Tear the Whole F**king Thing Down
Recently, my friend Robert asked me what I wanted for a username on his Mumble server. I told him, “Mystif,” because that’s a concept that holds a great deal of meaning for me, where I am right now (yeah, I know, I totally sound like a woo-woo hippie, here).
He, being my oldest and bestest friend, gave me some crap about never sticking to one thing and mentioned he’d basically had the same internet identity since forever (which, btw, is and isn’t true — like me, he’s got at least one internet identity that goes back a decade, maybe more, but has also had a bunch of ephemeral ones that served some or another purpose at some or another time.
I should issue a caveat: when I say “internet identity,” I don’t mean “a totally fake persona.” I just mean a different username, handle, whatever you want to call it. Mine always point back to me. I’m pretty transparent about the really relevant facts of my identity. In short, I’m not trying to hide anything or be someone else.
To belabor an analogy, the armature is always the same; it’s just that sometimes the artist hangs different things on the sculpture that highlight different aspects in its nature. And, of course, the artist in question is probably not me, but G-d, and I just change the title of the sculpture accordingly, or whatever.
Robert, of course, was just messing with me about my internet chameleon status. I know that now, and I knew that then, though at the time it actually kind of ticked me off (and I told him as much, and also that I knew being ticked off about it was totally irrational). What I didn’t understand was why it ticked me off; what nerve it struck that garnered that juvenile, “Heeeeeey, stop picking on meeeeee!” response.
Having had some time to reflect, I realize that some of it is that I’m uncomfortable with my own sort of ephemeral nature.
Like most people, at my core, I am basically one thing — an evolving, elaborating thing, but one thing. On the outside, I would hazard that I probably seem very different to different people; so much so that if two people who know me in two different areas of my life described me to one-another, they might come to the conclusion that they knew two different guys with the same name or that I am a giant fake.
I think the former of these conclusions would be closer to the truth. I have lived a very compartmentalized life (I think I’ve written a bit about this, here). I’m not sure how to stop doing that. It’s a coping mechanism that mostly works most of the time.
It doesn’t help that I regularly pass through what I think of as “iconoclastic phases” — periods in which I want to destroy not the cherished icons of the world around me, but my own cherished icons. Phases in which I want to sweep all of the detritus from the table and start over new. Some of them are sane — they represent, I think, the desire of a creative personality for a fresh canvas. Some of them are not sane — they represent the struggles of a brain, mind, and soul with the intricate pulsings of an illness that sometimes makes bad ideas seem like good ones.
Basically, what I mean is that sometimes the phoenix does need to burn in order to be reborn, and sometimes it doesn’t. Right now, the phoenix doesn’t need to burn.
I’m in the midst of one of those phases now. This one is not a sane iconoclastic phase, so I’m trying not to give in to it. A part of me, for reasons I don’t really entirely understand, wants to basically burn my entire internet presence to the ground. Right now, my established history here, in email, and on G+ seems like a sea anchor; like an albatross around my neck.
Part of the problem is that compartmentalization thing. My history here is mostly one of writing about happy bike stuff; happy ballet stuff, with intermittent episodes of writing about religion, about mental illness, about the difficult things in my past, about my struggles with life.
I think maybe writing about that harder stuff is important, and yet part of me feels as if to do so muddies the waters. It’s such a weird way to feel. Then, part of me also feels exposed when I try to do this — the part of me which learned at a very young age that if your vulnerabilities can be detected, they will be exploited in order to cause you harm. That part of me refuses to listen to reason: to understand that things are different now, and that while that’s still a possibility, I am much better at protecting myself than I once was, and that the vast majority of people don’t operate that way*.
So, yeah. I have built this whole thing; this internet presence, I guess. And sometimes, like right now, I want to burn the whole thing down, raze it to a clean slate, start over.
I think instead I’m going to just try to let my history stand, but also let myself write about everything. Particularly, perhaps, about how hard it is sometimes to live inside a brain that insists that you act “normal” and do “normal” things and maintain a “normal” image when you’re dancing on the brink of madness. Which is, by the way, totally me right now.
At the end of the day, perhaps it will help if I remind myself that the difference between kitsch and art is often unflinching honesty — not, as some with imagine, an unrelenting focus on whatever is socially inappropriate, dark, or unpleasant, but rather the willingness and ability to present the whole picture, even when sometimes it’s really hard to say what exactly the whole picture is (hello, Mona Lisa).
I don’t know if I’m supposed to be an artist or whatever. I kind of feel like that’s a word other people use to describe you; “Oh, he does this work, he’s an artist.” Here, I am just a dude writing about ballet and bikes and sometimes about being wacko (and using funny words to deflect the weight and perhaps the vulnerability and pain of saying “mentally ill,” or whatever). I am just doing the work. Later on, people can decide about its value. It just is what it is to me.
I’m not promising a regular series about this, though perhaps I should; perhaps it would be therapeutic, or something, to force myself to write about all this crap, unflinchingly, on a regular basis. The thing is, I am not doing so well with consistency just yet. I’m still working on forcing myself not to live as if I’m under seige, withdrawn in my fortress and depleting my stores, even though there are no enemies at the gate; no invaders waiting to storm across my drawbridge.
Maybe eventually I’ll get there. That’s the best I can do right now in terms of making positive statements about the future. I realize I’m supposed to have faith and so forth, and when I stop to think about it, I do — I just can’t see the path G-d has laid before me right now, so it’s hard for me to say anything with certainty. I’m stumbling around in the dark, and I don’t always remember to reach up and hold my Father’s hand.
I guess that’s it for this post. This is hard, and I’m tired. This is much harder than riding a bike up a big hill or hanging by my hipbones from a trapeze or doing a million fondues in Brienne’s class (which is, come to think of it, probably why I do those things: in my life, those and loving Denis are the easy things).
I’ll try to write more soon, though making that statement kind of fills me with dread, since it’s like making a promise I may or may not be equipped to keep.
Meanwhile, keep the rubber side down, your waterfowls in a linear array, and your eyes on the bacon donuts.
*To this day, it weirds me out that film and TV writers imagine that screaming in response to a perceived threat is a normal behavior. Is it? Because that sure as heck seems maladaptive to me. If you scream, you reveal your location to the source of the threat. I have never been a screamer. My native response to perceived danger is silence.