Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Putting on a Face

Just the other day someone asked why someone "like me" became a teacher.

In short, why on Earth would an Introvert who would prefer to pretend she didn't see you when randomly meeting in a grocery store isle; teach thirty-plus overactive, bored or generally unmotivated teenagers who would rather be anywhere but in English Lit, studying a novel or poetry writing?

They were even more shocked when I said, "well, teaching is a bit like acting. You put on a persona, you perform for students."

They laughed it off.

Acting does not happen only when we consciously costume ourselves.
I was serious though. And in my observational experience, it's not just teaching that requires one to put on a fully different face, to do a whole dance of sorts to communicate some form of information. Most of our lives are spent being eternal actors. It makes me rather admire the people who do it as their career since they are really laying the masks on thick. 

Take a moment and think about all the people you know (on some level) and interact with. Strangers, customers, coworkers, acquaintances, friends, best friends, close family, relatives, distant relatives. Who are you when you talk to each of those groups?

At work I put on a smile, so much so I have been told variations of "it's brilliant, shiny, beautiful, big, you should smile more" etc, by various customers and then I breath deep during lulls and count the clock. I am the Bubbly Girl.

Around coworkers, I vary, with some I say the usual societal niceities but with others I am more candid and admit to being bored, tired, or legitimately feeling awesome. I am the Side-kick Friend.

Around acquaintances I like to sit back and observe (which is hilarious because they seem to find it terribly awkward; me sitting there and silently listening). I am the Introvert.

Around friends I'm relaxed and will talk but it's not until I am around my best friends that I get very chatty, rambly and generally let out my urges to skip down streets or get excited by wacky taxidermy shops with animal hearts in jars. I am the Passionate Expressionist.

Around family I am the resident grump and permanent Introvert. It's only around them where I feel most free to just be the most negative person on the planet. I am the Snark.

Around relatives of all forms I am generally the put-upon eldest of eight, the observer and occasional talker when spoken too. I am the Elder Sibling.

In short, I am a lot of things in a lot of situations. However, you will notice a general theme throughout the different faces. That is my identity. I am an Introvert, with a ridiculous level of passion and a very independent and strong mind that leans toward sarcasm and snarky cheer in general. So how do I pull off enjoying the teaching thirty plus teenagers?

I call on all those personas at once (plus others I haven't gotten into because there are enough for a series of novels). The biggest realisation for me, in terms of the validity of having all these different faces, came during a course called Transformative Inquiry during the first half of my Education degree back in September 2012. A realisation that humans are complicated creatures and putting on different faces was okay, it was part of interacting with other humans, so long as all those faces you put on drew upon one aspect of your identity.

It was mindblowing to me to discover through the course that in order to teach, you had to know every little cranny and crevice about your identity. Otherwise, as we were told, we would loose our identities and we would become fully fabricated, a bit like my persona when serving customers at part-time jobs. Why is that? Because you are putting yourself in front of people. Teenagers too, and teenagers know better than any age what masks are about. After all, that is the age when most people try on about a million and a half before discovering which fits best (for a time at least).

It more mindblowing though to realise all my feelings up to that point; namely, that I was one giant walking signpost of fake things, that no, I was actually drawing upon different aspects of my personality. All I had to do however was consciously recognise I was drawing upon those different aspects so as to not entirely loose the rest of myself in that one particular face.

For example, living at home for the past year has been hugely tenuous as my default face around my family is the Introverted grump. Being family I know they put up with my discontent more than an employer would, so that side comes out more often than it honestly should. Thus getting me to points where I am so lost in that face I forget to be grateful about my situation or little moments in the days that would normally brighten things considerably. I have to stop and actively remind myself to not get lost in my negative side, to bring out all my other sides. To be balanced.

Really, as per usual in life, putting on a face for a friend, a family member or stranger is not a matter of being fake or false to yourself, it is a matter of recognising you are letting one side of your identity shine out more than another, for a time. For a time, only, so that you might not get lost in that one side, and still rememeber to be that complicated human creature who is negative, who is positive, who is passionate, who is quiet, who is a chatterbox, who is strongminded, who is ridiculously cheery, who bounces and can never stop moving, who is lazy, who is emotionally stunted, who is emotionally overactive bur overall, a human who simply is.

As the famous Latin phrase by Rene Descartes goes: Cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. We humans spend so much time in our heads, running on hamster wheels of thoughts that we forget we are rather more like a prism, reflecting a million different colours out into the world, and sometimes, depending on the type of light that hits us, we reflect a particular colour more than others.

But so long as we consciously know when we are reflecting one colour more than another, then, and only then, are we not just "putting on a face," but we are being true to ourselves. 

I never quite got the whole, be a calm lake. Thenl I realised a lake is a large body made up of a lot of atoms. A lot of colours.

Being human, always.

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