"Tear off the mask. Your face is glorious."- Rumi
I've been thinking about how so many people don't know their own power. This has been at the forefront of my mind for a lot of reasons lately, perhaps most prominently because I've only recently begun to fully embrace my own strengths and capabilities. I'm sure anyone who knows me well enough has marked subtle differences in my personality since my mother's death back in the spring of last year. Walking someone to death's door will alter even the least introspective personality, but for someone of my pensive nature, it's been like a brutal master class in Self Discovery. The many small things grief has revealed to me over this past year have altered my day-to-day experiences in big ways: a new job, enrolling in a MFA program, auditioning for a freaking musical for the first time in two decades, etc. Those new experiences have continued to shape and evolve my personality, which, in turn, continue to affect my experiences, so the cycle of growth rolls on and on and now I find myself, at the young age of 37, finally developing into the person I've wanted to be since I was 16. Here's the kicker, though: Everything was internally driven. It wasn't anyone else finally seeing me for who I really am or appreciating me for what I can offer, like I wasted my entire youth wishing and hoping would happen. It was just me learning to look at myself differently, and the world differently, and then I noticed everyone else was starting to see me differently, too.
I remember watching Hannah Gadsby's "Nanette" in late June and being completely taken aback by her ability to tow the delicate line between honest self-reflection and astute self-empowerment. I had just chopped off all my hair for Fun Home and was feeling incredibly exposed, as well as guilt-ridden over the fact I hadn't been a very empathetic ear for mom when she lost her own hair to chemo. I was feeling inadequate in rehearsals because of my lack of music training, and insufficient in grad school, not only as a student but as an artist, too. Under the lens of careful examination and inquiry, my art practice seemed disjointed, insignificant, and even hypocritical at times. I was doubting my place in the program, in the play, and even in the world. I was wondering if I should stop referring to myself as an artist at all. Layered on all of this, I was still navigating the relentless tides of grief and mourning the extra 70 pounds care-taking had put around my midsection.
Something clicked for me while watching Gadsby's stand up special. I noticed, instantly, our numerous physical similarities- she's about my size, at least in my current kummerspeck shape. Her hair is short, like my new Fun Home 'do. She has remarkably similar facial features- thick eyebrows, blue eyes, high forehead, pale skin, dimples. I found myself completely in awe of her beauty and stage presence, while simultaneously realizing how long I had been denying the worth of my own. It was the first time I noticed how silly so much of my self-loathing was. Slap some spectacles and an Australian accent on me I could pass for her twin. How, then, could I see her beauty so clearly and yet none of my own?
At one point in "Nanette", Gadsby says, "I built a career out of self-deprecation, and I don’t want to do that anymore...It’s not humility. It’s humiliation." I know change doesn't always happen in an instant, but for me, in hearing her say this, it was though a lightbulb turned on in my head and a cacophony of self-realization started flooding my senses, all at once. I found myself crying and laughing and muttering the words, "holy shit". I heard the spirit of my mother say, "took you long enough!" and I winced at the bittersweet nature of her ability to mock me, even from the other side. I had to pause Nexflix. I said a prayer of gratitude and vowed to not lose what I had gained in that moment. I promised myself I would make the lesson stick. I finished the special, and went to bed.
I woke up with everything fresh in mind, put on a tank top that exposed my upper arms for the first time in I-don't-know-how-long, wore it out of my house, accompanied by a shade of lipstick I wouldn't normally dare wear in real life...and I haven't looked back.
In the month since, people have remarked on how great I look more times than in, perhaps, the past 10 years combined (no weight loss, no clothing changes, and still no hair) . Word of compliments and praise about my work and presence in the Fresno arts community continues to find its way back to me, as if the second I wasn't desperate for the validation, a dam of it broke open. And as I find myself more secure and confident in my choices on paper, on set, and on stage, more people keep asking me to collaborate with them and I feel more deserving of the label "artist" and more proud of the unique voice I bring to the world.
I say all this not to toot my own horn (but, hey, I haven't for many, many years so toot, fuckin', toot). My main purpose of sharing this post is to hopefully reach some of you who might be able to use my experience as a cautionary tale in regards to your own life. I wasted years -decades- of my existence believing I was not good enough, thinking I had to do things alone, thinking others were out specifically to get in the way of my happiness. I am telling you now, that is no way to live. Mostly, because if that's what you want to see, the world will make sure that's what is out there for you to see. I find this self-fulfilling victimization a sad side effect plaguing many of my brothers and sisters who are in marginalized groups, as though we've internalized the shame and insecurities (the LIES) heaped on us by those in oppressive groups and somehow learned to manifest their judgement into our own eyes and brains. We can't let that happen. When that happens, "they" don't have to keep us down because we keep ourselves down for them.
If you want to live your life as a victim, you will see everything with a victim mentality. The world will follow suit and lay out situation after situation at your feet that you can use to climb up on your cross of martyrdom and rant and rail about how horribly everyone treats you. If you want to live your life thinking you're less than or not good enough, you will always find people who will help back up that theory, too. (Mostly because they're trying to protect their own insecurities. When you don't know who you are, there is nothing more fun than judging others who don't, either.) But if you want to live your life from a place of power and purpose, that's wholly possible, too. It's liberating and contagious, even. You just gotta reframe your perspective a little, is all: Decide to live your life like the whole world sees you as the you that you want to see. Refuse to let anyone else dictate your narrative. Stop fucking caring what other people think. Start doing more of what feels right to you.
And, if you haven't already done so, go watch "Nanette".