I Play One on Television

Digital illustration: Putting up a Serious Front

I can’t always put up a good front as a genius…

There was a long-ago commercial with an actor touting medication but beginning his spiel with the famously fatuous disclaimer, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on television.” The idea that reading scripts and declaiming lines to represent a character in the medical profession qualified him in any way to advise us on what was good medicine for anyone was laughable even to a child. But it’s amazing how often we supposed adults will readily impute to anyone the characteristics they project to us (intentionally or not) without questioning that confidence.

The obvious problem with this is in how we fall for con artists’ tricks. As entertainment in, say, a magic show or theatre performance where the act is benign, there’s no threat. Criminals of all sorts, however, are practiced at getting us to believe things that defy logic and rationality and often would shatter at the merest breath of challenge.

Digital illustration: I Play One on Television

…but I play one on television…

Less obvious is the problem of our easily made assumptions about others based on appearances alone or very little additional information. Not to mention the assumptions that others readily make about us in the same ways. Sometimes these assumptions can serve us well—they’re a little like shorthand, enabling us to navigate situations and interact and communicate with strangers and acquaintances without having to essentially study and get to know them thoroughly beforehand.

So I could say in this context that ‘I’m not an outgoing person, but I play one on television.’ Not a wealthy person, but I live like one. Not famous, but since I hang around with lots of musicians and other performers, I get plenty of access to what life might be like for famous folk, and even get recognized and treated like a better-known person because of the, well, better-known company I keep. And I’ve certainly never been a classy, high quality person, but I am spending as much time as I can in the company of far better people than me in hopes that proximity will lend itself to others seeing their glory reflected in me. Hey, if I’m really lucky, a little of that good stuff will rub off on me, too.

The Character in the Sharkskin Suit

Intriguing, isn’t it, how what we admire in one we might fear in another; how sometimes a single characteristic becomes so entwined with our perception of the whole being that we are unable (or at least unwilling) to see the subject except through that distinctive filter.digital illustration from a photo

Take the shark, for example. We anthropomorphize its curved, elegant mouth and its very pointy dental array as a wicked grin because they form so ironically (we think) bloodless a ‘smile’ for an ideally designed killing machine, and subsequently we are content to identify those people whom we find wicked, bloodless, or murderous as Sharks. Never mind that the shark itself is simply being what it is naturally meant to be and doing what it is created to do. Never mind that, often enough, the person we are happy to affiliate with that same stereotyped vision may also be doing what s/he is naturally inclined, expected, and/or paid to do. If the person in question is good at carrying out dispassionate or relentless action, we’re likely to find a convenient metaphor in the shark.digital illustration

I have long thought, myself, that the mere mention of a character as being dressed in a sharkskin ensemble gave him an air of sangfroid that I suppose must have been similarly associated with the archetype of the coolly relentless shark. I, too, am apparently guilty of stereotyping the creature, and very likely in turn, the person. So it is: we are always looking for shorthand ways to describe and understand those around us.digital painting from a photo

But I would hope that I can also remain cognizant of those positive and laudable qualities that might also be anthropomorphically applied to a shark, and credit similar ones to my fellow bipedal creatures as well: swiftness, strength, tenacity, fearlessness, and a driving desire to move forward at all times. These are characteristics to which I can only aspire for the most part, never mind being as handsome and sleek as a shark can be in appearance. While I doubt anyone will tend to equate me with the supposedly shark-like attributes of cruel indifference or cold-bloodedness, perhaps I would do well to pursue association with those better ones and see if I can’t be identified with such admirable aspirations after all.

Bland Like Me

photo montageThe marvelous Diana of A Holistic Journey has been writing posts asking about the influences of race, culture, national origin, education, and so forth and the ways that they shape who we are and how we perceive ourselves. This series of hers is proving an outstanding eye-opening and thought-provoking exercise for me, too. I have spent most of my life living amid and being part of The Majority—middle-class, white, English speaking, native-born, educated, boringly predictable, etc, etc. There were a few touches of diversity around me here and there, of course, this country of the so-called United States being what it is, but those were relatively small and isolated, so mostly I grew up sheltered and unchallenged in nearly all ways.

Yet as an individual I came to know myself as being different in one way or another from most of what I thought of as the ‘norms’ of my own environs, and even learned over time that what I thought was my Majority milieu was mostly just my very narrow path through it in life. While a lot of my classmates, immediate neighbors and friends when I was a kid, for example, were also little pasty white critters like me, the friends I remember best as seeming most interesting to me were ones like Eha, the Estonian girl, or Karen, one of my few black classmates, or the Japanese friends who shared exotic treats from their lunches and who performed classical Japanese dance in a miniature celebration of the Cherry Blossom Festival at school. I have hardly any memories so suffused with longing as that of watching the girls flutter their fans, while dressed in exquisite kimonos and dancing their stately, courtly dance to the strains of the tune ‘Sakura’, which melody in turn still fills me with delicately melancholy love.

My ideals of human physical beauty, as my husband and I have often noted musingly, are nearly all attached to non-whites or mixed-race people, not something I think of as a conscious or intentional choice but a persistent reality for me ever since I can remember. My superficial list of Most Beautiful People would probably have a paucity of caucasian members among its top fifty. While I have never been either very adventurous or flexible in my choices and tastes and experiences, I suppose I have always been fascinated by what seemed different or even exotic to me. I am a fantasist and a romantic in the cheap, popular versions of those ideas, I guess.

I have even wondered, in a broader sense, if part of my very nature is simply to feel like an outsider for no very specific reason. I was always shy, and learned as an adult that this expressed not only a naturally introverted character on my part but also demonstrated lifelong social anxiety and probably the incipient state of my developing depression that didn’t come to full fruition until later. Those, along with undiagnosed dyslexia, tremors, the dysphonia that came into play in my forties, and who knows what other quirks of my unique persona and biological makeup, could perhaps explain why I never felt I fit in with any particular group or was especially central to its character. But I still can’t say I felt consciously sad or was overtly unhappy or removed or, certainly, ostracized for any of this.

What was odder was that as I reached adulthood and gradually began to find a more comfortable sense of self and direction, I have a feeling I may have chosen to put myself into groups where it was plain that I didn’t quite match the norm, specifically because, if I knew there was no possibility of my being an exemplar in its midst of the highest standard, I might unconsciously feel safe from being expected to be so by anyone else. This might be complete nonsense, but it gives me pause. In any event, I spend a great deal of my ‘quality time’ nowadays in the company of people who are immersed in and even expert at music, pedagogy, administration, and a number of other topics in which I have no training whatsoever and only a very little observational knowledge, and I am very happy in this environment.

Conversely, I tend to keep my company of good visual artists and writers and others with training or knowledge more likely to be similar to mine at the seemingly safer arm’s-length of cyberspace, and that probably doesn’t reflect well on my personal fortitude. I never did, at least, make any claims of being any better than a big ol’ chicken. Being a scaredy-pants is probably not race-specific. Or attached with any particularity to culture, social stratum, nationality, educational accomplishment, religion, language, income level, or anything else in question. Being a scaredy-pants is just part of being myself, and the unique combination of qualities and characteristics that make up the wonderfulness of Me.

On the other hand, being attracted to, frightened by or otherwise connected to or dissociated from people who are Not Like Me is a central consideration of understanding how the human species works. Or doesn’t. And there’s no doubt that all of those things influenced by proximity (physical or metaphorical), the aforementioned race, culture, social strata, and so forth, are very potent indicators and influencers of how we will experience the concept of Self and Other at any level.

So what does that ‘solve’ about me, about how I feel about those who are or seem in any way different from me? I’m still not at all sure. Perhaps the best I can say is that my feeling of being, in a value-neutral way, unlike those around me makes me unwilling to assume much about them, in turn. I would generally rather let personalities and individuality be revealed to me and my understanding of my surroundings at the moment unfold in their own sweet time than that I jump in and make any precipitous assumptions. I’m perfectly capable of finding lots of other ways of being wrong and making a fool of myself without constantly worrying over whether I’m being judged, rightly or wrongly, as a stereotype of either the majority or the minority on hand.

Most of my blogging friends and acquaintances are significantly different from me in nearly all of the aforementioned identifying categories, and yet I feel remarkably at home among you. So I’ll let you decide if sameness or difference affects how you see me. I feel at home, and that’s good enough for my part of the bargain.photo montage

With Intent

The same acts or the same words can have radically different effects, depending on their place and timing, and especially on motivation. I learned long ago that when anyone seemed to condescend or demean me in some way, I ought to take care before I assumed the worst. Before I assumed a meaning in the moment that might have no reality at all.

How does anyone learn such things? Nearly always, by making mistakes themselves. I could never begin to count the times when a thing I said lightly or jokingly was taken as a slight or a thing I did casually, without a thought, had entirely unwanted and unforeseen consequences not just for me but for others, too.

Yet I have not learned so well that I don’t continue to kick up dust with my clumsy mistakes and thoughtless remarks. My only hope is that the rest of the world can be far less foolish and thin-skinned than I, and that the day can come when I will focus my speech and deeds  with such intent that they will build up rather than tear down, heal instead of harm, and encourage and support but not offend.

It is, in fact, my intent to improve with age, in what I say and do. And in giving others credit for trying, too, to do their best. Even if we all slip up from time to time. And we will.

digital illustration

We are the ultimate explosives. Human beings? Mushroom clowns.

Youth & Beauty, Beauty & Youth

We never needed to choose. Yet there’s always this foolish compulsion among us to measure attractions and, should we be so lucky, to consider ourselves superior because we successfully assure ourselves that whatever we think the best among the pretties and the old makes us seem more perfect in our own eyes. We’re our own creations in this way, our own versions of excellence, and whether we believe we fit somewhere high in the measure of greatness as beauties or as wise and wonderful elders, we spend an amazing amount of energy on fancying ourselves fantastic.graphite drawingWe expend a large quantity of this fanciful energy, as well, on believing that youth and beauty are irrevocably tied to one another, if not outright synonymous. If one becomes convinced of that construct, then it must follow that becoming old is some sort of process of becoming plainer or uglier or, at greater extremes, less important and worthwhile. As it happens, we are not necessarily all so stupid as I’m making us sound, really. Eventually we mortals do manage to wise up. Perhaps it’s only and logically plain self-preservation that, as we get older, we realize that either we’ve ruled ourselves out of relevance or we might need to adjust our expectations and interpretations to allow that the aged can also be wise or useful or, astonishingly, even beautiful too.graphite drawingSlow as we are to credit our elders with such attractions and advantages, the eventual realization that we are becoming the elders may motivate us to rethink that equation if nothing else can. It’s not that I look in the mirror and see my proliferating wrinkles and expanding crop of grey hairs as evidence that I’ve suddenly or finally become important, improved, impressive. It’s that I see someone, finally, whose value has nothing particular to do with whether those marks of vintage are present or not. I am free to see myself simply and fully as myself, if I’m willing to look, and from this lesson I should–most meaningfully–learn to offer the same courtesy and impartiality to anyone I see, not only myself but anyone. No matter the years or the appearance or how either conforms to the current tastes, every face I see should seem to me the face of worth and dignity. Who knows but what it might be oftener proved true if we allow it to be so.

Que Sera

digital paintingThe Ides of March have passed once more, untroubled. Caesar falls but is replaced by another king, another president, another boss–and the world continues to rotate with a placid, almost stolid steadiness. Even Internal Revenue has accepted our tax return.When the seasons flow and while night and day continue to trot after each other without cease, the sky withholds and then sends down her rain, her sun, her snow–though all of this is change, it’s change in which we all comfortably believe, a future we feel safe to say we can predict. Prognosticators and seers and soothsayers have always wanted to believe–wanted us to believe–that they could cast the runes and fortune-tell what is to come. And even on the wings of simple faith, these are bound at times to be fulfilled. What we trust will come to be will be–when it will. The answer, an answer, always comes.

But what if the answer is not what we had hoped? How if we have built our plans on something we expect, the future we assume or even long to be? Lovely as the concept seems, small few are truly able to go about our day after the fact, chirpily singing ‘Que Sera, Sera‘ with sanguine calm.digital paintingI’ve always had a little bit of fatalism about the whole thing–if Life ever throws me something I truly can’t handle, why then it’ll kill me, won’t it, and such things won’t matter to me when I’m dead. That’s a little fatuous and silly, of course, and no comfort at all when I think things are pretty awful.

All I can really say that keeps my armor fairly intact then is that if my faith in general is bound to what I’ve seen and my confidence that it will continue or return is that so far Life’s been kind to me. So far, what has happened has always led eventually to good and pleasing things in my world. As winter follows autumn and is supplanted next by spring, as day and night keep dawning and turning over to dark, one after another, I trust that the fallow times of my life will be pushed away by cycles of productivity. That weariness will be refreshed by energy; dread will be reversed by hope. That sorrow will return to joy and chaos or misdirection will remember its path or will find a whole new way.

The door that closed is only redirecting me, however slowly I go, to another passage. And where that goes may well be the very fine and happy place I thought I was aiming toward to start.digital painting

Books Undercover

photoWe are so familiar in western culture with the concept that we should never ‘judge a book by its cover’ or assume anything based on appearances that it astonishes me how often we still fall prey to such foolishness. We are so taken with externals and what we assume based on them that it’s amazing we’re able to function on a day-to-day basis without getting smashed like bugs under the weight of our own dimwittedness and the resulting misguided things we do and don’t think–more importantly, what we do and don’t do as a result of those thoughts. How many times do I have to wish I could re-train my presumptuous inclinations away from predetermining what I think of any given situation or person! In reality, what looks like either a foreboding or inviting doorway is nothing more or less than a closed door until I go in through it with thoughts and eyes wide open, to see what really lies on the other side.photoI’m thinking of it at the moment especially, I suppose, having seen our pretty, healthy and cheery looking mothers have invisible health reasons both to undergo their surgeries and to worry and/or hurt enough to be willing to undergo surgery rather than just continuing to ‘tough it out’. Neither is a complainer, though thankfully they’re not big on hiding the truth from us beyond probably softening their descriptions of the various medical struggles they’ve undergone over the years nor are they avid players of the martyr game. So I think it’s safe to guess that most people would readily think both of them something nigh unto indestructible, and perhaps they are in spirit if not quite in body. Yet here they are needing to get ‘repaired’ from time to time. It’s a little like those industrial sites that to me look so beguilingly, alluringly palatial and mysterious and exotic the way they’re lit up at night but when in operation during the day are simply hard at work to keep the business intact, bits of their well-used machinery breaking down occasionally as they gradually work their way toward a point they can’t finally pass without reconstruction.photoI’m also thinking such thoughts as I live surrounded by family and friends who struggle with innumerable unseen barriers to easy living, full health and happiness. There is the poor student who works long hours at both academic and full-time jobs to get through her education but is harassed for being a ‘spoiled fashionista’ because she looks so perfectly turned out in her work and school clothes. If anyone paid attention, of course, they’d know that the two perfectly kept outfits she wears on alternating days are ones she scrimped to save less than $10 each for from top to toe at a thrift store on her minimum wage income. There is the boy who is bullied by his peers as being a lazy wimp because he doesn’t go out for the soccer team, though any of them who asked might find out that despite his looking so fit he has severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and would be in mortal agony if he even went out for a practice. There is the ‘weird old guy’ down the street that everyone avoids, thinking him creepy and dangerous with his long hair and eye patch and spooky twitch, never bothering to get close enough to discover that he always keeps himself very clean and neatly dressed and runs a small watch repair business out of his house to sustain himself despite his torture and mutilation in his war-torn home country and being too much an outsider to get fine language training once here because people were too displeased with and put off by their imagined version of him.photoBad enough that we assume the worst about so many people and things and fail to discover whether there’s the tiniest bit of factual basis for any such assumptions. The worst is that we may never know what treasures lie within if we don’t make a real investigation. Besides all of those complications of health (mental and physical), circumstance (familial, economic, educational, political) or any number of invisible ‘companions’ that often make it simply miraculous that a given person lives what looks to others like even a marginally ‘ordinary’ life, most people have within them amazing and distinctive forms of unique beauty–talents, passions, depths of character, and just plain reserves of love welling up inside–that we should be avidly seeking to bring out in each other at every opportunity, not to avoid or repress or let be defeated by their personal barriers and boundaries. Least of all, to lie forever undiscovered because we looked at externals and assumed there was no such treasure hidden there.