Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Think About This

I was reflecting the other day about how self-conscious I used to be in my teens and 20's. By self-conscious, I don't mean unsure or afraid or any of that kind of thing. What I mean is more aesthetic self-consciousness, the "how other people see me" self-consciousness.

I used to want the best of everything and everything I did and said needed to reflect what a scholarly and refined person I was. Kind of like all those yuppie couples who surround themselves with only the finest things. Every item they possess must reflect how utterly cultured and rare they are. A Wal-mart kitchen knife won't do. It must be an exclusive Laguiole knife made by an ancient French cutler (okay, so I still want a Laguiole). Cutting boards must be endangered rain-forest wood and hand-hewn. They write with Mont-Blanc pens (or whatever breed is better), have the highest tech toys, the latest PDA, the latest flattest television (unless they're too cultivated to own a TV). All-Clad pots and pans. Copper-bottomed things that need to be hand-polished. They don't have regular mugs...they have fine pottery, made from Dead Sea clay. They own shares in a Tibetan goat (for the cheese!). Bed linens must be the highest thread-count imaginable. Furniture should be hand-built, preferably by blind carpenter monks. Clothing needs to be expensive, and obsessively brand-conscious but without being conspicuous. If you buy yourself a new wallet, it needs to be a calfskin Kate Spade, not one of those generic brands.

Now many of these things really do amount to personal taste, but taste can be painfully societally-driven when you're young. I always knew what I liked and had impeccable taste (or so I thought) as a girl and a young woman, but I was also self-consciously aware of what "the best" version was. I aspired to it. It would reflect how refined I am. And for me, what I liked was what was rare and sacred and not cheap and commercial. I always knew the right brand names for everything. The best cognac...Hennessy...over a warming candle. The best wine...preferably something dusty and French with a Grand Cru appelation...Pomerol, Medoc, St.Emilion, bottled at the chateau! Hurrah! I once knew the best vintages. I was aware of the best books and read them all... "The Alchemist" and "The Prophet" and all that pre-Robin Sharma stuff. I listened to classical music or to something obscure and genius. I strove to perfection. I ran and worked out and dieted. I died inside.

Another place of severe self-consciousness was in writing. Looking over my old journals and prose and poems, I see a horribly burdened young woman who was struggling so hard to show the world how special she was, what vast deep thoughts she had, how rich her interior life was. There was a pained self-consciousness to my poems, with over-abundant references to life, the ocean, the moon, the stars, my struggle, my sadness, my sorrow, my loss, my despair, longing, searching, truth. Yes, I was searching for truth. But I could have said it plainer.

I've been thinking lately about where that self-conscious, deep, despairing girl went. And when it happened.

The change came in gradually I guess. It was "growing up". I've concluded that growing up is when you start living for yourself and not for what other people think of you. By that I don't mean becoming self-centered, I mean becoming comfortable in your own skin, knowing you are rare and beautiful without having to prove it to anyone using words or things. When you don't have to show it to people. Growing up is when your own self-worth doesn't hinge on anyone else's approval.

I'm sure lots of people already know this. I've known it, in theory, for years. Many people are nodding their heads now and thinking "well, wasn't that obvious?" and agreeing that it really is just about getting older, about learning what matters: people not things et cetera. Well, it's really easy to say those things and want to feel them, but it takes a lot of self-work and stupidity and bad writing and trendy clothes that look awful on you to really get there. I had to get there for myself, to a place where I really truly feel content in my own skin, aesthetically and spiritually. I've been feeling it a lot lately, that I am genuinely changing from being self-concious to just being conscious.

Which reminds me of a Buddhist quote (how civilized) I once read that said that meditation is a search for the meditator. All my thoughts and figurin' and worrying and yoga and reading and listening and absorbing and trying too hard and failing have been my meditation. And I am beginning to find the meditator.

And I see that it is hard to be un-selfconscious in this ridiculously material world. I will always compare myself and my lot in life to other people(s).

But I've stopped thinking about those external things. The media drives me crazy at times, but the fact is, I have earnestly and not-quite-fully-but-getting-there evolved into a place where I don't care what anyone thinks of my tastes and my choices or my body or my face or my wit or my charm. I don't care what anyone thinks of my writing. In fact, I'm trying to make it plainer, more spare. I don't care if anyone knows or thinks I'm deep or sophisticated or wise. I have a rich interior life but it doesn't need approving.

I don't feel bad walking around without a tan, which I haven't had in years; I only have one skin to cover my body and I don't intend to bake it. I don't feel bad about reading a crap novel which wouldn't have once passed my standards. I don't feel bad about drinking out of a free mug I got at some trade show instead of hauling out the pottery. I don't feel bad about listening to Joni Mitchell because I actually like her now, not because someone told me I should when I was 25. I don't feel bad about not going to posh restaurants any more. And after all my years of drinking "fine wine", I have seriously contemplated getting one of those 5 litre boxes of generic red wine for my countertop. And a box of white for the fridge. I am sensible and sane now. I don't feel bad wearing a $5 t-shirt I bought at the Superstore (even though it really is crummy-looking).

I still love beautiful things, craftsmanship. I will still chose to have beautiful things around me, but it's purely for me. I still love pottery and art and classical music and BMW's. I still have a book fixation. I still drool over great photography. I still love beautiful clothes. But I have lost the need to procure. I have lost the need to obtain. I have stopped coveting.

David has helped in this journey. He's helped by loving me exactly as I am, by validating me just as I am, in raw form. David has the best vocabulary and the best taste and the greatest wit of anyone I know, and what I love about him is that he isn't self-consciously doing it for adoration. He's plain about it. He doesn't put on airs. He's modest. He's subtle. He's the genuine article. He doesn't pretend to be who he isn't. He doesn't say things to impress other people. He doesn't boast. He belongs to an esteemed men's cooking club full of rich CEO's but you wouldn't know it because he wouldn't think to tell you.

Like me, he fits into the crowd by being kind and polite, but what I love about him is that, like me, he doesn't fit into the mould. He lives to his own code, his own standards, lives his values, which are so far removed from what society is saying and doing these days. He hates the horseshit of the business world. He hates political correctness. He has opinions. He listens. His mind is open but he isn't tarnished by the crap the world wants to fill us with. He doesn't read (novels) because he finds it boring and isn't afraid to say so. He'd rather be hiking in the mountains, not wearing the coolest gear. He is generous and compassionate and caring and selfless and good and not self-absorbed. I love him for that.

I love him for being a free person. And for being the final step on my path to liberation, for helping me unfurl that final heavy curtain I always knew was blocking a truer view.


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