The Real [Personal Pronoun]

Do you know who I am? Do you know who you are? Does anyone? We just as easily form opinions of those around us as we do ourselves, and it's funny how often those perceptions vary. I had one image of myself, as a sort of nerd who's always joking around and not taking things seriously, and spoke to some people today who were surprised to see me joking around since I'm “usually so serious”. One person suggested that I'm “myself” when I'm comfortable. I don't know if that's the case so much as showing another side of myself. People are multifaceted.

Last night I watched Jim Carrey completely immerse himself in the role of Andy Kaufman. I've been meaning to see Man on the Moon for a number of years now—six to be exact—but haven't gotten to it until now. One of these days I'm going to have to figure out a more efficient way of keeping up with movies. I pretty much forgot about the actor I was watching and found myself watching “Kaufman.” Early on, he talks about doing characters like Latka while talking “normal”, and refers to his “real” voice as a character as well. That early line set the tone for the movie and his life, and why some people question his death. One deleted scene after he fakes a wrestling injury offers further insight, when he tells his mother that a good rule of thumb is anything about him, isn't real.

Kaufman could have been called many things. Artist, springs to mind. Ahead of his time. Most importantly, misunderstood. I think about jokes some friends have made that not everyone gets, and jokes I've made that not everyone gets or realizes are jokes. I watched the young actor playing Kaufman as a boy putting on a pretend show for his wallpaper, and think about the hours I'd spend doing something similar as a child, monologues into my mirror. “Well folks, we've got a GREAT show for you today!” Then I'd bring out my action figures and entertain no one but myself. I eventually grew out of it while he made a career out of it. By no means am I making one of those unfounded wistful statements that “I could have been a star because....” Because he performed for personal satisfaction, and because not everyone got his art, there was a lot of pain behind the laughter. I wouldn't have wanted that, nor did playacting as a child mean I had the talent he did. What the scene DID do for me was think maybe this was something other kids did. As an only child with no one to compare myself to, I'd often wonder if I was a litte insane. I'd record imaginary radio shows on audio cassette, talk to guests who weren't there. All my toys had their own personalities and complex backstories and interpersonal relationships. Furniture in my room wasn't just furniture; it was geography. Bookcases were buildings, stacks of boxes were mesas. By the time I was growing out of this phase and becoming more “normal”, shows like Muppet Babies and Bobby's World came along and demonstrated that kids will immerse themselves in their imaginations to the point that it becomes real. I wasn't alone in that.

I think losing that part of myself was a gradual process, and while I still see myself as a playful child, struggling to overcome immaturity, that might not be the image being conveyed. My friend Rey's son has a wonderful imagination, and he brought him in to the office last week to give his wife, who's confined to bed rest for the last leg of her pregnancy, a break. At one point while I was working, the little boy brought over one of his father's data CDs and a desk clock, and proudly announced that it was a DVD player. It's a really cool clock Rey has, one that shows the time in different parts of the world by clicking buttons on various sections of a map, so I found myself in “educational” mode. I took the clock and started pointing out what the buttons did and how cool the clock was, but when I looked up the disinterested lad had already wandered back to the imaginary world he was building in his dad's cubicle with a chair and other CDs. He wanted no part of reality, and I wondered when I became such an adult that I would “correct” make-believe?

Maybe hanging on to childhood a little bit isn't such a bad thing. Perhaps it's important to let kids pretend, to understand the way they're seeing the world. Being a little bit of a child oneself probably makes one a better parent and bridges the age gap. My parents were always concerned with my make-believe sessions. My mom used to always ask why I didn't do anything “constructive”. Once they were so concerned by my behavior, they took me to see a therapist. I'm not sure what he told her, but I remember she didn't like it and I only visited the one time.

Who am I? Am I the serious cubicle-dweller who cranks out large volumes of work and remains focused? Am I the slacker that sends links to games to my friends, or replies fifty times to a simple “what are we doing for lunch?” e-mail to the point people regret inviting me? Maybe I'm the health nut who's in the gym every night, or the slovenly glutton who has fast food every day at lunch on top of a sandwich brought from home. Am I an enthusiastic Italian, wandering the streets of Brooklyn in a red-white-and-green hat playing songs on a brass instrument? Perhaps I'm the headbanger who cranks up K-Rock on the drive home, sings along at the top of my lungs when it's dark and no one can see me, and pounds drum beats on my steering wheel. Am I the suave “playa” who would whisper poetry about my girlfriend's body to her on her couch, or the social phobic loser whose throat closes up when pretty girls acknowledge his existence in the halls? Could be I'm some nutcase who calls himself a “Mysterious Cloaked Figure” on the internet and stays up late maintaining a blog rather than getting a good night's sleep so he'll be the efficient cubicle-drone people see him as.

Existence. It's a complicated state.


Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

Wow, that was a great piece of writing.

3/10/2005 8:26 AM  
Blogger Claire de Lune said...

I loved reading this. I'm always surprised by the perception others have of me and wonder what image I must project. It makes me wonder what people try to hide from the world - shameful acts, fetishes, dreams.

On a different note, you were probably #5000. I only reached that number when I refreshed the page. I'm guilty of having no life.

3/11/2005 11:20 PM  

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