If you watched me do the dishes, saw the way I stacked the plates and bowls first, then ran the water. If you could see how I did laundry, how I remove every fold, every crease, while the clothes dry on the rack. If you saw my insecurities — how I examine myself in the mirror or how I behave on a first date. If you could hear all the things I’ve ever said when talking to myself, or could witness the time that I screamed in my car. If you possessed a documentary of my entire waking life, then you might be close. Of course the observer effect would need to be removed; I could not at any point know I was being watched by you. If you had my whole life secretly filmed and you had the time to watch it, you might be close to knowing who I am. I suppose for that reason, my parents must have known who I was up until the age where I was left alone for any amount of time. Since then, my experience and my being have been understood by no one else. So much of our lives are lived in private and there is no way to transfer that experience. Even if you could, with this hypothetical documentary-epic, you’d still fall short without the commentary of my mind running over it. I’m afraid it’s not possible. And anyone outside this hypothetical observation — the wife, the father, the friend, daughter or brother — although they could perhaps be ranked in their closeness to knowing, is not even halfway to the truth, I reckon. No, no one will ever know you like you know yourself — and it is important to say: even you won’t know yourself fully, but compared to others, you’re a master of the subject.
I like to imagine an amphitheatre held in darkness; tiered seating encircling a low, level platform; the stage, the subject, not visible. Admitted to the arena, only all the people I’ve ever met. Their relationship to me dictating the exact coordinates of their vantage point. Upon entering, they would’ve been supplied a heavy metal flashlight. It would rest cold in their grip as they idle. They cannot see the other onlookers. They aren’t meant to.
People leave this scenario when they no longer know me. New contacts take their place. Despite the turnover, the room is silent. Stage-side are my parents; near them, my close friends, then others — my distant family, previous classmates. Out in the nosebleeds: one-time acquaintances, old flames, seasonal run-ins and their siblings.
Presented on the platform, sitting atop a stool, is not just me, corporeal and breathing, but the entirety of my being. When someone casts their flashlight on me, the spotlight it creates —the focused pale beam— allows them only to see as much of me as their vantage affords them. They receive not just what I look like, but some portion of my essence as well.
You see, even from the best seats in the house, some part of me is unseen. My brother can sit right at my feet and shine the light directly in my eyes, but he still won’t see the mid of my back. Only I can say what aspect of my character germinates there. And maybe someone else can see that side, but they’ve no way to give the view to my sibling. The whole picture — in all its multi-dimensional glory — is unattainable from the outside.
At first, this realization was devastating — the isolation it sowed. Deep within, there is a yearning to be seen, to be known. After that, to be accepted, then loved. If no one else will ever truly know me, then I’m stranded on an island, with no chance of rescue. I found that when I first conjured the image of the arena and the spotlights a few years ago, it was from a place of frustration. I wanted to break the puzzle. I wanted it not to be true. Maybe with time, I thought, someone can slowly shift to a new perspective — see the side of you they previously couldn’t. No, I refuted myself, then the side they previously knew will change. It’s about taking in the whole image at once. And it can’t be done. We are dynamic beings, ever changing, and as I’ve said, we struggle just to try to understand ourselves, let alone others. The human experience starts and ends with “Me.” How sad, I initially thought… until — unable to change the truth — I changed how I viewed it.
Instead of thinking of my Self as something I needed to transmit to another, I thought of it as something to be safeguarded. In the ebbs and flows of life, in the mutating and eroding paradigm of our experience, should there not be a tower that endures the storm? A kingdom that remains untainted by the onslaughts of the years. In the good times — and let there be many — yes, please, it should be admired from an outside perspective; I’m not saying draw the curtain and seclude. But shouldn’t we be grateful to have a haven in the hard times? Preserved, tended to, and private, waiting for us at a moment’s notice — a selfdom? I think it’s our only choice.
We could spend as much time as we are given trying to pass on our personality to another — a partner maybe, or a friend —, but we’ll still not be able to get to a place where the circles fully overlap; where they see as you see, where you feel as they feel. And as much as I would maybe want it — as an experiment in the least — I fear now that once you give up something like that, you can’t take it back. Can’t un-solve the mystery; can’t put the soul back in the bottle.
But like, maybe cloning could make it happen? That’d be cool.
Tend to it,
B. F. Greeno, aka
Baron of Benny Hill