Week 2 of Selfie Project: goin in…
I need to come clean and report that I experienced two days of work paralysis after the shock of posting my face online 4.5 days ago. I actually needed to sleep off the bewilderment of feeling exposed before I could find my focus again & get back to the work. I do get that it’s not that big a deal from the other side, over there where people are actually reading this. For me though – this is NOT a muscle I have ever used so deliberately. Nonetheless I made a professional commitment to go inside Selfie, so inside I go, straight at my own vulnerabilities…
A bit from the Selfie Synopsis:
I was a deeply introverted young person – not one to vocalize what I was feeling or thinking – I mostly just watched. Because of this the people around me would fill in the blanks I’d left with whatever seemed to fit their idea of who I was. My family and acquaintances, & most friends would thus relate not to me but to their own projections onto my blank slate (this still happens unless I’m quick enough to correct it). While this was initially convenient for me, it invariably led to internal confusion when I didn’t recognize the me other people were relating to… I developed ways to become invisible – in a crowd, at the dinner table, in a classroom, in the school orchestra. Later I used the same techniques on stage, at conferences, concerts and meetings. The most effective of these was simply closing my eyes, but I also became adept at deflecting attention away from my internal self, and towards something – anything more shiny and attractive. As a performer I realized after some years that most audience members didn’t actually want to know who I was or what I thought – they really just wanted a positive reflection of themselves. Understanding that made life MUCH easier for me: Ah! Just be gracious! I can do that.
I squirm when I see people of all ages and stages of life taking solo selfies and posting them, in all their vulnerability, on social media sites. I see awkwardness, pain, sadness, exhaustion, lack of self-awareness, longing – perhaps projections from my own life? (things do come back around, after all). So often the response comments are either carefully banal “you’re so beautiful”, or rude, or insulting and disrespectful. Sometimes the posted photos are so unfortunate they get circulated well beyond their intended reach to a global chorus of ridicule and derision.
This begs the question: What is actually happening here, and why? But also, since I must face my own Self in this project: What’s at the root of my own discomfort?
Ask a question, you get an answer. But this question keeps getting bigger, more personal, more reflective, more….
What unfroze my thinking this week was listening to Seth Godin in an interview he gave on a program called On Being (posted by one of my facebook friends). Here’s the link to it (recommended). He says, among other things, that old social and professional norms are breaking down in our cultures, though we are largely unaware of this. It’s no longer just a select group of trained people who can be artists for example, and make creative breakthroughs that change the world. Now we are all artists, making the world as we see it, posting the results, and so creating a new way of seeing ourselves, and sharing it in the same instant.
To address my own discomfort with what I perceive as other people’s ‘selfie behavior’ (now also mine, which makes me my ‘other’), I read Eric Fromm,
“We should free ourselves from the narrowness of being related only to those familiar to us, either by the fact that they are blood relations or, in a larger sense, that we eat the same food, speak the same language, and have the same “ common sense.” Knowing men [and women] in the sense of compassionate and empathetic knowledge requires that we get rid of the narrowing ties of a given society, race or culture and penetrate to the depth of that human reality in which we are all nothing but human. True compassion and knowledge of man has been largely underrated as a revolutionary factor in the development of man, just as art has been. It is a noteworthy phenomenon that in the development of capitalism and its ethics, compassion (or mercy) ceases to be a virtue.”
― Erich Fromm, The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology
My conclusion after week 2: Selfie is self-examination, which is not comfortable, if one goes there with intent to be honest. It requires courage to truly look at yourself, shoot yourself, then publish yourself without armour or packaging. But art is risk, and always has been so.
If we are to see this in the context of this culture we are in that changes itself from the ground up, we are engaged in an artistic making of self-image that says with it’s public/private gaze: I am here.
Is there also an echo question: “Where are you?”
I think so.
Week 3: Paint. But also sing and play this. I’m scared to go there, so go there I must.