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?