Skip to content

Wingman and Cloistered Lad | 2010 | Feels Like Home

09.15.10 8:14 a.m.

You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.  

-James A. Froude


To Prepare a Face

Does this one seem quite right?

I realize in retrospect that I fought for much of my life for personality integration. I recall a few times, coming back from a summer program where I was around intellectual peers who did not previously know me, I mourned that I would have to regress, removed of the circumstances that let me evolve. The obvious solution, rather than moping on the phone to my girlfriend-of-the-week, would have been to resist the pull toward convenience, to stand up and be who I wanted to be (as these new shades of identity were always preferable) no matter external influences. However, I was a teenager then and let my surrounding set my attitude.

When I spoke, early in my relationship with Melanie, of no longer letting myself fictional, of taking my lumps, I meant I wished to finally release the need to be who other people made me (or at least who I thought they did). Being fictional served its purpose, made me more daring and extroverted, but it never felt like it counted. I wasn't the one handling the social currency, but a character I played.

It is a conflict I see Melanie dealing with, too (though she is confronting it about six years earlier than I did). There is the face she shows me in the dark and then there is who she is in front of other people. At a party at Jacki's, she returns to adolescence while looking at albums with Jinx (and overtly admits this is what she is doing). Jinx - with whom she has lived and has thus shared the intimacy of snoring and toothbrushes - sees a face of Melanie that is not false, but also is not whole. It is scary to let people see you for who you really are, because you know exactly how dull that person can be and feel it behooves you to make sure no one else ever finds out. As my character Roselyn thinks in my first novel, it is fine to show people your underwear but never your fear.

It isn't a perfect system for me yet. I still feel a slight fuzziness around Jacki, as though I am not sure quite what to say or how to say it (but I have come to the point where I can admit this to her in the midst of swing dancing without feeling the nausea of social anxiety). And Daniel, when I catch him in private, demands a certain fond decorum. (I still don't quite know how to function around other men.) But I know that I could be in the presence of two disparate friends (Melissa and Daniel, for instance) and not have to think about who I am going to be, since there is no one living in my head anymore but me.

I think that the core of my social anxiety was that it required me to prepare a face for the faces that I'd meet, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, and I didn't know how to do that anymore. Seven years of increasing fictionalization had atrophied my ability to confront rejection with authenticity. (And acceptance of rejection is the beginning of most social interactions, the nod that you don't become fast friends with the vast majority of the people that you encounter.) Showing strangers who I was, admitting truths, was out of the question. They would have to decide some part I played was worth knowing before I could slowly demonstrate that there was a man under the costume. Once I decided that I wasn't anyone's minstrel show and that I was eating up my life letting other people unconsciously dictate who I was, it left me a little too naked to go out in public.

Melanie should be cycling through gradations of who she is before coming to only allow herself her most authentic face, years from now. At the expense of invoking Erik Erickson (who once cost me a relationship for explaining this to a woman for years my junior), she is in the identity versus role confusion stage. No one else knows the Melanie that is in my life. Once she confronts this psychosocial crisis, she can move on, but there is absolutely no rush and seems to have no inclination to deal with this now. She is gradually picking out labels for what she is - scientist, future PhD candidate, and so on - and discarding those that no longer fit - chubby teenager, philosophy student, etc. There are some concepts to which she is attached and which she cannot fulfill. For instance, she is quite fond of the bisexual label, but she is in a long term relationship with a man that is likely to persist if he has the least say in it. Though, plainly, being attracted to men is part of the bi label, she cannot complete the wholeness of it without losing me (I am not the polyamorous/threeway/orgy type). As such, in public or when asked, she states clearly that she is generally much more attracted to women and allows that I am just lucky that I am so girly. She is not shy, among some, to say that I am more than worth commitment and fidelity, despite the need to shave daily and the lack of breasts for her to fondle. There are also those labels she could easily own (writer and artist spring instantly to mind), but there are only so many minutes in the day and other acts of identity gratification have priority.

Once I received the email offering me a publishing contract for my novel, I consciously realized that this legitimized an aspect of my persona as writer (which would be among the first three nouns I would apply to myself) and this required that I further fulfill the requirements of being a writer, namely that I had better finish polishing up the sequel. This face, this aspect of my identity, demands daily sacrifices and eats away the chance for other aspect (I swear I could once draw, something I find difficult and ugly now). I cherish it too much to not let it overtake other parts.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job.

last watched: Going the Distance
reading: Bridge Across Forever
listening: Edith Piaf

Wingman and Cloistered Lad | 2010 | Feels Like Home

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

eXTReMe Tracker