I am always surprised when somebody is taken in by my facade.
Mark Twain once said, "What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself." People describe me as calm, organised, responsible, rational, nice, kind. Of course, I know better.
Yet despite my flaws, people actually seem to like me. Not everybody, naturally, but enough people. My family, partner, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, some strangers. And I wonder, do they like me for, or in spite of, my flaws? Or only because I have them so well hidden?
I worry about it, because I have learned that self-preservation comes with a price, in the form of a painstakingly maintained veil, an ever-present layer between us and the people in our lives. Essentially, the presence of that layer is the difference between like and love. Because you cannot love a veneer, no matter how shiny and pretty and enviable it is.
I am afraid to show my failures, to own them as part of my life story. As surprised as I am when people admire me - when they buy the facade - it's what I want. It's what I strive for.
I worry, because I wonder whether I have spent my life fashioning a mask, rather than being true to myself.
Am I real?
Am I real?
"We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin."
— Andre Berthiaume
* * *
Sometimes, inspiration lives in the most unlikely places.
Including Australia's Got Talent, if you would believe it, the most awful of awful reality TV shows. Last year, a singer/dancer who calls himself "Timomatic" competed. I had admired him since he appeared on a not-so-awful reality TV show, So You Think You Can Dance, a few years ago and so I looked him up, to see what he had been up to. Interviewed on AGT, he spoke about how, after scoring his dream role as the lead in Fame: The Musical, he sustained an injury on opening night that prevented him from dancing for a year. So he learned to sing. And honed his craft. And now? Well, he is pretty incredible. (And, deservedly, a successful recording artist.)
His story reminded me of Steve Jobs':
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
And J.K. Rowling's:
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant the stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else I might never had found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised and I was still alive, and my daughter was still alive and I had an old typewriter…and a big idea. And so, rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. You might never fail at the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously you might not have lived at all. In which case, you fail by default.
And, I suspect, countless other successful, creative, inspirational people.
People who have an urge to connect with the human spirit are the people who have met pain and emerged from its depths. They know loneliness. They know failure. They know longing and desperation. They hit a wall, tumbled into the pits of despair, and were left with no option but to follow their hearts.
Such a truism applies to writers, in particular. In his book Magic Hours, Tom Bissell observes:
Literature is always written by outsiders… by a person inclined not towards connecting with those around him or her but retreating into a world of nerdily private dream… To write is to fail, more or less, constantly.
I hit a low point, a few years ago. I was sad. I didn't like myself. I felt alone.
Then I started writing. It fulfilled my longing for connection, and provided me with a sense of control that stemmed the anxiety humming within. I learned to use my angst to tap into a deeper understanding of the world around me. Writing restored my faith in myself. I felt as though I belonged, that I could do something... good.
If it were not for my failures, my flaws, my bevy of imperfections, I would not be writing. Although I have safely found my way back to dry land, I am fortunate to have access to the depths that I once reached. I think I always will.
“I cling to my imperfection, as the very essence of my being."
— Anatole France