I grew my hair long so I’d have a place to hide. But soon everyone knew me by it: That Guy with the Hair.
I took up smoking to disguise my nervousness around strangers, or in a new place. But then smoking stopped being cool, and the longer I smoked, the more nervous I got. And after I stopped smoking I found it so much easier to sit still. Only my head still pivots left and right to avoid unnecessary eye contact.
These days I wear my hair short, my shoes and glasses are rarely in fashion and if I have an option, I go for unmarked t-shirts. Wearing a message simply seems too stressful. I feel as if I have to live up to whatever image it projects. And shorn of individuating details, isn’t it easiest to see who we really are?
When I stopped trying to hide, I found I could almost disappear. All I have to do is don a different hat and I’m somebody else. It’s great.
I admit, I do still keep a bit of a beard. Disclosure has its limits.
I guess it scares some people to think that personality could be so fluid, so arbitrary: nothing more or less than a collection of traits and powers in a role-playing game. They get defensive: “That’s just the way I am!” No, it isn’t.
But if we aren’t who we think we are, then what might we be? And what about the danger of total conformity, the boundaries of the self dissolving?
Perhaps the best way to talk about this is to say that what makes each of us attractive is our originality, not our novelty. Our lives are not novels with clearly defined trajectories plotted in advance, much less compositions intoned by a chorus of Fates or angels. But neither are they random – that’s the hard part to grasp. Matter is inherently self-organizing. So is mind. Sometimes, these patterns appear to converge and strange things happen.
Our selfhood isn’t something opaque and closed off; walls are there merely to define a space. Like a garden or a temple animated with lights and spirits, odors and possibilities, music from many throats. We are unique precisely in the way that every position is unique and each occasion is irreproducible. An openness to the world – which is meaningless unless the option of withdrawal exists – entails a sort of gardener’s familiarity with, and fondness for, the details of the unique positions and occasions of which we are composed. Our integrity as individuals stems directly from this sense of tenancy, of stewardship. How could it be otherwise?
Ah, for a sense of completeness! But whence the current passion for the word closure? It reminds me more than a little of the obsessive focus on orgasms found in most pop-culture talk about sex. The underlying message is the same: At some point in the future, we will achieve satisfaction by living in the present. And in the meantime, our sentences will become, like, more and more indecisive? Definitive pronouncements about much of anything will come to seem more and more, you know, whatever. Though I guess an increased emphasis on seeking agreement isn’t such a bad trend – knome sayin’?
The game this time, I think, is the one with three walnut shells and a little dried-up pea. Save your money.