Everyone has their preferences. There are some people who love redheads, some who love tall men, some who adore hairless cats, some who need science fiction in their books and television or it's no go. And as I was watching Jon Stewart tell Bernie Goldberg to go fuck himself the other night, I thought about my highest virtue, in both humans and media.
I'm not talking about the Slacktivisty "passionate sincerity" rag, wherein it doesn't matter what you say as long as you appear to really, truly mean it. I'm talking about cutting through the many day to day masks and shadowplays we engage in even with our nearest and dearest and especially with large groups of strangers and just being yourself, stating feelings and ideas with bold frankness and intimacy, being naked, and genuine, and honest.
It kills me every time. To me it's an almost violent, definitely terrifying and brave act, to show yourself as you are, to say all the things we don't because it's awkward or we're shy or we just forget because every day life is every day life and the living of it leads to patterns of behavior, and breaking those patterns to get at something deeper is hard. This is why I really can't watch romantic comedies or even deal with the Scully/Mulder/Booth/Bones relationship episodic television is so fond of. I hate watching people be guarded and false with each other. It's a weakness, both in person and in narrative, to dick around and be gunshy of every little experience. I love watching humans be brave.
The flip side of this is that I find it a grave sin to be insincere. When I lived in Japan I stopped watching television (other than DVDs) and found myself a happier person. I still don't have cable, so that I can sit and choose a narrative to watch, rather than just flip through channels. But when I came back, one of the first things I did was watch the Oscars.
And I almost threw up. I felt physically sick. I hadn't seen non-dramatic television in years. I hadn't seen any reality tv, I wasn't used to it. Everyone up there was so fake I couldn't look at them, pretending to be spontaneous, to like their co-presenters, all the shit that goes into an award show. To paraphrase Holden Caulfield, it was the phoniest thing I'd ever seen. I wanted to look away from them, so as not to witness their shaming themselves. I'm better about that now, but I still can't bear insincerity, not onscreen, not in real life.
That is, of course, difficult, because book tours and cons and even blogs are essentially theater. A show. But I try so hard. I try to show myself on panels, online. I try to say things I feel are true and real. I try to write books that are as naked and earnest as I can manage to make them, I try to connect with people. Often I fail. But when someone can peel away the layers of social nonsense and fear and all the rest of it and talk to me from their heart, I am slain every time. When I can do it, I count it a good day. And of course even the phrase "from the heart" is hackneyed and not terribly illustrative--but blood-deep, muscle-deep, down in the bones, what people are and what they dream of and what they have to be brave in order to say.
I live for those moments. To know the sort of psychic smell of people, without perfume.
And so I'm floored when Craig Ferguson just gets up there and talks about his past and how hard it was, when Margaret Cho does it--because in real life it is sometimes hard to get people to be so honest. And maybe it is an act with them. Maybe they are very good at faking it. Maybe in this simulated world it is impossible to tell the difference between real and virtual hearts. But still. I'm arrested. I can't look away. I think that was the purpose of reality tv and even blogs and a whole host of other things like stand up comedy at some point along the way: to give us that monkey thrill of witnessing vulnerability, nakedness, without having to work for it socially. But we're past that now, into the land of artificial sincerity and crafted, sculpted, unreal intimacy.
But I think \we all want those moments in the dark when it's truth o'clock and everything is a little brighter with the light of confession and openness and connection. I don't think anyone doesn't remember and crave those slivers of experience when you felt real, felt like you were there to learn what you were being told right then, and to tell your own tale in turn. I sometimes think I choose my friends for their ability to be intimate and raw in this way, to express their internal life eloquently and urgently. All we have as emotional currency, really, are the stories we tell about ourselves, and the stories we make with others.
I don't have a point. I just wanted to say: more of this, please. Less of its opposite.