Thursday, January 8, 2009

ars bellum

Over a good cup of tea, I had a conversation with an old friend about who we were in college, who we are now, and what we thought of ourselves, how we projected ourselves. We discussed how we had first perceived each other, and how different that perception was as compared to our own ideas of ourselves. It made me think of this essay contest the University had- "the Skin I'm in" about who you are, issues of gender, culture, sexuality, blah-dee blah-dee blah. I could have won some money, but I was no longer a student (ha ha ha!!!) Anyway, what came out of that was worth so much more than 250 bucks. Here was my entry:

The skin I’m in is a projector, film strip flapping, reflecting and directing all eyes, all gazes, because let’s face it, we’re judged in less than thirty seconds by our appearances.
How does it affect me to be different? The great failure of this question is that every single human being, no, let’s narrow that down, every single person who sees your question is different from every other. I don’t think it really matters what color or orientation, what gender you are, or what culture you come from. You are not the same as me, and I am not the same as any of the thirty thousand or so students in this University.

So what is the question really about? Is it about what my skin is? A sheath of living organ that feels and registers sensation by sending messages to my brain through a system of nerves? I doubt it. All biology aside, what’s the point of asking? Is this really going to be about how I feel other people looking at me, judging me, and my personal testimony to how I am me despite the constant molestation of other people’s opinions and force of will on me every day?
This is not my therapy session- this is my ars bellum- my art of war.

We have established that we are being looked at, therefore we are objects to the gaze of those around us. But am I going to tell you how I feel about being an object? This is pointless. The goal of every object ought to be becoming a subject.

The skin I am in is my tool, my weapon, my projector, the canvas from behind which I shine only the image I want you to see. Actors and actresses learn the skill of pouring their personalities, spirits, selves, out into full-wattage beacons to hold an audience in thrall. We all know people whose presence can be too big for a room- these are the souls who have learned how to use the canvas of their skin- how to be a subject.

How to be a subject- in other words, how to take control of the skin that they are in, and thereby take control of the judgments and opinions formed about them. In short, the skin I’m in has become a powerful mind control. Few people have such dedication to their own opinions that they are not willing to be bent by a confident soul.

I have been given access to places I should never be allowed, I have dated far more attractive people than myself, I have never been turned down in a job interview and the professors in my classes wrote me glowing recommendations because of my assumed confidence when I enter a room. I got into Grad School on letters and an interview alone. The world is dying for someone who wears his or her potential like a glowing sun under his/her skin.

When I was a child, my mother told me stories of getting into exclusive clubs in Manhattan by projecting an image, by looking and acting and talking as if she belonged there and no one could dare tell her no. I have heard over and over how there were lines around the block, and the bouncers would open the rope as she walked past all the people in line. This image has never left me, and it was so simple, she said. Just act like you belong there. Just act like there are no ropes.

This is a motto, this is a mantra, this is my method. Just act like there are no ropes, no obstacles, no barriers before you that could matter. I have been complimented on my powerful confidence, but the honest secret is, I doubt myself daily. I know I’m not what other people imagine, I’m no genius, nor am I a great passionate beauty- not really. But you believe I am because I commit to the image. It is a decision, like so many other things in life, a decision to use the skin you’re in. A decision to meet all eyes on you, to be looked at, and be no object, be no one’s judgment, be no one’s stereotype.

This decision has cost me- there are those who are terrified of anyone who changes the status quo- but these costs are few and far between. Actually, most of that cost was high school, but what I discovered was that though they are afraid, they are also deeply envious, and will follow the lead if you are brave enough to set it.

The skin I’m in? This is my tool, my weapon, my means of success, my ars bellum.
How does it feel to be different?


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