Hey guys, if you haven’t read my previous post, you might want to so that this post makes a bit more sense!
Alright, we were talking about my sister in an effort to come back around and put my finger on what bothered me so much about Sam (with whom I had a friendship before I hit the pause button on said friendship). My purposeful, driven sister, inadvertently makes me feel odd in a particular way but at the same time has learned to appreciate some of my quirks. My sister is lovely and has a gift for raising people up, even those that differ from her in the extreme. She refers to me (to my face) as a genius, a visionary, a dreamer, an artist, and adventurous. This is of course far too kind when held up to what I actually am, but she has found a way to appreciate my quirks.
I remember driving with her from a city I was working in back to our family home (a friend had dropped her off with me). I was explaining the route we were taking and that the back roads didn’t add much time but happened to create a much more beautiful route to drive than the highway. She looked at me and asked when I had driven this way before and why I took this route instead of the highway for the first time. I had to think a bit but it really came down to the fact that I had been leaving from an area a little ways away from the city one day and the map gave me a few routes, all of which took me back into the city and onto the highway. It seemed boring to go back through the city (and felt like back tracking) when I didn’t need anything from there, so I manipulated the map a bit until it gave me a different route. My sister agreed the scenery was prettier but found my mentality towards route finding rather amusing. The idea of changing your route, at the sacrifice of convenience, simply because the other way was too familiar is alien to her.
Sorry, I really am trying to make this come full circle.
My sister called me recently, to have a conversation about a fairly personal topic and she rambled about it for some time, to my pleasant surprise. Earlier in the summer, during a family holiday, we had had a pretty big… incident. These two moments together taught me something and that I think fundamentally changed our relationship.
The disagreement we had illustrated to me how strongly she identifies herself with the teachings of people she respected because the whole thing occurred when I tried to politely and then not so politely explain why I didn’t want to listen to a podcast that she insisted we finish after taking a long break at an attraction. I ended up calling the person speaking in the podcast something like a “sexist, mysogynistic ass-hat passing judgement on people like he has a monopoly on what a Christian needs to be to be lovable, while simultaneously contradicting himself by referencing God’s unconditional love” and she ended up pulling over (mildly endangering us all) and crying. This instigated a long conversation which ended with me finding a way to apologize for hurting her while simultaneously refraining from rescinding my opinion of the speaker (this took at least three tries), because she found my verbal assault on the speaker to be a direct reflection of my thoughts on her beliefs.
The long rambling conversation we had recently confirmed to me what I had always hoped but never dreamed of, which is that she will tell me when something important or wonderful is happening in her life. I always felt like she never told me about herself or her life, I never heard from her that she was struggling (occasionally I heard it from my mom in retrospective terms) and it made me think that she wouldn’t want to communicate her struggles with me and therefor she also wouldn’t necessarily communicate her joys with me. In the last few months though she has communicated with me some of her stresses and worries as well as some of her joys.
I suppose to me my sister always seemed a very “flat” person, too flawless to be believable, and assuming every body is like me—with complex, three dimensional depths and a healthy (or unhealthy) level of self-doubt and internalized personal crisis—I also assumed that this “flatness” meant she was withholding her true self from me. In my sisters case, perhaps I was somewhat right and she was holding back some of her complex inner world from me. As children I think we shared our world more and now as adults I think we are gradually learning to do that again while remembering to respect each others differences. Regardless I suddenly felt like I was an adequate friend. I had somehow reached the point of deep and fulfilling relationship with a fellow adult.
This brought Sam back to my mind, for the first time in a long time, and I tried again to put my finger on what bothered me so much about him. It was the first time I made a connection between the disconnect I felt with him as a friend and the rather stoic relationship between my sister and I. A phrase came to mind: “You have to be real when you’re alone, too.” This statement was like a key, it echoed with importance in my mind but I failed to see what it was meant to unlock. Until today.
I walked through a campus art gallery today where the art varied from the traditional, to the fundamentally beautiful, to the bizarre but that the dichotomous styles presented due to the exhibit being multi-artist were truly extraordinary. To me though, the bizarre pieces only felt validated when they elicited a reaction. I couldn’t find a truth behind them. It made me think on the idea of a true self.
I feel most true to myself when I am alone and retreat from external influences, perhaps to maintain the integrity of what I believe is my true self.I also despise eliciting a reaction because reactions are a form of judgement and judgment is an attempt to exert influence and elicit change. I suppose you could say I am a long term project. I know every layer of medium within myself better than I can express making a reaction extraneous because my true self is in knowing the development that has occurred as the layers have built up. This also means as a piece of art I would likely appear slightly incohesive but display a rich variety of methods and mediums in thick muddled layers.
In contrast my sister is both true to herself alone and in company but much of what her truth is reflects the external influences she chooses to respect and listen to. As a piece of art she is one in which you can see the personally curated influences of the masters, where the layers are careful, each one integral to the final project and showing through just as much as they need to, and the mediums are unmuddled. She is as real to the public eye as she is when she is left alone with herself—like a Mona Lisa—a timeless beauty.
Sam bothered me because I believed that he was presenting a one dimensional and therefore inhumanly bizarre picture to me. In some part my sisters Mona Lisa appeal can seem almost the same, but it’s nuances are more true to life, there is less negative space and more background and setting. Sam seemed to only be real by external validation—the shock or even awe elicited by his minimalistic personal credo projecting a stronger impression of self than he in himself actually had—and thus to be unrealistically empty. I guess you could explain it as a form of modern art primarily defined by it’s negative space (that is it’s largely white with one primary focus onto which the observing public projects meaning).
To me it is impossible to actually be this simple. Nobody can possibly be satisfied with a single layer of paint to express what they are, which means I always felt like there was a secret painting beneath that top piece that was being hidden from me. I felt like I was failing as a friend because I couldn’t have long and deep conversations with Sam. I could’t imagine who Sam would be when he was alone, in his own mind, and so it seemed to me as though he wasn’t letting me in as a friend. What I failed to recognize is that it is all art .
I am a piece that stands in the artists studio perpetually unfinished, perhaps manifesting the artists fear of being unoriginal, and evidencing continuous attempts to be true to new understandings of the nature of art; my sister is a well planned and orderly piece that stands in a gallery to be admired for it’s technical merits as well as its beauty, that has reached a certain level of completeness but that offers new nuances the more you observe it; and Sam, Sam is a take it or leave it minimalist statement piece that can be rather unforgiving if you try to hang it in a room that doesn’t suit it, it is complete even without multiple layers of nuance and offers a stable, unchanging perspective on it’s subject. Each of these pieces is true as long as the artist is satisfied. They question comes down to whether you like you when no one is watching.
So I unpaused, and decided to let Sam be Sam and not worry so much about whether our relationship had depth or whether we run out of things to talk about. If our conversations are destined to be simple reports of what has happened recently then so be it. Perhaps I need to learn a lesson in minimalism and start applying a bit of paint thinner to my layers.