I think I latched onto this for a number of reasons, not least because I am somewhat self obsessed and couldn’t resist wondering how me, myself and I am viewed by the world at large. In addition to this, I have recently spent a long time struggling to find a character that would inspire me to embark upon my new novel. I wanted to nurture a complex, credible person to take me on a journey to who knows where. Human beings and their behaviours are inestimably fascinating to me. I’m not ashamed to admit (okay maybe I am a bit) that I actually enjoy the types of reality shows that most sane people eschew. I love the shows that see people trapped in houses or marooned on islands, primarily because we get to see human nature at its best and worst. Time and time again we see that, no matter how hard people may try, they can’t disguise their true or base nature and eventually, usually under some duress designed to entertain sadistic viewers, the facade drops. But does this actually mean anything? Is this ‘true’ us any more real than our carefully constructed us?
Is there just one version of us or lots of versions depending on who you ask? I definitely have different personas depending upon any given situation. Anybody who works with children has to basically be a hypocrite. We spend out working lives lecturing children about the benefits of clean living when most of us are anything but paragons of virtue ourselves. As a young teacher, I would often find myself in the unnerving position of extolling the advantages of hard work,
organisation and conscientiousness whilst nursing an unholy hangover. But was I actually fooling anybody? Some of the kids I taught weren’t that much younger than me and they weren’t stupid, so maybe my carefully constructed teacher persona wasn’t actually conning anybody other than maybe myself.
Likewise, I have friends who hold incredibly serious and important jobs and I’m sure their colleagues only see the side of them that my friends want them to see. I have enough dirt on them that I could probably bring down several esteemed institutions but of course their secrets are safe with me. They have to be because there is no doubt enough photographic evidence in their possession to destroy my life. The thing is though, if someone asked me to describe these people, my views would be based on years of shared history but do people change? Lots of my friends who during the 80s and 90s lived like it was the end of days, have since reinventing themselves as respectable parents, head teachers, doctors and lawyers.
I was somewhat depressed over the past week to see the media, rather predictably, vilifying the seventeen year old girl who, perhaps naively, had been appointed as a youth police commissioner. The girl’s prospects, however, have been somewhat damned by the emergence of alleged racist and homophobic comments she made on Facebook when she was fourteen. To be honest, I don’t know what she did or didn’t say, other than what was printed in the newspapers. The postings I saw were clearly the ramblings of a silly girl and let’s take a moment here to consider that she was fourteen at the time of the supposed comments. But I transgress, the girl resigned and, if you ask me, it was a disaster waiting to happen anyway.
What depressed me the most, apart from the media’s merciless mauling of a young girl, were the comments made in response to it by so called intelligent people. One woman appeared on TV claiming that if the girl had racism and homophobia in her at fourteen then she must still have it in her. This woman’s view was essentially that we are all doomed to maintain the same way of thinking forever. If that’s true then I feel infinitely discouraged because isn’t it the hope that as human beings we can change and become better people that makes life worth living? The same woman did say during the live broadcast that she was 100% certain her own fourteen year old daughter would never behave in such a way. Now if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s to never be 100% certain about anything a teenager might do so let’s just hope that this woman’s comments don’t come back to haunt her.
There are those then who argue that, even if we try and reinvent ourselves, the real us will always be there, lurking beneath the surface. I’m not so sure. I myself for instance, have a very successful double life. My mother’s version of me is completely at odds with everyone else’s. She believes me to be a hard working, teetotal, model of virtue and my portrayal of this has never slipped in the 32 years I have lived away from her. The reason for this, in case you are wondering about schizophrenia, is that she is a total control freak and the only chance of having any peace of mind is to throw her a virtual life to worry and nag about thus leaving the ‘real’ one free to roam. Ironically, she is not that impressed by the ‘model’ me so God only knows what she would make of the ‘real’ one.
I feel sure that she doesn’t suspect my secret identity but maybe I’m not as clever as I think I am. When I first decided that I needed a public persona for my writing, I took great care in constructing one. I would be intelligent, witty, wise and professional. Obviously, once I’d posted pictures, I couldn’t do much about appearance but I planned to be a better, more successful version of me. I set up the website, embraced the blog and engaged with Twitter. Friends, who I can’t get to read my books for neither love nor money, scour this blog the second it’s updated, mainly out of fear that I may have mentioned them. One evening, after a couple of drinks, I decided to take the bull by the horns and asked them what they thought of the new and improved blog version of me. I was more than a little bit disappointed when they gaped at me uncomprehendingly before voicing in agreement that I didn’t sound particularly intelligent, wise or witty. In fact, I sounded just the same as ever.
Maybe that’s the answer and we just delude ourselves otherwise. Maybe the versions of us that we believe to be us are all in our heads and other people, without the hindrance of vanity or egotism, see us much more clearly than we see ourselves.