I’ve been inspired by a post I read over at Idea Jump! and wanted to describe the garden path I ended up wandering down.
I have long pondered the split between one’s public and private life. My parents have always held this divide as sacred. Heaven forbid anyone should know what color the couch is. It’s nobody’s damn business.
If my Dad had been born into the tribal life, where the community was by necessity a cohesive, intimately entwined group, he’d have been the village idiot, either from genuinely going insane due to all that touchy-feely closeness or just as a ruse to scare people off so they’d leave him in peace.
But we’ve evolved from tribal life to urban facelessness into the suburban carbon copy lifestyle and beyond… to what may be the pinnacle of anonymity: the internet. I could have a blog wherein I am an old man who hates everyone. I could have a Facebook page where I am a 20-something woman who flirts shamelessly. I could join one of those online RPGs and have a totally new life. There is no limit to who I can be and how many whos I can be.
But after this thrill has worn off, what shall we do next? Shall the ultimate act of daring be to reveal our truth? I know it’s dangerous. There are stalkers and serial killers and identity thieves. For all my excitement about truth-telling I still don’t ever reveal my home address. There are, obviously, common sense limits.
And if you enjoy professing some radical belief, say you passionately believe that Northern California, Oregon and Washington state should secede from the union to start an independent nation of hippified, pot-smoking free-thinkers, but you happen to work for the school system in LA, perhaps you’re going to want an alter ego so the mortgage gets paid.
And so the split between public and private persists.
We’ve only lived in this area for five months now, so I am still meeting people. I sit at a public park while my kids make new friends on the playground and I dance along the surface of my private life with a mom I just met. When I give a detail, “I lived in Oregon for 15 years,” I am acutely aware of how paper-thin this statement is. It is a sticky label on a drawer of days lived whose events are an intricate memory-sculpture of streets and faces and smells. But the mom says “oh” and nods her head. We move on to discuss how cute it is that my toddler son is trying to wipe sand off his tongue with his sandy hand.
Maybe this will be one of the projects I save for when I’m old: in addition to telling strangers on the street exactly what I think, good or bad, I’ll make it my goal to bridge the divide between my own public and private selves, to politely decline the possibility of anonymity and instead embrace the project of total integrity, consequences be damned.
For now, I guess it’s best to practice juggling the flaming torch details of my life and hope I don’t drop one on the wrong head.