keeping it fake

montaigne-heykeli

I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind – and to work some of those contradictions out for myself. -Michel de Montaigne

I haven’t yet read “Keep it Fake: Inventing an Authentic Life” by Eric G. Wilson, but that will not keep me from commenting here on Clancy Martin’s NYT review of it.

Martin cites at the beginning of the review an anecdote Wilson relates about the time when he was trying to be a good father and also struggling with depression, overwork, and drinking too much. Wilson began referring to himself as “Crazy Dad” instead of “Super Dad.” Once he let go of the “Super Dad” ideal of being conscientious, responsible, and square, he discovered other fascinating possibilities for inspiring fatherhood within his reach. He was able to play to his strengths and saw improvement not only in his role as a father, but in other aspects of his life as well.

That reminded me of a time two years ago when I was going through a bad spell as a parent and in every other way. I found out one day that a mother at my daughter’s school wouldn’t let her daughter come to play at our house because this woman didn’t think I controlled my children. She was right. I have never seen the need to control my children. They appear to thrive, in fact, without my meddling. Even so, this woman called me an “irresponsible mother” and that hurt. There is nothing like someone criticizing your parenting skills to fill you with self doubt. Though I didn’t worry too much about what this lady thought of me, I wondered if maybe I was irresponsible and if my children needed more from me. I asked my 11-year-old daughter, “Do you think I’m an irresponsible mother?” She thought for a moment and replied, “You’re… an interesting mother.”

With these words, it was as if my daughter suddenly turned up my resolution. I wasn’t like her friend’s mothers. I wore stiletto heels and sometimes came home at 5 am. I had crazy friends. I ate and slept at odd hours. I danced in the kitchen alone or with my children and made them laugh until they cried. I had boy trouble. I was even invited by my daughter’s friends to slumber parties. I was interesting.

The fact that she didn’t outright deny that I was irresponsible did give me pause and I realized I needed to tighten up the ship a bit. However, she taught me that you don’t have to buy into a certain standard or ideal way of being in any given role. And that not only are there different ways of being a good mother, for example, there are different points of view on the same mother. Seeing myself as the “Interesting Mom” opened me up to “enjoying a more zany, capricious, playful, capacious, love-charged, creative existence,” as it did Wilson.

So all of this is great. What confuses me comes next in Milton’s review. He talks about how we “act our way through life” and that we are different people in different contexts. I’m different with my children than I am with my friends, than I am in my job, with strangers, with my sister… And then he says:

But there is an undeniable tension between that observation and the nagging feeling we all share that behind those masks there is a “real me,” a “genuine self,” some kind of master narrator who stands behind, informs, controls and even unifies these other selves. After all, if I am not one self but many selves, can I ever tell the truth about myself? […] That sounds like a threat to all kinds of things we hold dear. Self-knowledge, telling the truth about how we feel, sharing frightening aspects of ourselves with loved ones, developing intimacy, cultivating a coherent, reliable personhood: These virtues seem to be threatened by the idea that we are merely playing the game of being a person.

I know that this is a thing and that philosophers have been agonizing about it forever. One reason I love Montaigne is the absolute glee he takes in contradicting himself within the same essay. I love it because I identify with it and so do most people. People are infinitely complex and full of contradictions. The more people insist on defining themselves a certain way, the less I trust them, and the more I think they are repressing the part of themselves that is not “that way.” Shouldn’t self-knowledge, truth, and authenticity take our complexity into account?

For example, as far as developing intimacy goes, the closer you get to someone, the more a certain part of you wants to get the hell outta there. I love the Civil War’s “Poison & Wine” lyrics for this truth about all romantic relationships:

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don’t want me to
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
I always will

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose you

 

3 thoughts on “keeping it fake

  1. My philosophy professors either would cringe or swoon at my suggestion that metaphysical or ontological pluralism could be summarized by this final scene from “I’m Not There” the Bob Dylan biopic, in which Dylan is portrayed by several different actors. Even if it misses its mark in precisely that way, I think Michel would dig it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6vtCfmcsWo

    1. Sorry I didn’t reply earlier–I saw that video clip the day you commented and it’s fabulous! I’ve got to see that flick. Michel would definitely dig it. :) Thanks for the link!

  2. Dear Lindsay,

    my name is Tomás García (from Madrid, Spain). I have decided to email you in order to congratulate you for your blog and ask you whether the splendid image of Montaigne might be downloaded and reused by me.

    Thank you very much.
    Kind regards.
    Tomás García

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