Yea, smell that rose!
It’s on the nose.
Not one of those
Who would suppose
That poems, prose,
And speeches’ throes
Must not disclose
Where their heart goes,
I always chose
To stick to those
That told my nose
What was a rose.
While fiddling around yesterday with one of the iPad drawing apps I’ve been testing, I found, among the many options for textures with which I could draw, this repeating image of a person holding an open umbrella. I’ve done what were essentially pointillist artworks or, at least, a rudimentary and fingerpainted version thereof before, but not in a long time; this little stamp-like thing seemed to offer a fine opportunity for doing something similar, and taking it in a meta-drawing direction, the idea of which amused me, added yet another layer of entertainment. I am, you know, easily amused.
And of course, the first things that came into my silly brain the moment I saw the image were frivolous references. First was It’s Raining Men, followed in swift succession by Rain Man, I Made It Through the Rain, and Singin’ in the Rain, and on it went. Ultimately, I decided to make a simple reproduction of the original image with which I was drawing into the drawing itself, and not even vary it hugely. It seemed oddly satisfying to make the drawing merely an expansion on its parts, and see what that produced.
As I drew, I sensed that this is a concrete representation of what often happens in my art-making: I begin with a mark or two, or materials or media, of what might be quite random sorts and see what I can both literally and figuratively draw out of them. The parts can tell me what the whole should be. It’s my own form of forensics or archaeology, in which I find little objects and clues that, if I’m on my game and all is going well, will help me to discover and reveal the whole that lies within them.
It’s so much easier to hide behind convention and other convenient facades than to let our true selves be seen and known. Don’t we almost always prefer that sense of safe anonymity or at least ‘appropriateness’—however tenuous or specious it may be—to taking the chance that in our own skins we might not measure up to the occasion or to the expectations of others?
It is, of course, a foolish conceit. One can rarely cozen anyone else, let alone oneself, by such a means. No matter how hard I may try to appear in the guise of what I think will qualify me for the In Group or make me richer-thinner-prettier or smarter than I really am, if it’s all show, the mask will like any faulty exterior prove too thin to cover my realities. It has always been so, and yet I am far from alone in continuing these futile attempts. I do believe that constant practice can transform us into a nearer semblance to the disguise, but that can work for ill as well as good.
Probably wiser is to recognize that the urge is age-old; that insecurity and an assumption that others will find me inadequate in my natural state are neither new problems nor absolutely decisive. The masks of the past remain, both in those symbolic and ceremonial concrete forms and in the records of our history books and art, to amuse, bemuse or warn us, if we will pay attention. And a close enough, thoughtful enough reading will remind any of us that no mask covers the truth forever—and yet, all the same, that we as a species continue (however astoundingly) to survive. Perhaps unmasking isn’t entirely as dangerous as any of us have feared.
I spent enough years acting the part of a brave, socially mature person, one who was more comfortable hosting a gathering, letting others see my art and writing, lecturing, teaching and doing so many other things that in truth absolutely terrified me to tearful agony behind the scenes that it turns out I am capable of doing all of those things after all. I still fuss and worry, yes, but nothing like the self-flaying horrors that I used to suffer just to get through what were apparently no-big-deal occurrences for most other people, and now I can experience them with fair equanimity. Funny how, when you’ve spent your whole remembered life in the grip of a belief that every second was one degree away from total disaster and death, any tiny bit less becomes magically huge.
And each of those instances becomes a step toward understanding that I have perhaps begun to grow into my mask of wishful improvement and become more like it underneath. Or better yet, that it never did matter as much as I feared, this different reality behind the convention. Best of all, I find that the more I let people see me as I really am, the more kindly they seem to look on me, and in turn, I begin to think the real me is perhaps pretty likable, respectable. Even lovable. Who knew.
The idea that 50% of the constituent members of any group will naturally and logically be above average and 50% below it is not based on general realities. The facts don’t support it but rather show it to be mainly wishful thinking or at best, flawed reasoning. And all one has to do to test such a theory is to look at practically any large sample group and see that life doesn’t tend to fall into neat bell curves, let alone clean divides between the Half Above and the Half Below.
If it were true, for example, the high proportion of car drivers claiming to be above average in skill couldn’t possible be right, but of course we all know that drivers could never, ever have delusions of adequacy. We humans are not at all inclined to exaggerate our prowess and assume we are superior to the majority of others. Cough, cough.
Fortunately for you out there, I am one of those rare creatures whose positive self image does not hinge in any way upon my skill as a driver, which I believe in turn is what allows me to tell you without shame that I think I’m probably below average in that regard. Also fortunate for you is that I don’t drive a lot, which I suspect explains my having achieved this great old age without having been stopped by the police at any time. That, along with having something above the average level of being Lucky. Maybe this is how the universe maintains its balance, after all. I’m not opposed to hanging around both sides of the fence from time to time.
I named the date
I stated my case
I sprinkled falsehoods
All over the place—
I tried to be honest
I tried to be true
But the actual facts
Never do, never do—
I told them whoppers
I gave them chase
But the truth is plain
As the nose on my face—
I just couldn’t help it
I let myself go
Let my epitaph read: Here
The assertion that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is cynical in its assumption not only that bad things will happen and that people will do bad things, but that this is where our greatest interest lies as well. To a certain degree, I will concede it.
There is a part of me too that believes in the other having equal weight: the kind and good, the innocent and the pure. Our every moment of disaster, whether natural or human-made, brings out this good in force. It is the sleeping angel inside that emerges on call to offer aid to the suffering, comfort to the weary and food to the starving. I think that maybe, despite all appearances, it’s goodness that is actually the one inexhaustible resource.
A Little Antsy Now
If I could do just as I wished and not a nickel more,
I’d not sit still just listening to any tiresome bore,
But I’m in well-bred company (I’m told), so I must stay,
Attempting to pretend it’s deep engrossment I convey—
Meanwhile, my nostril starts to itch and twitch, and I suppose
I am not wholly ignorant
Of what a fool I am
But if you’d keep me happy
Just give me a slice of ham
A piece of cheese a bit of bread
Some butter, if you will
And I’ll continue happy fool
Slumped up here by the still
Even when I meet them in places of common interest I am surprised to encounter like-minded creatures. I suppose that’s part of the human psyche, to imagine ourselves so individual as to be unique in all ways. What we really are is unique combinations of characteristics, so we might be better explained as having innumerable subsets in common with others, but not all with anyone else.
And that makes for practically infinite possible serendipitous discoveries of the shared traits, ideas, bits of history, likes, dislikes and curiosities. The potential for finding ways in which we are like others is probably greater, when it comes right down to it, than for finding differences.
Of course, having desires in common means that, like siblings, we still find our shared interests a reason–if not an excuse–to compete with each other, even to fight. We might get a bit too busy comparing ourselves with each other because of our commonalities as well, and whether we think ourselves superior or inferior the imbalance in the equation can lend itself to conflict. We are contentious beings, we humans.
But all told, the advantageous delights of finding others with whom we share views and loves and hopes and pleasures far outweigh the complications. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, worldly or otherworldly, there is great happiness to be found on discovering kindred spirits. It is possible to live our own fairytales when we find the right characters with whom to share them.