Very poignant. And the comments are also very well considered, there's really nothing to add.

The art of being true is a tangled web, isn't it? We want to be deferent to others' feelings, but also sincere. And then, as gab & B pointed out, we have to constantly check ourselves for ulterior motives when dealing out honesty. It's no wonder facades & personae are so pandemic.

Nevertheless, I think there's plenty of room for you to be more yourself with your family & friends. It might just make your relationship with them much better (annoying optimism?).

Hennifer said...

Brandy's comment about learning more about one another more authentically really speaks to me because as you may know I have been close friends with "my circle" going on 2 decades. I relate to them on so many levels it is weird when my other relationships stay so peripheral. That being said I too would like to know one another more authentically and vice versa and I DO mean you my dear Jacob.

Also in Brandy's wise writing "what you are spending your time, energy and focus on, it is the thing in your life that will grow." I so true!

In the past you may have had relationship with your family where you couldn't be emotionally vacant, or needed to be the fun one, had friends that wanted the "fake/social you" but I think (speaking quite proudly) that I am someone like Brandy who likes to be around their friends in the hard times, in fact I crave it sometimes to put my own sanity into perspective and I would like you to have to opportunity to experience friendship with me as more of a norm, (meaning I'm not requiring you to be anything but your true self). I'm putting my offer on the table to you, any of you.

B Kinch said...

I'm buying, Jennifer!