The Lesser-Spotted Us!
A colleague of mine ‘came out’ recently on social media. His name is Paul. Paul tells the world about the secret he’s been carrying with him all these years, the magnitude of it, and the amount of hurt it caused for so long, not only to himself, but also to those close to him. You can read here what he says. Secrets are sharp and oppressive, and supporting them makes us old and weary. Eventually we must make the decision to let them go, just throw them out and deal with what happens. Paul speaks about how we don’t realise just how heavy are the things we carry until we set them down. We grow accustomed to dragging these things, secrets, regrets, whatever they are, until they become so ingrained as to be part of who we are, and we take them for granted, we get used to the extra weight, we adapt. Eventually though, the strain will break us – It scratches away at the very core of our being, our truth, and chips away at our sanity.
Paul describes the feelings of isolation and loneliness he’s experienced because he felt he couldn’t be himself, and tells of the artificiality of the life he had to construct, just so he could fit in. I imagine a life in purple, the colour of a headache, with shades of angry, burning red. As a conclusion, Paul offers a suggestion that applies to us all – He urges us to take a good look inside our own closets, and to shine a light on the person who’s been hiding there in the shadows, not the one routinely trotted out in public, but the genuine article. He says we need to put on this old skin again, because it’s the only one that will ever sit right. It may be flawed and broken in places, a little beaten-up and dented, but it is who we are. This is the Lesser-Spotted Us. On reading Paul’s words, I started to think about my own fake life, and how my secrets have grown to be a little heavier than I’m prepared to deal with now – now that I’m old and I’m supposed to know what I’m about.
Behold, then, my closet, my lonely room where the sun sometimes forgets to shine. It’s a room without much of a view, and it’s full of cobwebs and darkness. Here there are memories of things best forgotten, and there is a strong smell of damp and neglect. It’s cold here. This room is where I keep the secrets of a time long-ago: all the mistakes and broken hearts, the rotten choices and regrets. See here – here’s my collection of public faces; there’s one to suit every occasion, a different one for every person I meet. Nobody ever imagines they might not be real! Away there in the farthest corner, deep in a dusty wooden trunk, is where I keep the remains of the real me. There isn’t much to see now, not a lot left; a jaded smile or two, and the faint echo of a voice that used to be mine; just shadows, mostly, and fragments of a thing that was once real.
Because the world can’t cope with the broken bits, and turns its face away from failures and those things that slip through the cracks and can’t be saved, I’ve hidden it here, in the darkness and the dust, so it won’t upset anybody.
We, the ones on the outside, hide because we’re not what the world wants to see. We hide because we don’t fit the correct boxes. The world needs to hear about success to remind it that yes, this is indeed the way it all should work, this is normality. It wants to hear of people winning, achieving, climbing the ladder. It wants to see folk having lives, buying homes, paying bills, having children. It demands the familiarity of the habitual, the conventional, the things it can recognise, taking the everyday as its yardstick. What it doesn’t want are the things (and the people) it can’t categorise; those who don’t fit in with what should be happening in a life by age 20, 35, 40. It wants to squash us all into sections and divisions, and these will be our stations for evermore, and we will like it, and be grateful, goddammit, or suffer the consequences.
The world wants nothing to do with defeat or despair, because these are things which just don’t happen to ‘proper’ people, to those who’ve lived as they should in their designated niche, those who’ve conformed. It doesn’t know the meaning of “I’m losing my grip”, nor want to understand, so it closes its ears and turns away. This is sickness, and there’s no room for it in the lives of those who live ‘correctly’. They refuse to witness it.
In effect, we’ve learned that to be accepted by others means that we must be forever normal, and by definition, just like everybody else. We must smile, and give the appropriate responses, and never really, honestly, answer the question “How are you?”, because those who ask don’t really want to know. The greeting has become a stock phrase; just something to say after we say ‘Hello’. We must be the person the world expects to see, and fit the mould society has created for us. Has anybody else ever wondered what happened to the concept of individuality? Has the world changed so much that identity has no meaning anymore, and sameness has become the ideal? The woman standing beside me in the bus queue lives in a world which is very different from mine, simply because it is her world, made up of her experiences. The same can be said for the girl who sells flowers on the street – she sees the world differently to me – her struggles are not mine, her life is not mine, it’s not a greater or lesser one, it’s simply different.
Society does not think this way. It decrees that we must do as everybody else does, always wear a brave face, stay positive, get on with things, and above all, we must never show weakness, or let on that we might just be dying inside. Such character defects need to be stamped out immediately. We need to be tough as nails and grow a thick skin, or forever be regarded as miserable fuckers! We must comply.
Sometimes, though, the world is too intense, and far too loud, and it’s necessary to build walls instead of bridges, necessary to keep people out. We need to protect ourselves against the barrage of mindless, superficial noise around us, and to convince ourselves that it’s not selfish of us to take time out, time away, alone. We are not weak because we’ve run out of responses to the inane chatter, we are not weak for preferring our own company to that of the blustering halfwits who should, of course, be running the country. Instead, we need to understand it as an act of self preservation. When we have no more brave faces to put on before leaving the house, no more plastic smiles to bestow, no more fucks to give, what then? What do we do when we become so cosmically tired of the patronising stink of the ‘wisdom’ forced on us by others which will undoubtedly ‘fix’ the horse’s arse we’ve made of our lives?
The door to my closet, my little dark room, is always open to me. I don’t plan on shutting it. No matter how strong we like to think we are, we all need somewhere to hide from the noise of the world, and it’s a comfort to know I can crawl in to this small space and be me, by myself, without feeling I need to verify my existence to another person, without feeling I need to be somebody else. Here in the silent dark, for a while, I don’t need to pretend, and I can remove whatever face I’ve been using, and pack it away with the others. Sometimes I wonder how many faces one person can go through in a lifetime, and why we feel that we’re not good enough as we are, not worthy, but instead have to play at being somebody else in order for the world to tolerate us. It’s sad. It’s just really sad.