Going Gray in Tinsel Town: The Subject, The Object and The Artist
People keep sending me messages telling me to Be Positive. One message I got today was a link to an article about how difficult it is to be disciplined with your optimism.
I didn’t read it.
I am starting to feel disdain for people who tell me to think positive and look on the bright side. It feels manipulative. Like something they want me to do so they can feel more comfortable. There are a few people who reach out to me with their messages of positivity. Some are practical, but mostly they feel weighted in judgement and fear. Their happiness feels aggressive and judgemental, and I resent it, because, ultimately it doesn’t feel like they are really listening to what I’m saying or reading what I’m writing.
Although I am expressing my emotions in a public space — I’m not asking to be fixed. I am exploring this experience of shedding my self-objectification and self-surveillance through social media as I grow out my naturally grey hair. I have turned aging into an experimental art exhibition, happening in real-time so you can experience it through me, and I can go back and watch what happened with curiosity to my days-younger self.
I am deep diving into this experience because it is my experience that I can not change my behaviour or attitude just by focusing on a new behaviour or attitude, I need to bring that unwanted behaviour or attitude into the light where I can look at it and see it for what it really is. In most cases, it is just F-E-A-R (False Evidence Appearing Real). In this case it is fear coated in the icing of a societal idea of who and what I am and who and what my value is to the world. This has caked (pun intended) my thinking with ideas and philosophies which are not mine. I can’t just wish them away, or turn toward something else that is more positive, I have to call that shit out for what it is first, figure out if it even belonged to me in the first place, stand up to it, and then, like the Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderland, and every other well developed bully in literature, it will disappear. But I definitely can’t try to manage the fear or keep it in check it while I’m expressing it, or I won’t get a clear shot at it, and, based on this weird feedback on Instagram, I’m assuming that what people are seeing looks like someone who needs encouraging messages, a great deal of external validation and lots of emojis.
The thing is — that external validation is what I am trying to cure myself of. For me, the thing that makes me feel better is just posting. Well. Not posting. Posting feels gross. But it feels less gross than feeling lonely, and the external validation makes me feel temporarily connected, and provides a sense of intimacy that I don’t get so often in my everyday life.
I’m definitely triggering people.
The biggest thing I’ve realized through all of this self surveilling and self objectifying and posting and looking at likes and messages and detaching and taking breaks and taking 600 selfies to get one and then feeling depressed cause it’s not a selfie taking day because my hair looks like shit, is that, it is just all fucking predicated on how lonely I am most of the time.
My father once said that one of his favourite lines in a country song was ‘at the times I felt the most alone, someone was sitting right next to me.’
The person sitting right next to me now — is me; the instagram version.
The process of exploring my aging as an art experiment has me as The Subject, The Object and The Artist. In this case — the subject is my body, the object is the selfie, and the artist is the one asking all the questions. Part of this exploration means toggling back and forth between these three positions, working on not judging any of them, figuring out where they intersect, and then, taking a step out of them and determining how each is growing and changing through all of this.
I’m trying to draw a diagram of this, and having trouble drawing the subject, because maybe the subject isn’t my body at all. Maybe the subject is that thing which can not be defined, maybe I’m just fruitlessly trying to capture an image that defines my existence, that proves that I was, and that shows me in all forms and feelings that I present in the course of a day, and that is why this process is so thought-provoking and dynamic. The selfie is just a moment in the existence of my life. As soon as I see that image I immediately feel disconnected from it. I know it is not me. It’s just some version of me that’s now gone, and I tell myself — particularly when the selfie is not so attractive — that the unattractive version is really me — that’s the one people who know me IRL see. The one that slips out when they catch a glimpse without me being aware, or holding tension in my face and body to maintain the image I’m trying to uphold.
But neither the attractive or the unattractive image is a true representation of me. And, if the other theory that I keep exploring is true; that if I focus on the positive external affirmations of my beauty then I also will be susceptible to being ruled by the negative judgements that other people shit or spew in my direction about how I look, then the positive shit has just as much as an opportunity to be toxic as the negative.
I had a guy on the subway approach me yesterday. Tell my I was beautiful, ask me to marry him, and then proceed to talk about Vietnam, conspiracy theories and name-drop JFK and each of his relatives for 7 stops before it actually occurred to him to ask me my name. He was super offended BTW that I didn’t remember his after he told me seven times. But I digress — the fact that I even listened to him in the first place is because I am addicted to external validation and I have been generously allowing people to suck my time and energy in order to get their need for attention met by buttering me up with a really well-phrased compliment for almost my entire life.
I imagine it has a lot to do with the loneliness.
What’s interesting to me about my relationship with being alone is that it has changed so drastically in the past year. It was actually a non-issue before. If I wanted male attention I would call someone to come over and give me some. If I wanted to hang with a friend I would pick up the phone or invite myself over to their place. Suddenly, amongst all this metamorphosis with my hair, I am feeling outside of my tribe. I am questioning my worth as a friend, a lover, and a creative partner, because I am questioning what my worth is.
Side Bar: Just in case it’s not clear at this point in the essay…Please don’t mistake this as a call for help. I am calling out these thoughts as a way to replace them with others, or to examine them so they can be called out as bullshit, not because I’m hoping you will send me messages telling me I’m beautiful. Thanks.
When I first started posting photos of my grey hair journey online I was soooo moved by the comments people made on said photos. When people told me I looked beautiful or told me to keep going I felt like it was such a profound act of love. Now I don’t.
Now I feel like they have an agenda. Of course they don’t. I mean, maybe some of them do, but a lot of it is just unconscious. Nothing has changed except the fact that I now have an agenda. My new agenda is to get people to listen to my podcast and maybe buy a ‘grey curious’ mug from my artsy fartsy website or a book, when I write it. Pretty vague I know, but underlying that agenda (that commodification of the art) is a very tidy excuse to NEED external response. Here is my pain for the purposes of getting you to listen to more podcasts so I can eventually get advertisers to help support the time and expense of running the thing, and I need to use instagram to promote and support it so I must take selfies and they must be the kind that people like so they click my profile and my hair doesn’t look good today and and and…
This always happens with me. I start to do something out of passion and then I commodify it, and then I resent it and I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s a violent form of self sabotage that I point at my career to try to shut down anything I am doing because of passion and generosity by starving myself of the ability to make money doing it. I start keeping score.
Today I have been sitting online for several hours trying to buy burning man tickets. They are having some sort of technical difficulties and so it is taking forever. On the page I have been staring at there is a lot of info on not trying to make money off of the tickets by reselling them — it says ‘Don’t Exploit the Thing You Love.”
I cried when I read that.
What does exploit even mean? Especially to an artist. I once had a teacher that said the reason actors are paid so much is because we are willing to reveal the human experience in ways that regular people just aren’t. To reveal in ourselves the darkness, the ugly shit, the shit that we don’t admit to in polite company. It’s hard to put yourself out there, and, as an actor, I get to hide behind a script and unleash my inner demons and claim I was just using my imagination. Imagination is an important part of the work, but fundamentally I believe, like Stanislavski did, that it is just me in the given circumstances. Life experiencing itself.
A few days ago, during my morning meditation from A Course In Miracles that asked me to understand that this world I see is not real; I asked for answers from the depths as to what that means. I like this world, and it feels real to me, but the more I explore the idea and practice of being able to tap into an infinite source of possibilities I realize just how constructed the constructs of my life are.
One of my favourite things about the entertainment industry is that it is a bunch of people creating their own versions of paradise out of a flashing light show. We literally create worlds out of light that are visible and disappearing from moment to moment. During my meditation the idea that came to me was that the process of creating and filming a movie is the same thing I am doing as I create and experience my life.
I had a vision of myself on the set of a movie I had written and was directing and starring in. In the scene we were filming, I was crying. It was deeply moving, and everyone in the room was captivated, present and affected. I felt completely elated at what I had created, and, at the same time felt the deep sadness of the character, and the broader remembrance of the universal experience of life at its most painful. This is what I strive for — I am creating a life where I get to experience the fullness of being alive, and where I can also be the observer who watches myself, in my life having experiences. When I don’t judge the bad experiences I realize that underlying those experiences is a great deal of joy at just being alive to experience it in the first place. Just like there is a great deal of joy when I am on set getting to make a movie I wrote, am directing and starring in even when we’re over time, over budget, my feet hurt, and the caterer is stuck in traffic.
That is what I strive for — to be experiencing myself experiencing my life. It just so happens that social media gives me a real time way to do this. I can observe myself observing myself, and the beauty of this — the GREAT beauty of this — is that I can choose to be brave enough to experience myself in all my fullness, and that includes all of the emotions, as they are, in the moment I feel inspired to share them. Fear of and repression of my emotional life does not serve me or the world, and it’s kind of missing the point.
If you happen to be an emoji sender; know this: I feel your pain. I know you are not trying to shut me up, but I would ask you to explore if it is your pain you don’t want to feel, and I would urge you to allow it. It will feel big at first, but with practice, and a sense of humor as you step into the role of The Observer you may just start to see the joy underlying it all. The real joy, not the emoji kind.