Monday, August 21, 2017

LOVE THIS


Carole Condé & Karl Beveridge
It’s Still Priviledged Art (1975) is a series of cartoons and text that narrate the artists’ journey from a formalist to a politicized art. The text and images are based on taped conversations the artists had with each other during the summer and fall of 1975 in which they questioned the art market and the ideological assumptions behind it. There are two alternating styles of drawing modeled on the then current Chinese Maoist comic books. The resulting booklet was published as the catalogue to their 1976 exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.









THIS CREATURE ACTUALLY EXISTS, PART ONE

Dryocampa rubicunda: Rosy Maple Moth

Looks like fluffy raspberry lemonade and a Star Trek character

WE NEED NEW IDEAS AROUND THE CONCEPT OF WORK

I'm officially obsessed with Conner Habib's brain. I love his ideas here. From my side, I believe that the current concept of "work" is dying a swift and furious death, because the spell of capitalism is being broken and new ideas about how we can function holistically in society are being ushered in. For the love of god if you have not read E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class (aka the Walleston Bible), please do so. We need to look at how the concept of work was made in order to unmake it. And FYI this does not mean I don't want to "work." It means I want to give something of true value to my society (and my planet), in a way that makes it grow strong and healthy, and in a way that allows it to evolve—not in a way that quickens its demise. And if you think that means "working for a nonprofit" (no offense), you are still under the spell of capitalism. WAKE UP.


You are an obsession
You're my obsession
Who do you want me to be
To make you be best friends with me?

EVOLUTION AND CONVENTIONALITY


I have written before about how I think that people who lose one or both parents at a younger age tend to be able to think radically outside the box, in terms of what life can be and who they can become in their lives. I use John Lennon often as an example of this for some reason. He lost his mother at 17, and I think this was pivotal in his evolution as an artist and a thinker. And as a human being. His choice in partners, Yoko Ono, inspired so much derision because she was a strong and independent artist and thinker in her own right—equal to him, and much more interesting, in my book—and his was a time (not much has changed) when rock musicians partnered with models who didn’t have voices or artistic careers, and weren’t especially avant garde in any respect. He chose someone who would help him evolve creatively (and, most likely, personally).

I have, from a young age, been able to locate the whispers of avant garde ideas in the atmosphere, and I’ve always been compelled to follow where they might lead. What this has meant for me is a lot of transition and transformation, and very little stability. Most people have guidance in the form of parents and peers, and their choices echo what these people might want or expect for them, and from them. As someone who physically doesn’t have parents and who also emancipated herself (emotionally and psychologically) from them at a very young age, I have never felt the pressure to succeed in a manner that someone else would approve of. And as someone who has often changed peer groups, I have never felt I could conform to the expectations of others for very long. Truly, the only pressure I have ever felt is the inward pressure to evolve as a human being.

That might seem like a freedom, but, in fact, the pressure to evolve is not necessarily any less stressful than the pressure to conform to the expectations of family and friends. It is probably more stressful. Every time I’ve felt like I created a situation or environment I could settle into, something has pulled me away from it. There’s a beautiful quote by Anais Nin: “I'm restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.” I love it, but unfortunately it also makes one’s personal evolution sound romantic. In fact, it is usually anything but romantic. It is usually traumatic. You often, if not always, have to leave friends, family and other attachments behind, hoping they will catch up someday (and knowing that, in all likelihood, they won’t).

Another aspect of this, something I’m focusing on today, is the loneliness that this has presented to me. It would be a lie for me to ever say, “I have no friends.” I always have friends. In fact, I have always (with the exception of a few shaggy, transformative junior high school years) had a lot of friends. I remember my mother used to marvel at the sheer number I had. And I have always been able to cycle through friendships relatively easily. Even when major friendships end, more seem to be waiting in the wings to develop. Sometimes I feel like a friend factory. However, having lots of friends DOES NOT PRECLUDE LONELINESS. The biggest factor of my loneliness does not come from being isolated from other people. It comes from a moment that I have experienced over and over in every friendship, and in every other kind of relationship. I call it “the tune-out.” So often, in the course of conversation, I can see the person I’m conversing with simply stop listening. What I am saying is either triggering or boring, and I can immediately tell when it’s either one or the other. Usually, I’d say 85% of the time, it’s triggering (since I’m not overly fond of yammering on about a topic my conversation partner isn’t into, and have enough empathic discernment to not bore other people).

And by triggering, I don’t mean that I’ve brought up some horrible topic from their past they don’t want to revisit. I mean saying everyday things that somehow bring up something for them, and rather than deal with it in that moment, they tune me out and tune what I’m saying out. I am VERY sensitive to people’s subtle emotions, and while this may seem like not such a big deal, it is a big deal to me. I am very devoted to staying present with people, and giving my all to them when I am with them. Not altruistically, but more as a function of my personal evolution. If someone says something that bothers me, I want to explore why it bothers me, not just push it aside. But I am in the clear minority here. So when I speak to friends and feel them drift in and out of a conversation, it’s hard for me to feel like I’m actually WITH someone. It is more a feeling of being alone together, with no sincere connection.

So I guess that’s why it’s relatively easy for me to take friendship rather lightly. I feel like everyone takes them rather lightly, though they may not present themselves that way (there is a lot of social cachet applied to the concept of being a "good friend," though "good friendship" rarely touches a level beyond gift-giving and remembering people's birthdays [which are important gestures, but the key word there is gesture]). Once, when I was in a class on the writings of Adorno being taught by Robert Hullot-Kentor (he translated key Adorno texts), he turned to me and asked: "Aimee, do you know what it means to be a good friend?" Realizing that I actually had no fucking clue at all what it REALLY meant to be a good friend was a huge wake up call. I credit Hullot-Kentor (who is a magician and a genius) with guiding my life toward an extremely different course than the one it was on previous to the year I studied with him. 

I feel like people are so programmed with social and familial expectations, and that most of their actions and triggers are planted faithfully within those realms. I might, for example, comment to a female friend on how adorable a little child playing nearby is, and she then might be triggered by her own thoughts about wanting or not wanting children, and the societal and familial expectations around that. So a comment that might have presented an opportunity where we could both simply observe a sweet little child and connect to that—just feel something beautiful in that moment—turns into a moment of this woman being triggered about her own relationship to having children. Her reaction is then to tune out of the conversation completely, rather than “go there.” This reaction is perfectly normal in our society. But when the REAL subject (her relationship to having children) is brushed off rather than addressed, I feel like I’m being left all alone to observe the child by myself. I feel very often left alone in the company of others, and wonder why people never talk about feeling as I do.

But this feeling of loneliness stems from the fact that I have VERY few internalized social or familial expectations. My mind does not go there, because there is no “there” to go to. And I really don’t like when others try to force their own ideals on me. To wit: the concept of “cheating” in a romantic relationship strikes me as ridiculous. I was reading Conner Habib tweeting on this today—"People got big talk about revolution but they can't even examine or reevaluate the structure of their everyday relationships." And while I think he has a bit too much resistance to the concept of monogamy (I do think monogamy is an acceptable choice because I think ALL CHOICES are acceptable)—I think our culture’s relationship to “cheating” is fucking crazy. People do what they want and what they need to do. No one owns anyone else. If you love someone, you develop a relationship that works with what you both need, whatever that is. Women react negatively to the concept of men "cheating" on them because they believe (correctly) that it devalues them to other people, most especially to other women. But an intimate relationship should not be about accruing value from people—either inside or outside of the relationship (I'm saying this knowing that for the majority of people, accruing value from others is actually the only reason they have "intimate" relationships). But that’s not an intimate relationship: that’s a social arrangement set up as a capitalist transaction (much like a john hiring a prostitute, though it usually goes on much loner, and is far less self-aware and honest). I remember being in therapy and going through a torturous time trying to figure out a romantic relationship with someone I loved, who I believed needed sex from a variety of partners. What bothered me wasn’t his need: it was the fact that my total acceptance of his need (which was, for some reason, very easy for me) was SO TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE to everyone else. Even to him! I remember finally losing my temper and shouting at my therapist: “I AM NOT A CONVENTIONAL PERSON.” I never felt that way about myself until I said that out loud. And truthfully, my own desires are sort of conventional in many (if not all) regards. But my thoughts about desire itself are not tied to these social and familial contracts we have with one another. I have, for example, never desired someone because I thought he would make me look good to other people. I never wanted someone because I saw them as upping my value. The one thing I am proudest of in my life is the purity of my desire, and the one thing that frustrates me and hurts me the most is how little credit I’ve ever been given for this purity—because people have projected an identity on me that doesn’t line up, in any way, with who I truly am.

Anyway, I finally feel as though I am finding a bit of traction with likeminded souls on these issues, and I feel that being able to express my unconventionality (which is in direct alignment with my personal evolution) is allowing me to find resonance with people as attuned to the social and cultural avant garde as I am. And, more importantly, as aligned with their own evolution as I am. Having been a person who tuned out and disassociated for so much of my life, the past few years have really been about TUNING IN, for me. Being open and present for people. And perhaps now, having gained all this valuable knowledge from tuning in (and having gained A TON of insight and confidence from hearing the voices of unconventional thinkers whose thoughts directly mirror my own), it is time for me to make work that alchemizes these ideas for a broader audience. I’m bone tired of the status quo, and I hate how bourgeois consumerist values now parade themselves as the avant garde. I’m beyond ready for a new batch of true radicals to take their place in culture—or to simply begin culture anew.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

DEEP SUMMER IN NEW YORK SONG


fyi I obviously hate that this artist has homophobic songs—I just like this song right now.

FRITZ PERLS' LAYERS OF NEUROTIC PERSONALITY

I went to a therapist who practiced Gestalt therapy techniques. After my father died, I went through a really hard time, and I started to read Fritz Perls (and Freud) obsessively, as though it were some form of scripture. During that time these ideas helped give meaning to things that made no sense to me, and I am forever grateful for stumbling upon these texts during that period of my life. Nothing helped me through that time more than the words of these thinkers. For me, Perls' theory of personality rivals Freud's ego, id and superego construction. While there would be no Perls without Freud, I must admit that Perls' ideas have been more personally applicable, meaningful, and valuable to me in my hours of need. Here's a nice breakdown of Perls' theory of personality...

Layers of the Neurotic Personality

In the late 1960’s Fritz Perls spoke about something he called “the layers of the neurotic personality”. It was essentially a phenomenological description of the experience, identifications, and behaviors of people who have substituted what he referred to as “character” for the fluid self. Perls saw “character” as being a product of adaptation to the expectations and requirements of the external world. This adaptation then becomes frozen, or reified, so that it is not a temporary adaptation, but rather a “self concept” which the person believes is who s/he “is”. So, while Perls (and Gestalt theory) saw a healthy “self” as that which is always forming, changing, and creatively adjusting with that which is new, “character” is stale, unchanging, and persistent. And, Perls believed, character is primarily responsible for people’s need to come to therapy – since their unchanging view of self and world interferes with their capacity to fluidly engage the changing world in the most optimal manner currently possible. So, Perls’ focus turned to looking at how people experience themselves and others in this rigidified way; how they tend to act, feel, think of themselves, effect others, and satisfy (or even know) their needs. Unfortunately, when he spoke of this, he was not particularly consistent when speaking of the particulars of his schema. Perls was not someone who was able (or perhaps interested) in focusing on details, but rather was taken with large, paradigm changing ideas. (Thus most of the writing of the original text “Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality” was done by Paul Goodman – to whom Perls gave his ideas for elaboration). In looking at Perls’ “Layers” formulation over the past few decades, and looking at his inconsistencies, I have come to a formulation that I believe is both consistent, and true to Perls’ intentions. The following “layers” describe a rough sequence of the person’s experience of and engagement with themselves and the (external) world, as we systematically engage in their construction. Cliché Layer: This way of being and engaging in contact is best described as a manner of interacting with and acknowledging another without requiring or revealing much personal information. It may involve commenting on the weather, the elevator music, or the amount of pollen in the air. It is a functional way of interacting with people who one has no intention of engaging further with, or as a preliminary “feeling out” of another’s availability for further contact. But this is a transitional form of making contact for most people – and if not, is an indicator of a fairly phobic attitude toward human engagement. Games Layer: While Cliché Layer reveals very little of the person, Games Layer begins to reveal the person’s way of organizing self and world. Perls borrowed the term “Games” from Eric Berne’s “Games People Play”, which described reified patterns in how people engage in “inauthentic” and “dysfunctional” behavior. I think that “Games” is no longer an optimal descriptor, and can be confused with accusing people of purposely “playing games”. Actually, most often people are not aware of their reified patterns of behavior, and their role definitions that characterize this “layer”. So, I prefer to describe this as the layer of Constructed Self and World. While not as catchy as “Games”, I think it is more descriptive. In this Layer, or mode of functioning, people tend to have fixed ideas about themselves, and fixed ideas about others, and even the larger world. These ideas are pre-constructed, so they do not take into account the ever-changing nature of self or world, and they preclude the person even noticing any other possibility. These pre-constructions tend to be introjected elements of the world they have lived in. So, they may be ideas of self based on how their early environment treated them (“I’m the stupid one”, or “I’m the golden child”), what they were told about themselves (“I need too much”), what they were told about the world (“you can’t trust anyone”), etc. They may also be reified experiences of how things were for them (“everyone has more than me”), or reifications of successful creative adjustments – “I’m a joker” (e.g. for someone who learned to use humor to ease an explosive family environment). But in any case, whether based on experience or what they were told (which then becomes an experience), these are pre-constructed ideas which are super-imposed on both the person and others, and are usually out of awareness. So there is a script that tends to repeat, regardless of the environment or the circumstance. And where the script cannot fit, the person tends to be disinterested in engagement. These constructions of self and world tend to be set up along various polarities, some of which are identified with, and some of which tend to be dis-identified from and projected onto others. So, the “stupid” person will tend to be “stupid” in relation to the “smart ones”. The “hard worker” will notice all of the “lazy ones”. The obsessive type will look for someone who is more “artsy” (and be attracted to their spontaneity and/or be critical about the other person being “flighty” and “irresponsible”). The alienated polarity will also exist within the person: one might have two seemingly opposite parts which battle with each other – e.g. the sensitive person who derides himself for being “weak”. In this layer of Constructed Self, we relate to ourselves in fixed polarities, and to the world in complementary polarities. The “in crowd” person will point out and avoid the “outsiders”, while secretly fearing that rejection will make him one of “those”. These identifications are not necessarily conscious or in awareness, but become apparent in on-going contact. And if one asks someone to describe who they are, they will likely give a series of such role identifications, rather than a description of their ever-changing complexity. The limitations on experience and choice that are imposed by these pre-fabrications greatly reduce the possibility of satisfaction in life. They do not allow for an expansion of how we experience ourselves, and they limit the possibilities that we can see in the world. This “layer” tends to create a two dimensional picture – and one that has in all likelihood become outdated! And if it allows for some initial satisfaction, that tends to become dulled because sameness is reinforced in one’s on-going living (since interest and growth require contact with “the assimilable novelty”). People come to therapy when the limitations of these pre-definitions lead to a sense of dissatisfaction, deadening, or pain. Many approaches to therapy seek to improve the person’s functioning within their world view. So, the person who feels worthless unless s/he is “the most successful one” may learn how to support him/herself to strive in a more effective way. Someone who lives in relation to a world full of bullies may get help in being more assertive and standing his/her ground. In this way change happens incrementally, without changing world view: “the world is still populated by bullies, and I am not caving in”; or, “what creates my self esteem is being more successful than everyone else, and I am now better at that”. That’s probably what Fritz was referring to when he said that people do not come to therapy to get better – they come to get better at their games! But this Constructed Self is what people believe they are; they don’t see that it is something that has been constructed. And the Constructed World is what they believe the world is. And the relationship between the two remains stagnant – the only change is how the pieces are arranged. So, the self is identified with specific ideas, and this has significant consequences, including the following: other possibilities literally do not exist in the person’s awareness; and when they do (and are not dismissed as foolishness or whatever), they are literally experienced as a threat to one’s existence! This reminds me of the story of Columbus’ voyage, in which the crew believed that going beyond the boundaries of the known world would result in falling off the edge of the earth into nothingness. And that is a perfect metaphor for the impasse… Impasse: Of course, we all know that Columbus and his crew did not fall off the edge of the earth, but rather found a New World. If they only knew that, there would have been so much less anxiety! But this is true for us as well. We experience tremendous anxiety when we approach the edge of our known self/world construction. We mistake the dissolution of that construction for the destruction of our actual being. We avoid this in ways that we are mostly unaware of, and sometimes quite purposeful about. This is likely why Fritz often referred to Impasse as the “phobic layer’ – people are generally phobic of going beyond their known world, and do not believe that there may be a “new world” which will emerge. Perls, in his way of having broad ideas, but not clarifying the details, spoke of impasse in some apparently contradictory ways; these contradictions leave the impasse insufficiently understood. I would like to clarify what I think he might have been talking about, and certainly what I am talking about when I speak of impasse. Since in the neurotic personality self is not fluid, but is reified into a concept of self/world (see Constructed Self), that person’s ability to see the actual is impaired. There is also a belief (not necessarily in awareness) that one’s actual existence is dependent on this construction. It is “who and what I am”. And we tend to do what Columbus’ crew would have liked to do: we stop before we go over the edge. We make progress in the process of change, and then somehow we get stuck. We return to old ways of being. We feel hopeless about things ever changing for us (while we continue to act in old, unsatisfying ways). In this case, Fritz would say that we are at an impasse. That is, we have gotten to the edge of the impasse and then stopped. So, we feel stuck – and we are – because we intuitively fear what would come next if we did not stop. If we did not stop, we would move into and through the impasse. We would experience a sense of disorientation, of the world as we have known it no longer being familiar, of a state of confusion that reflects not having prefabricated ideas of self and world to cling to. We would dissolve the constructed self/world. Wilson Van Deusen wrote a beautiful article “Wu Wei, No Mind, And the Fertile Void”, in which he spoke of this state of no-thing-ness, this state of existence itself being primary, allowing for a renewed contact with the actual – not the conceptual. In this state the old ego identity actually does die, and what is simultaneously born is the fluid self – that which is based on direct experience. So, it is no surprise that emerging from this state colors seem more vivid, sounds seem crisper, sensations feel more alive. And the world that we contact may well seem surprising – there may be greater kindness than we believed in; we may be more resilient than we thought we could be – the implicit restrictions and limitations that we lived with are (for this blessed moment) not restricting and limiting our experience. I say for this blessed moment because even this new experience will tend to become reified – as if this new way of seeing is now a permanent truth – unless we are open to living in a way that welcomes these impasses, that doesn’t rely on fixed ideas about who we are and what the world is, that sees the self as more than a fixed concept: an awareness that notices the new, that assimilates it, and that constantly reconstructs our mental picture of reality. This is the novel idea that Gestalt therapy first offered the world about the nature of healthy functioning sixty years ago – and it is still as radical now as it was then. Implosive Layer: The Games Layer is essentially constructed due to the paucity of adequate support for the actual emerging self. An environment that is too overwhelmed or emotionally impoverished to offer support for someone who is grieving, or frightened, or even joyous will largely result in a construction of self which eliminates these unsupportable expressions of self. To be sad in an environment that does not offer support is painful. To be angry in an environment which might attack you or shun you for your anger is dangerous. And so we go on as if we do not feel what we feel and do not need what we need. And as long as the constructed self is mistaken for the emergent self, these unsupported parts of experience will be interrupted through the various maneuvers in the person’s repertoire of contact interruption. But largely, they must be retroflected until the experience of them (grief, anger, fear, joy, etc) is deadened. Once deadened, these elements of self are “safely” out of touch – out of awareness. But, as the early Gestalt Psychologists told us, the organism is constantly seeking to complete itself, and these elements, needs, emotions are present, although frozen, deadened. And when the Constructed Self is deconstructed through the impasse experience, often what is emergent is the deadened self, seeking completion. The experience of this may be powerful, or faint. It may be brief or prolonged. In any case, there tends to be some awareness of a feeling that is “inside” of us that isn’t yet moving into expression. Perls called this “layer” the Implosive Layer, since important aspects of self had been imploded in order to keep them out of awareness. He also referred to this as the Death Layer, since the emerging self had been (and continued to be) deadened. I prefer to eliminate this nomenclature and stick with “Implosive”, since many people misunderstand “Death Layer” to mean experiences that can kill you, or a part of the self that is by nature “dark”. This is not so, since these are aspects of self that are completely normal and in the every day realm of human experience. There is no particular drama to this and in current terms (in one’s adult life; in the presence of a safe, supportive therapist) there is no particular danger. We are simply talking about aspects of self which were experienced to be too painful or too dangerous to support in an earlier developmental stage (usually), and a different context. Explosive Layer: I have difficulty with this nomenclature for similar reasons to my difficulty with “Death Layer”. Again, people often think of this as loud shouting, painful wailing, or some such “explosion”. Some people have used “Life Layer” or Expressive Layer” to offer alternative descriptions of this experience; but neither feels quite right to me (although both may be preferable). In thinking of a description of the phenomenological experience of this “layer”, I prefer to use “Emergence” as a way to refer to this, since it describes the literal emergence of that aspect of self which had been deadened and hidden from aware experience. In speaking of this “layer”, Perls is referring to the organism’s tendency to complete the incomplete situation – i.e. to express that which has gone unexpressed. So, that which has been imploded is released and allowed expression. Sadness which hasn’t been felt is now felt, and expressed (perhaps in a single tear, perhaps in a torrent); anger which has been frozen is felt, and perhaps voiced; shyness which had signaled a danger of ridicule can now be felt in its sweetness… In this “layer” of experience, there is completion, and there is also a broadening of self. There is a fuller range of human experience which is available in new contacts. And in this experience, there is no fragmentation of self: Sadness isn’t experienced as a polarity of some other state – it is simply its own state. There is a unitary experience of body and mind, and the contact functions are heightened, or are uninterrupted with fragmentations of self and unfinished business. So sounds, visuals, and sensations are clearer and feel more immediate. The person may also be more free to experience the world with fewer pre-conceptions that would distort his/her ability to see and respond to that which is present. Post Script/Integration: This experience must be integrated with the pre-existing “personality” in such a way that shifts some habitual ways of seeing self and world. We all need some way of orienting, so that external and internal stimuli are not chaotic. We need to have some ground formed by past experiences that lends meaning to the arising figures of the present moment. And as such, we can never be entirely fluid, without pre-conceptions. But we can begin to hold these preconceptions lightly. We can be open to the impasse experience of allowing the emergence of the new to supersede the structures constructed of past contacts. We can be open to disorientation by developing a sense of curiosity and a trust in new emergences. And by developing trust in our capacity to re-orient and form new, yet provisional, roadmaps of self and world. Indeed, going beyond the edge of the world can lead to a New World.

Friday, August 18, 2017

AUTHENTICITY


I’ve been thinking about this term in relation to my own life, and in my relation to my life as a writer and as a teacher. I have lived in New York fulltime since I was 17, so that’s nearly 24 years. A long time. Since the moment I got here, I’ve placed myself in very elevated terrains. I went to undergrad at the New School, my first internship (at 18) was at W magazine. As much as this was about my ego, it was also about something else, what could be described as an intuitive knowing that sent me toward these things. While W was obviously glamorous and showy, the New School was not on the radar of anyone I knew (I grew up in a hillbilly town—they knew about Harvard, but not something like the New School)—and I knew nothing about it when I chose it. It just looked amazing to me, and I knew I had to go to it.

So these things were authentic choices for me, but they were also choices geared toward cultivating the person I desired to make myself into—not the person I actually was. I remember being in one of my classes at the New School, surrounded by kids who seemed way smarter and way more sophisticated than me. I was intimidated to raise my voice in class. This day, I said something about the topic at hand (all the classes were taught seminar-style in that school), and a young woman said: “I can’t understand what you’re saying.” My Massachusetts accent was so thick, I was unintelligible. While that may sound amusing given the utter ridiculousness of the Massachusetts accent, when you’ve grown up your whole life speaking a certain way, and are suddenly informed that you are unintelligible (especially at a smart kids’ school, when you are in the midst of trying to say something smart), it is pretty humiliating. I set to work to erase my accent, which I’ve done completely (barring a few errant words that still trip me up).

Much of my life has been a kind of endless quest for self-improvement, first in my mind, then in my body, and now in my spirit. Where authenticity comes in is within the notion that you are somehow static in nature, and the things that are authentic to you will always be there, because that is who you truly are. This is not what authenticity means to me. I would not be a more authentic version of myself if I reverted back to speaking in a Massachusetts accent. I desired more than what Massachusetts had to offer me, so I left. I desired to be understood and respected by my peers, so I altered the way I spoke.

Similarly, when I became a teacher, I faced my fears about public speaking, and devised a way to calm my nerves and speak clearly and coherently (most of the time), in order to present successful lectures to my students. Self-improvement is at the heart of my evolutionary process as a human being, and even includes this more personal writing I’ve been doing lately. I felt I had come to a point where I could meld my interests into more off-the-cuff, personal writing, and that it wouldn’t feel like I was donning another writer’s cloak when doing so. In these strange times, I wanted to make who I am and what I believe more obvious to anyone who might read this.

But that doesn’t mean that I view who I am and what I stand for as a static entity, which is why I am exploring this concept of authenticity. To me, authenticity is shadow work by any other name. To wit: while I may have cast off my Massachusetts accent for practical purposes, I didn’t only cast off the accent. I also cast off the “loser” identity I had saddled myself with since gaining weight as a prepubescent and being bullied for it. I remember, when I first gained weight, a boy came up to me and said: “Aimee, why did you get fat, you used to be nice and skinny.” This boy himself was chubby. That was a gentler example of the abuse I received, which was extensive. I’ve written at length about the reason I gained weight when I was young, and I have delved into it enough to be able to (almost) fully accept all that happened to me and all the repercussions. But, as a young woman wishing to align herself with a non-loser identity, the fat girl me had to go. I got rid of any vestige of her, and looked at my formerly fat self as a problem I had finally solved. I was attractive now, I had a fancy job, men desired me. That was the real me—not some ugly loser.

But she wasn’t so keen on simply going away. She would lurk in unexpected places, and rear her “ugly” head when I least expected it. I would be, for example, in the midst of some very glamorous situation, and suddenly catch a glimpse of the fat, “ugly” me in the mirror. Aha, it was all a lie, I’m still a fat, ugly loser, and always will be. My childhood self was like a ghost that haunted me, and no matter how much I succeeded, she was always there to tell me exactly who I was: a nobody, a nothing, unlovable.

If you think I think I am the only person in New York with this issue, think again. I think many people in New York have this issue: they are attempting to outrun a past where they were deemed unacceptable. Unconsciously, they produce these shiny new personalities, and then hide behind them for dear life. It creates a world where everyone’s hiding and everyone’s showing off a false self. Everyone’s scared to death of someone seeing the loser in the mirror, so there’s this endless posturing. I rarely meet a person in New York who seems to be living through their authentic self. Most people have banished that self to the basement of their consciousness. This also creates a rather brutal environment where no one is allowed to show vulnerability. Even “vulnerability” isn’t real vulnerability. Often it’s a victim story crafted to get respect and sympathy. Saying you were abused will get you love. Saying you were fat will get you hate. The two co-existed in me, but I know all too well which one people prefer hearing.

But here’s the issue: you get to the point where nothing satisfies you anymore, particularly nothing that resides in the shallow social puddle found in much of New York right now. Because the self you’re “feeding” with glamorous jobs and friends and romances isn’t a real self. The real you is the person you discarded for being unacceptable. When I began to do shadow work, I began to see that my ugly little short-haired eleven-year-old self, with her overweight body, was the “real” me. She was the person who was directing me in my life, while I was the person hating her for not being acceptable to the world I lived in, then or now. Dealing with such psychic dissonance created a personality structure where I was constantly apologizing for myself, never letting people get close to me (truly close), and always presenting my life as if it were an endless string of successes—a sold out show. And because I was around people doing the exact same thing, I never really got to “meet” most of my best friends. And they never met me, either.

People think being authentic is telling it like it is and being straightforward. Cutting through the crap. But what people fail to realize is: we are the crap. The false selves we present to the world are the reason why our lives feel empty and disconnected no matter how much success we attain, how many friends we have, etc. I never understood why all my endless striving left me with nothing but sadness. I felt that I could outrun the sadness of my past, or cover over it with pretty friends and cool clothes and glamorous parties.

When I began to really look at myself and my life, however, I saw that the thing I really wanted to achieve was not more success. It was wholeness and connection. It was being able to look at myself as a fat little preteen and not hate that person. That person was so lonely, and she was really doing the best she could with a terrible situation. The fact that she received so much anger and hatred directed toward her fills me with sadness to this day. And the fact that I hated her most of all is the most painful part. And if I’m honest: sometimes I still hate her. Sometimes I still look in the mirror and see someone who will never be good enough. This doesn’t just go away, and when you’re surrounded by a city of people who feel the same way, and who never talk about it—lest the mask slip and someone start to think they’re not cool and successful—it is profoundly isolating.

So authenticity isn’t exactly easy. It’s not about being frank. It’s about reclaiming the aspects of self that you decided to not only disown, but to actually murder, long ago. If I could have gone through my life just being happy with my various successes, I would have. If I could have accepted others at the face value of their “success,” and not constantly see below the surface to the core of their true, long-disowned selves, I would have. I can’t do either of these things. Authenticity is what we are meant to achieve in this lifetime. Finding it has meant more to me than any trip overseas, any job achievement—it has meant everything to me. I think many people in my life have created a self that they just send through life. I know how empty this feels. When you are meant to evolve, you can no longer trick yourself or lie to yourself with those ego games. When the time comes, your real self will come knocking—and when you begin to accept that self, any material achievement will pale in comparison.