My mom always tried her best to make sure I absorbed advice about the stuff she learned hard. I appreciate her persistence now, but of course a lot of it didn’t make much sense when I was younger. It mostly just irritated me, especially the things that seemed to contradict themselves. I discovered the magical grayscale between black and white pretty early on in life, but for a long time I clung to a polar mindset when it came to the really big issues like morality and faith and cola preference and stuff like that. At the time it seemed there could be no room for compromise in those areas, but then I also had no concept whatsoever of the fluidity of context and human perception or the way the two bent reality like the mirrors at a Floyd laser show. I don’t know when exactly it was that I started sensing the outer reaches of my understanding, but I do have distinct memories of being overwhelmed by the complexity of certain problems that had been so dadgum obvious just a short time earlier.
Anyway, rambling story unrambled (and many relevant parts skipped), I better understand some of those contradictions now. Like this: it’s important to both care about and ignore the perceptions others have of you.
And here’s where this post actually starts.
I recently ran across the blog of a guy I worked with a few years ago. Ernie (his actual name, believe it or not) thinks it’s funny to have sexy pictures of David Hasselhoff scattered all over his blog. I happen to agree wholeheartedly, even if I would pick a completely different kind of dude if I ever lied about my team affiliation. Folks who know Ernie also know that he’s married, has a kid, and is very much full of crap. Of course, other folks might come across the images of a be-thonged Hasselhoff and think that Ernie’s a twink… or worse. Is there anything wrong with that? Maybe not. Will it ever cause problems for him? Chances are slim. But things like that have a way of biting a fool square in the glutes when said fool least expects it. As far as I know Ernie hasn’t had to buff any tooth marks out of his nethernethers (and he certainly isn’t a fool), but he did admit that he took down the blog a while back when he was interviewing for a job for fear that its discovery might complicate his chances of landing the position. While Ernie’s perceived enjoyment of looking at Michael Knight’s “lance” wouldn’t have really been a legal basis for not offering him the job, it’s easy to imagine an offended interviewer coming up with a host of other invalid but unquestionable reasons to pass on him. “Gut feelings” are handy things when deciding on something as important as hiring somebody, but are even handier as covers for prejudice, fear and just plain old bigotry.
Everything worked out for Ernie, but his funny little story (and also, oddly, an episode of The Sopranos), reminded me of one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s best quotes:
No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.
I like it, and for the most part I agree.
I quit improv years ago because a) I wasn’t funny and b) the only thing anybody ever saw was the bad me. It was easy to take the low road with vulgarity and drug references and unkind imitation, and I got more and more comfortable doing just those things. It was my fault to a degree because it was an easy way out of most situations, and most folks thought it was funny the first coupla-thousand times. I never really offended anybody at first–or at least I was never confronted–but I eventually wound up playing it gay in most of my sketches, and things started to change. There were always the fratboy/dirty girl elements who loved the homo games and always wanted me to portray a gay golfer with Tourette’s or whatever, but I also realized there were a fair number of people who just weren’t comfortable with it. I never wondered if I might really be a screaming, divoting gay boy at heart, but I know for a fact that my spot-on (and sometimes even hilarious) gay humor sometimes led to tension off-stage. Judge all you want about folks who can’t handle the queer concept, but I guarantee at least one of your self-righteous “open-minded” friends is really a raging homophobe on the inside. Besides (and back on topic [sorry]), these were people I didn’t want to distance myself from and their personal boundaries were their business alone.
My cousin, Stuffy, went through a phase as a kid where’d he’d always ask, “What’s your point?” whenever you said something to him. It was infuriating, especially when it was shortened to just, “Point?”
My point is this: I’m a well-practiced liar. I did it on stage. I do it at work. I even do it at home. While I’ve always been compatible with a broad range of people, regardless of how wrong they are politically or how different socio-economically, in the end it’s almost always been because I’m a freaking Floyd mix tape that needs lasers to sound cool. OK, bad example, because the lasers aren’t actually necessary… so I guess I’m still just saying I’m a liar. My behavior over the past few decades has changed more quickly than can be explained by the maturation of my sensibilities, too, and in a lot of ways it actually belies the emotional maturity you’d expect from a body of my physical age. For that reason I often have trouble relating to people I considered good friends even just a few years ago. I can’t remember now what particular set of personality modifications I emulated for each set of friends or, in some cases, why I even pretended to want to hang out with them. And am I just effecting another personality now? Maybe one that conforms more to the cognitive and moral patterns I think more people should have? Maybe this isn’t really me at all. Old Nate was right: I’m plum cornfused.
My point is this: I’m a lying sack of crap and you might not even really know me. But I’m working on dropping the pretense and the drama and the dickweedery, and maybe we’ll still be friends after I’ve accomplished all that.
As if I can really change.