Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Who Goes There?

I’m sitting in the coffee shop looking at the people around me.  The girl at the table across from me, is a painfully beautiful Asian girl, clearly American in every way, tastefully dressed.  I can’t help but glance at her.  Its hard to take my eyes off her.  She keeps glancing up at the moment our eyes meet.  A woman my own age might be intrigued by this.  But clearly this is a girl who gets hit on a lot.  

Beauty for some women is almost a burden, almost a handicap.  Beauty that is so extreme it defines you to the world and the men in that world.  There are women whose breasts are so outstanding, that even dressed no man can see beyond them to the woman within, anymore than they can peek over a mountain range.

I sip my coffee.  I don’t  sense any annoyance from her but suddenly she packs up her books and notepad.  She’s not finished, she simply moves to the other side of the coffee shop.  While admiring her, and expecting nothing from her I have clearly creeped her out.  I am now a creep.  I am now what a creep looks like.

Yesterday I was at my church, sometimes I’m on stage giving the service, sometimes I’m in the audience.  This time I’m a greeter which is something in-between.  I meet people as they come in the door wish them well, hand them a little service program and keep the traffic moving.  These are my people.  What the Buddhists call a “Sangha”.  They are vital to my existence.  When I was a lonely, dark and solitary person, a few years ago, I was more creative.  But sometimes teetered on the brink of some impending madness.  Life is better now.  But I don’t write as much, and ideas are hard to come by. But I have people in my world.  Some of them I’m close to. To be healthy and long lived, I must love.  I must have people who will allow and even welcome me to love them.  To them I am a good a man.  Certainly not a creep.  

At home I’m watching TV, in my familiar and sloppy element.  Inwardly I’m scolding myself for not reading, but the TV shows are just too good these days.  I am a man of the house.

All of these personas that I put on are me.  And who is the real me?

If I speak to individuals in my church, one on one over coffee, I feel free hearted, filled with conversation.  If I speak in front of the congregation, even though I know each person in the group, there is some part of me that doesn’t know who I am, who I should be.  What persona to put on and then later take off.  Then I become this very awkward person.   I think this may be the secret source of stage fright.  One on one we know who we are.  In front of several people, even people we know well, we don’t know what persona to put on.  Like one of those dreams where you give a speech and look down and realize you’re naked.  We are naked because we have no persona to put on and button down and offer as our best selves to an audience where each person knows us differently.

I saw an episode of Black Mirror recently, where a woman’s lover was killed in an accident.  A technology service recreated an authentic android of him, based on his Internet persona, the amassed algorithms of all he ever did in his life time online.  He had never indulged in pornographic web sites, so his new artificial persona had no sexual prowess or expression of passion.  He was unconditionally nice and sweet tempered under all circumstances.  He drove her crazy, and not in a good way.  In the end she stashed him in the attic.  With the best face he could put on he was ultimately a creep because he had no dark side.

Who am I then?  Who are you?

What we think of as ourselves, what we offer to the world, is only a small piece of a large bandwidth of existence, of consciousness.  We put on personas for the moment and the audience as easily as clothes.  Most of who we are and what we communicate is out of the reach of our conscious experience.  When we converse, most of the conversation is taking place non-verbally.  We come away from a casual conversation with a stranger, hankering with mysterious lust.  Or feeling shut off from people, despite smiles and clever jokes, without knowing why.  There are personas we project to others for their interpretation, like invisible costumes, writ large for others, but transparent to ourselves.  Who are these versions of myself, the creep at the coffee shop, the friend at the church door, the solitary writer and which one is closest to person that I know?  And then there are the layers of ourselves, the woundedness, the accumulated brokenness that others can perceive in us, maybe therapists, that is out of the reach of our awareness.  We cannot see our own face directly.  Others can.  They see us directly in ways we can't, and may perceive us in ways we can't.  I find that scary.  If the ego survives death, which one of these personas wins the lottery of identity?


  1. Somehow it seems to me that all of these faces or costumes are real. Each one is a facet of who you are. Identity is not a constant, a fixed quantity, but rather, a flow that reveals different perspectives from moment to moment, reflecting the light of the others around us.

    "We cannot see our own face directly. Others can." I'm not sure I agree with this. You're not a creep, nor did you intend to act like one, but that's what the young woman saw... and she was mistaken.

    Lovely, thought provoking post, as usual!

  2. Hi Lisabet!

    Reflecting the light of the others around us. That's really an interesting way of seeing it. Reflecting people back to themselves. We know ourselves a certain way in solitude and another way in interaction. Which is the closest to who we are? We are shaped by events mostly with our mothers that happened before we turned five years old, things we don't even remember. Who are we?


  3. Which persona we put on depends almost entirely on who we put it on for, and what our perceptions are of them.

    My favorite public persona is the one I can put on for erotica readings. The audience knows more or less what to expect, but they're still shocked when someone my age channels characters being raw and explicit about sex. Hmm, I should be saving this thought for my own post net Monday.

  4. Hi Sacchi!

    I hadn't thought much about personas until this topic came along, now I'm much more conscious of it. You have to tell me - maybe next monday - what its like to give erotica readings. I'm going to be teaching a small class next month about how to write erotic haiku. I've never taught anything before.


  5. As usual, Garce, you've expanded the topic. It's true that we all play different roles in different contexts. When I began teaching first-year courses in a university, I had a favourite pair of lace-up boots which I often wore with a black skirt and ruffled white blouse. I came to realize that I was trying to look like a Victorian governess, since I felt I was in an updated version of that role.

  6. It's definitely a sign of self-awareness to recognize that we come off differently to different people and in different contexts. I think, though, that part of that is an invitation to consider our behavior. I have to say I felt pretty disturbed reading about the encounter in the coffee shop. I've been that girl, plenty of times. The thing is that a certain sort of stare can be a precursor to all sorts of creepy behavior. You have no way of knowing what the person is going to do next, and I learned the hard way that it wasn't safe to give people too much benefit of the doubt. These days, I move when I feel uncomfortable, just like that girl did.

    "While admiring her, and expecting nothing from her"

    I'm so frustrated when people (vast majority guys) say things like this. I expect things when I'm out in public. I expect to be able to go to a coffee shop and mind my own business. What a lot of people don't seem to understand is that this sort of "admiration" isn't really so free and simple. It often comes at a price of uncertainty and fear for the person being "admired." And it can carry an intrusive weight.

    "There are women whose breasts are so outstanding, that even dressed no man can see beyond them to the woman within, anymore than they can peek over a mountain range."

    This is really frustrating to me, too. I'm primarily attracted to women. There are women who are so gorgeous to me that it's sort of hard to breathe around them. But I never stop seeing them as people. No matter how fantastic her breasts are, I know there's a woman within. It's hard to describe how it feels to hear men talking this way, particularly as a queer woman. I don't want to be looked at like that, and I also am capable of feeling powerful attraction without treating other people like that.

    So I know this might come off harsh, but I've been thinking about it all week and I felt I owed it to you to say something. I don't want to walk around the world and get treated like a zoo animal, and I know lots of other people who have similar feelings. I think you're a thoughtful person, and you could examine this behavior and come up with a way to act better.

  7. Amen, Annabeth. I was thinking the same thing.


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