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Posts Tagged ‘wavy gravy’

Be authentic. What does that even mean, anyway? Not a whole hell of a lot, according to Stephanie Rosenbloom in this Sunday’s New York Times. The word, she says, has been watered down to the point of meaninglessness, like so many white wine spritzers. Everyone from Anderson Cooper to Sarah Ferguson to Katie Couric to Michelle Bachmann to the Pope have claimed the descriptor, generally while in the service of selling themselves. (Sales. What’s more inauthentic than that?)

And, as Rosenbloom’s piece points out and as we’ve written before, we’re complicit in this faux-thenticity, too. Think about your Facebook profile–and now imagine what it would look like if it were truly authentic. Take mine, for example: instead of that cute profile pic of me smiling broadly in New Orleans alongside a status update alluding to a highbrow day of writing, my pic might show me sitting at my computer, in the chair I’ve spent so much time in, I’ve literally worn the finish off of it. And if I were to be authentic about it, today’s status update–rather than being glamorous, pithy, or intelligent–might read: Unshowered. Writer’s block. Dining on a spoonful of peanut butter. Had I documented my status last night, I would have seemed the epitome of uncool, when my neighbor’s band practice inspired not my admiration of his creativity or his nascent musical skills, but a lengthy debate on whether or not to call the cops. (I didn’t. Score another one for inauthenticity. They were more terrible than they were loud–and they were window-rattlingly loud.)

Writing in the New York Times Magazine, Peggy Orenstein once confessed that, while spending some glorious time with her little girl listening to E.B. White reading Trumpet of the Swan, a nasty thought intruded: How will I tweet this? She admits that the tweet she decided on (“Listening to E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan with Daisy. Slow and sweet.”) was “not really about my own impressions. It was about how I imagined—and wanted—others to react to them.”

Marketing folks might say we’re branding ourselves in our profile pictures, our status updates, our tweets. We say that maybe we’re feeding the iconic self, the self-image we’ve constructed, which, in ways big and small, is the face of our great expectations. (She’s kind of a tyrant, too.) So why do we do it? Are we so desperate for approval that we’d rather pretend to be someone else than our, ahem, authentic self? Women, after all, are raised to be pleasers. Do we feel guilty about veering off the pre-approved path? Where did we become convinced that the faux is any more acceptable than the real? And why, oh why, do we so readily buy into the idea that the images everyone else is presenting are any more real than our own?

Why is it so hard to embrace the idea that, as Wavy Gravy–he of LSD and ice cream fame–put it, we’re all just bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride?

…which is well and good in theory, but who wants to admit to being a bozo? We have images to uphold! And whatever your role, the performance is remarkably similar. Someone asks how you’re doing; you say fine. You ask her; she says fine. Fine, then! We worry what other people think (though we’d never admit it), and, of course, we want to be happy, confident, competent, and successful. So we pretend we are. And, compounding the issue is the fact that the happy, confident, competent, successful self is the self everyone else shows to us, too, which compels us to keep our dirty little secret under even deeper wraps. If she (and she and she) has it together, what the hell is the matter with me??

It’s the open secret Rumi wrote about (and to which Elizabeth Lesser makes beautiful reference here), yet, centuries later, we still feel compelled to keep. And that’s understandable. Who wants to admit to being afraid, uncertain, overwhelmed, clumsy, neurotic, or prone to saying the wrong thing? The thing is, though, all of those things are part of the human condition–and those things and the good things aren’t mutually exclusive. And so why should claiming them be a negative? On the contrary: I think there’s a promise of something pretty awesome that comes when we’re able to own it all. The sky doesn’t fall, but, like the curtain hiding the Wizard of Oz, the blinders do.

And then what might we see? Well, for one thing, maybe a willingness to own our complex, dualistic, not always delightful but utterly human nature can make our choices a little bit clearer. With no one to impress, no images to uphold, we’ve got a lot less to factor in. There’s a freedom there. And power, too: because when we are willing to come out of the I’m Fine! closet, maybe our friends will join us. And that, I’d bet, would make for one hell of a party.

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The fix is in, at least according to a piece in the Guardian entitled “If you only do one thing this week, stop talking about work at home.” So simple. And yet.

From the piece:

Sharing your working life with your partner can give you perspective, reassurance and a chance to offload, but banging on and on and on about the minutiae long after the working day is over can be counter productive.

When Cancer Research UK looked into modern relationships last year it found that 28% of us spent less than three hours with our partners each day, and that one in eight of us spent less than 10% of our time together conversing. So do you really want those precious conversations to be about the knackered photocopier?

Knackered. Doesn’t it make you wish you were a Brit? But apart from the envious slang, such a good point. Why do we bring work home? Either literally, watching a UCLA game with a stack of work in your lap to do in between plays (oops, did I type that out loud?) or figuratively, letting yammering about work suck the air out of the room, until you’re the only one left in it.

We’re acting like the boys.

Maybe we need the validation. Generationally new to this power world of work, do we need to prove that we’re one of the boys?  To identify ourselves with what we do — and bring it all home? Our male counterparts have done this for years. And the outcome? Not so great.

But back to the Guardian piece:

The trick is in accepting that we need to talk about work while learning to restrict the time we spend doing so. Switching off after hours is an important part of dealing with the stresses, strains and everyday irritations the workplace imposes on us. If the spectre of your annoying boss looms over your kitchen table just as he or she does your office desk then what’s the point in going home?

See, I think this is how we women can get it right. Embrace our differences, as Shannon pointed out yesterday. Realize that we are more than what we do. Smugly smile and note, as we stretch out after work, that kicking our pumps to the floor is one more sign that we as a gender have the capacity to get it right. Call it evolved.

Years back, I did a long magazine piece on the 60s hippie icon, Wavy Gravy. (The piece is so old, I can’t find a link.) You may remember him — apart from the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor — as the Clown Prince and Head of Security at Woodstock, famous for the line: “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.” I profiled him in the late 80s, when he was living in a commune in Berkeley and up to his ears running a number of charities and non-profits, which took up all his waking hours.

At one point, I interviewed his wife, Jahanara, who said, somewhat ruefully, “Sometimes, you just want to play cards.”

Sometimes, you should.

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