“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on; “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least—at least I mean what I say—that’s the same thing, you know.”; “Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “Why you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
Normally, I would never start an essay with someone else words because – as my friends know – I’ve got plenty of my own. On any given day my words run the gambit: some sweet, some true, some blue. Some of my words are poetic or pretty or petty or politely pleasant.
Regardless, my words are almost always charming.
Charm should come with a sign that simply reads: “Approach at own risk” or “Do not touch” or “If you break it you buy it.” The difficulty with charm is women sometimes confuse it with intent. And practically speaking, sometimes I forget it doesn’t.
Some people use money, education, jewelry or status to make a statement. I use charm. Of course, depending on the goal or the mission or the need or the audience I am very charming. As any speaker learns: know the audience. Truthfully, sometimes the audience hears what they want to hear not what I said.
For example, as I was giving the eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral my cousins’ thought what I said was beautiful, honorable and gracious. My immediate family thought it was condescending and sarcastic intended to make a point.
I just thought it was honest.
There are times I say too much…others I say too little. More than once I have used words intending one thing, while my behavior demonstrates another message entirely. In those moments, where my words do not match my deeds, the result is occasionally a cascade of consequences and pain.
Stick and stones may break your bones but lying will always hurt you.
Over the years I have said, “I will”, “I love” and “I can” when really what I meant was “I won’t”, “I loathe” and “I can’t”.
The difficulty is life and relationships require some level of conformity to survive and the world consists of survivors. To conform requires dishonesty – spiritual, emotional and intellectual dishonesty. Conformity requires we lie to ourselves or to someone else in order to be accepted by the family or the club or the party or the team.
Let’s be honest, non-conformity has ruined a lot of holidays. Think the Catholic girl that marries the Jewish boy…or vegetarians at a Christmas’ turkey diner…or an environmentalist at Massey Coal’s family picnic. Some of these things just don’t work well together…and everyone has an opinion.
Having a number of unhealthy and broken relationships I’ve decided the healthy couple does not seek conformity. Instead they seek honesty and offer acceptance. Something I have never actually experienced – or when I have – been too confused to know what to do with it. Historically, I have been in relationships where it is important to have someone to blame…or have a really willing martyr. Honesty and acceptance were never core relationships values.
“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. For nonconformity, consequences include drinking hemlock, being nailed to a cross, being burned at the stake or being beat and bullied at the bus stop. I imagine Jesus’ first day of school really sucked.
No one really wants the truth, what we want is for you to drink the cool aid.
As such, we sell.
We sell who we are. Sometimes we sell out or sell our soul but everyone sells something. Twitter, Facebook, in fact, all social media is about selling ourselves as something. Education, politics, sports and dating – which is both politics and a sport – is about selling what we have to offer to a prospective buyer.
Some people sell with money or style or posturing. I sell with charm. None of these are bad. They are all good provided they are wielded with some sense of maturity. Most of the time I am charming in a Scott-Irish kind of way. You know, a nudge, a wink, a smooth line and a whisper…and the occasional hyperbolic outcry.
Recently, someone on Twitter called my motives into question. Essentially, she was suggesting, I was using my writing, my way with words, my charm to attract a “harem” of female readers. And in the course of doing so, I was using them to get my ego, among other things, stroked.
She pointed out that most of my social media connections are women and that I seemed to enjoy the attention. As a result I was creating a level of intimacy with women that she felt was not always appropriate. She couched all of this in a religious argument. Apparently, she was trying to save me.
In my postings and writings I am occasionally criticized or judged. That doesn’t bother me much – my ego kind of gets off on being challenged. It sharpens my focus and teaches me. Sometimes it even causes me to reevaluate my perspective. I don’t look for criticism but I don’t simply ignore it either – usually.
However, for reasons that I didn’t understand at the time her words caused me a great deal of shame. Which was her intention. Her belief system embraces the value of shame as a motivational tool.
Apparently, my belief system does too.
Which is ironic because my postings often opened myself up to criticism of the contents or the message yet I kept writing.
Why was this different?
In some respects it was different because it came on the heels of a rather intense relationship that left me feeling vulnerable and confused. That particular relationship had my creative juices flowing. I tried to cover for a few weeks by “playing” with the idea of a harem. I tried to overcome my shame with bravado.
Obviously, that never works and in the process I hurt a few friends.
When I realized that I had hurt several people it intensified the shame. So I quit writing. Then I quit Tweeting. Then I stopped with Facebook. Then I quit talking to people through social media.
And I withdrew.
Which only hurt more people who love and care for me.
I see now that part of the reason for my shame was that I while I was navigating this shame, I was also navigating the boundaries of a new relationship. A relationship, ironically, I had developed through social media. A relationship with a woman I had placed on a pedestal. At times I value her perspective more then my own. She is one of the smartest, sassiest, funniest and sexiest woman I’ve ever known. I was trying to sell myself to her. In sales lingo: ABC! ABC! Always Be Closing!
The intent was there and my method was charm.
In all honesty, I think she was uncomfortable with my relationships with my audience too. She would suggest I was polyamorous and that I wasn’t capable of a monogamous relationship. I think it was an educated way of calling me a cad.
We would talk about the differences between men and women, unconditional love and intimacy – sexual, emotional and spiritual. I of course, being recently “scolded” and feeling vulnerable and shame, I would talk pretty and be charming.
The problem was that although I was always a bit uncomfortable with the attention I was getting from my writing I still wrote because I was writing for me. I stopped writing because I started to believe my own press. I stopped writing to prove something to other people. I stopped doing something I enjoyed. I stopped doing something that was healthy for me because I thought someone else wanted me too and I went along to get along. My relationship with her was more important than my need to express myself and write. I conformed to what I was “suppose” to do instead of saying this is what I do.
Of course, I would rationalize and justify my choice to not write while feeling more and more emasculated. In the end, I chose to abandon what is a healthy and honest outlet for my creative side. It would be like taking the canvas and brushes away from a painter and telling them that what they were expressing through their painting was not normal and they should become an accountant.
The painter is not responsible for how people react to the paintings. I am not responsible for how people react to my writing. It is not my responsibility to make sure the audience drawn to my writing is gender balanced. It is not my responsibility to make other people comfortable with my audience either.
Did I flirt? Sometimes. Was I too intimate with women who I connected with through social media? Occasionally. Did I get something out of the attention and feedback? Yes.
Probably or else why would they participate? We are all adults.
Should I have been ashamed because of these things?
Life is so short and at times unhappy and hard. We need others. We are social. But when the “need” becomes more important than the truth it creates problems. For me that meant, I started spending my time denying who I am and what I need in order to “earn” the love or respect or approval of others. I started to pretend to be what they accused me of being.
As such, today I choose to reject the idea that I should be ashamed for enjoying these relationships and myself. I reject the idea that I’m doing something wrong because I am connecting with people. So they happen to mostly be women.
That is not the problem.
But there is a problem.
And the problem is two-fold.
First of all, my relationships with my audience doesn’t conform to what some people think those relationships should be and what they think it should look like. And for my lack of conformity I am criticized and because of my desire to fit in I shamed myself.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I was intimate with women in ways that are not appropriate. She is right. I can act the part of a cad – among other things. And as such, I broke the sanctity of important relationships in my life.
I broke the bonds of trust.
I have a friend that is an exceptional writer. However, what she writes – what she enjoys writing – is not socially acceptable for a woman of her stature. It is erotica – great, beautiful and passionate erotica stories and poetry that will make your mouth water and heart skip a beat. She would share it with me but swore me to secrecy. She travels all over the country speaking at conferences and if people found out it would undermine her career. She chose to share it with me because she too needed an audience.
I know a woman in Texas and she is a painter. Has been her whole life. Of course, no one knows that because growing up she learned being an artist and creative is the same as being crazy. After all, her grandmother was institutionalized and locked up for being crazy – I mean an artist. So now she wakes up in the middle of the night and paints exquisite murals on her walls and then before anyone can see them or enjoy them she paints over them.
When my grandfather died recently I realized how much I go along to get along. Then I sneak off and do what I need to do. In the process I lie. It isn’t the lie I tell that is the problem. It is the lie I live. It is the beautiful mural that I paint over because if you knew you’d lock me up. It is the story I have trapped inside of me that I write and then shred.
The shame I feel is not the shame of what others will think or say but the shame of my cowardice and the shame of knowing that I’m living a lie. The lie is I am hiding the beautiful, spiritual murals and powerful stories in my life because I am afraid of what others will think. The lie is that what others will think is more important than what I need.
The lie is killing me.