A Handful of Flies at Your Table

housefly

On staying true to one’s self amid jeers and doubt.

                                                                                                                                                       
Do you know why you write or do any of the creative things you do? I write, or paste cutout images, or decorate, or make a Halloween costume, or shoot a music video, or snap pictures because I can’t help it. Constructing a story or visual narrative that wouldn’t have existed without me giving it form nourishes me. I would be lost, a sleepwalker, a 24/7 depressive without this drive. It would be offensive to me to be called a failed actress, not because of the “failed” part, but because someone else would be presuming what success means to me.

In their eyes, I’d have failed at acting because it hasn’t brought me fame or riches or even consistent work. But I act because it fills me emotionally, and for that reason, I’ll probably be a lifelong actor.

You can see why it would be difficult to call myself “a failure” over a conscious, lifelong choice. I can’t be hurt too deeply by being considered a failed anything because I don’t feel failed. Instead I feel like a person who does what she wants.

What’s exhausting at times is having only yourself and your self-esteem to prop you up. People are very quick to say “you’re special” as long as they don’t think you believe it. Just try letting someone know you think you’re special and contempt will rise from their face like the stink of garbage. We don’t get to think good things about ourselves and say them out loud, and it’s not because society values the oh-so noble trait of humility. It’s because we’re supposed to act as insecure and downtrodden as most of the world feels.

You cannot be a content human being with nothing to show for it but the fact of your existence — not without being resented or ridiculed, and that can wear you down.

Don’t let it.

More accomplished people keep telling us, “Believe in yourself.” And they mean it. We can see it in their faces. Their eyes tell us how long they’ve spent propping themselves up with only their self-esteem because no one else would. Watch their eyes in a few weeks as they clutch an Oscar and tell you to believe in yourself.

Listen to their advice. It doesn’t just apply to those in the film industry.

I’ve written about my ambivalence toward others telling us to “never give up,” but I feel differently when hearing “believe in yourself.” The former seems carelessly thrown about, or as if someone else takes on the task of assessing whatever it is we shouldn’t give up, without knowing our skills and struggles. Perseverance is a personal endeavor and not up to an outsider to compel in us. However, those who say “believe in yourself” seem to say it from personal experience, after believing in themselves has paid off. I acknowledge words and intentions can be interpreted in infinite ways, but for my taste, the first phrase sounds like butting in, while the second phrase seems rooted in gratitude and compassion, and therefore comes across as heartfelt.

You might be wondering where all this is coming from. It’s due to me plugging away and doing things my way, being loved by some and hated by others, and pleasing some even as I raise ire elsewhere. It’s fucking exhausting. And the worst? It’s apathy left over from everyone else, because talking of being “loved” and “hated” implies the involvement of masses, which hardly applies to me.

The masses for whom one doesn’t exist might be a herd of elephants beyond the horizon, yet a handful of flies at your table is peskier than an elephant stampede in the distance.

This past year, I received my first and so far only hate mail. Rather than making me feel I had “arrived,” I felt concerned about having upset someone. A reader I had never met told me to go fuck myself, and I thought, There, I hope you feel better now, although I had no clue why they were angry.

I write. Writing is my child, my therapy, my sustenance, my trophy. If I’m hurt, I will write. If I’m elated, I will write. If I need to work out something, I will write.

When writing publicly, I aim to be both loyal to the truth and conscientious toward others. These notions conflict with one another more often than not. In my essays, I weigh each sentence, comb through every word to achieve the right balance of objectivity in tandem with my subjective experience. I don’t press “publish” until I can answer “no” to the following questions:

Am I inadvertently identifying anyone I shouldn’t? Am I unnecessarily hurting someone? If someone has hurt me, am I merely airing out my side, without speaking to larger issues that could affect others in a positive way? Am I presenting my case in an unfair and dishonorable way?

Everyone always believes you’re writing about them. They’re probably right. (← A joke referring to people's collective self-absorption reaching absurd heights.) As far as my writing is concerned, any individual who wrongly singles themselves out as the subject of my work should still know it’s undergone sifting to insure honor, honesty and lack of harm. Naturally, that doesn’t include concern over the fragility of egos, for which I won't hold myself responsible. In review of the past year, I stand by the words I felt the need to say publicly. The best men and women work to show the same face in public that they do in private. In some, the gap is wider than in others. May we and our friends be those with the smallest of gaps between our public and private personae.

One more thing. Even as a person of substance, I'm not ashamed to allow a considerable space for frivolity in my life.

"You take a lot of selfies."

"You post too many couple's pictures."

"You write about yourself too much."

First of all, no, I don't.

I take the right amount of selfies, post the right amount of couple’s pictures. You know, since only I get to decide such amounts when it comes to myself. And is there really such a thing as writing too much about the self unless one’s done with whatever exploration and/or communion one seeks? Most certainly, it is never up to anyone else to determine for another person what’s “too much.” The only thing that’s up to someone else is “changing the channel” when something doesn’t suit them.

gunmetal-geisha

Yours Truly

On the other hand, I welcome intelligent critique. I solicit it, seeking to improve when it comes to work I produce for public consumption. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never asked anyone’s opinion on the number and types of photos I share on social media, since it’s my photo album, as it were, and meant to be presented how I choose.

Those who say you’re vain — because you like your face enough to display it — might want to consider if they’re showing a different kind of pride, or insecurity masked as superiority. I imagine people who are genuinely not caught up in their looks don’t give a shit or even notice how fascinated others might be by their own faces.

As an audience member, I don’t get to tell people how to run their social media, even if I’m guilty of hiding their feed when their posts become repetitive — not by “too many,” but by “too similar.” I don’t need to berate them. I just change the channel.

In extreme cases, I’ve blocked a whopping four people in ten years (not to be confused with “hiding” or “muting,” which I do regularly in the interest of sanity):

One, a bilious ex; two, a guy who insisted on qualifying my “ass” to me a second and third time after I made it clear I considered it inappropriate; three, a second guy, a stranger this time, who returned my lost purse to me but then messaged about “hooking up” because he thought I had “nice teeth and a great ass”; four, some Twitter guy who became rude and raunchy after years of sending me jazz videos. What is far more remarkable than the anatomy featured on every single human body is having run into more than one ass-obsessed guy who insisted on referring to mine even after I firmly instructed him not to.

Point being, it takes a serious crime of inappropriateness directed at me before I police other people’s social media behavior. There are still people with horrifying political views showing up on my feed that make me weep for humanity. In a decade of social media use, I felt pushed too far by only four individuals.

Love yourself as a poster of content, and as an audience member, don’t waste time worrying about how others use social media or what details they choose to share: look or don’t look, that’s all. And let me thank you for sharing your life’s scrapbook, so to speak, and taking care to present your thoughts and images exactly how you see fit. You provide me with endless entertainment and I hope to do the same for you.


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22 comments

  1. When you write of why you write, act, etc. and the meaning of success, I thought of this from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
    To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
    As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
    Were all too little, and of one to me
    Little remains: but every hour is saved
    From that eternal silence, something more,
    A bringer of new things; and vile it were
    For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
    And this gray spirit yearning in desire
    To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
    Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

    1. That’s lovely, Bob, thank you.

  2. Reblogged this on cabbagesandkings524 and commented:
    GG has a few things to say.

  3. Thank you. Multi-level resonation.

    1. Glad to hear that.

  4. “First of all, no, I don’t.”

    This is a great line to use out loud or inside your mind when confronted by all those people who criticize creative impulses. Will need to remind myself to say it/ think it more often. Thanks.

    1. Thanks to you too, Ally.

  5. I also stand by everything that I wrote in 2016, but I’ve deleted about half of it because it maybe didn’t meet all of the qualifiers you listed. My relation to social media is constantly changing depending on how involved I want to be with other people at any point in time, but one thing that I’ve learned in the blogging process is that writing definitely makes me a better person. It’s like therapy, allowing me to be more aware of myself and the way that I interact with the world around me.

    1. Oh, I delete a whole bunch of stuff too, of course. But if I’ve kept something, it’s because I stand by it. And I think we’ve talked about this in the past: it’s rare that I re-read a piece of mine and don’t find it requires a whole new editing session.

  6. Lizzi · · Reply

    BRAVO!

  7. Lizzi · · Reply

    As to filtering people out…I’ve rarely done that but when I have, it’s been to do with an un-get-overable difference in attitude. I’ve pondered this one lately because I haven’t wanted to just surround myself with people who have the same opinion as me – I don’t want to miss out on chances to learn. But there’s a distinction, I think, and people can have differing opinions and still be respectful, decent human beings. People who are aggressive and disrespectful, I have no time for, whatever side of particular arguments they might fall down on.

    1. I agree — aggressive and disrespectful is not the same as expressing disagreement.

    2. I think many people have a closed off worldview that doesn’t allow for the sincerity of the other side, and when we can’t respect the others sincerity, that they also think of themselves as good human beings, that’s when I leave the discussion.

      1. Agreed.

  8. While i stand by everything I’ve written, there’s no doubt that my frame of mind changes…and thus my view of it.

    Loved the Harper’s Bazar piece; kudos!

    1. Thanks for reading both, Dawn!

  9. deejohnn · · Reply

    This post is now my new personal manifesto going into 2017. It’s gutsy, honest and REAL: (“Just try letting someone know you think you’re special and contempt will rise from their face like the stink of garbage.”) You spoke to my own experiences regarding the people who need me to play small because maybe that’s where they’re at and why should it be any different for me? Love that you brought these things to light!

    1. I’m so glad this post works for you. It makes writing it very gratifying. Thank you.

  10. deejohnn · · Reply

    Reblogged this on LUVALCHEMY and commented:
    This post by Gunmetal Geisha was so powerful, I had to reblog to keep as a reminder as to why it’s necessary to maintain authenticity no matter what.

  11. This is very powerful. We should certainly be allowed to like ourselves, even celebrate ourselves. Sad that to do so attracts censure.

    1. Thank you, for that, Sarah. Sad to censure self-esteem, to be sure.

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