In what ways are you authentic? I would love to hear from you on this subject. So many of us wear a mask in order to be accepted by others. Sometimes we wear the mask because we work in an environment that isn’t conducive to our preference for body art. We cover the body art with a suit and tie to fit in with the work environment.
Some of us, including myself, may have struggled to show the world our true selves simply because we did not yet know our true selves. I remember in my early 20s being overwhelmed by the prospect of decorating my first apartment. I had absolutely no idea what my style was. Now that I’m older, and I’ve done lots of work to understand myself, I know my style preferences for things like decorating, clothing, art and writing.
At other times, our authenticity might be shy when confronted with something more serious, like racism. Fifteen years or so ago, one of my neighbors made a racist remark about the American holiday which honors Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time, I was so shocked by her racist remark that I didn’t say anything in response to let her know who I am. If I had it to do over again, I would say to her, “I find that remark offensive, and I would appreciate it if you would not say those types of things around me.” Instead, because I didn’t say anything, I missed out on the opportunity to be authentic in the world.
Here’s an excerpt from my novel, Paper Girl. My protagonist, Nikki, is stifled and sad, longing for a path to authenticity.
The Bully leaned over her shoulder and would have touched her cheek if his body were in this physical realm. He would have stroked her face and she would smell his smoker’s breath. “You will never get better. You don’t deserve to be happy. It’s too hard. You can’t do it. Why aren’t you tidier? Such a slacker.”
Even though she did not believe it would make her feel any better, Nikki forced herself to go outside. She sat with her sketchpad and a pencil against one of the vast oak trees shading the beautiful acre lot of her family’s new residence in Frisco, Texas. It was only 10:30, but the August temperature was already in the high 90s.
Nikki leaned back on the tree, the summer breeze causing “sshhhhhhing” sounds. She closed her eyes and let the wind meet her face and move her hair. She sat quietly with her eyes closed for several minutes, praying a silent prayer to no one in particular. “Relief. Peace. Support,” she prayed without words. Her prayer was not made up of sentences, just a longing. “I need something,” she supplicated wordlessly. She prayed to anything benevolent. Like a lost child in the supermarket who pleads for help from the first person she sees. A store clerk? A police officer? “Can you help me?”
She suspected she could be reasonably happy if she could be free. How to be free? She did not know if she believed in God, but she hoped there were answers and love somewhere. She felt temporary, like paper. Erasing the mistakes was causing the paper to become very thin and holes were there, too, as she balanced precariously on the narrow ledge of her life. At 15, it was past the time for Nikki to have a nicely-developed sense of self, something to hold onto inside. The only thing she had to hold onto was perfection. She was a shell. A beautiful shell who did not feel beautiful or smart or valuable. Perfection her identity, the girl was carefully programmed to respond to praise, avoiding criticism like it was a fork in a toaster. She focused on imperfections in herself every waking moment — a high cost. Authenticity stuffed down and squashed and hushed and shamed.