So my latest fascination is the movie 'The Prestige' with Christian Bale ... a complex tale of magic, illlusion and obsession. I've started reading the book by Christopher Priest, and it's equally compelling, in a different way, of course, than the film.
Arthur Borden as portrayed by Bale is someone I can identify with in many rather strange ways. He lives his work, as I feel I do. He only shows to the world what will serve his work, something I certainly did early on and probably still do ... and in a way, something we all HAVE
to do to be successful. When our 'real person' shows through, warts and all, it doesn't always serve us. And sometimes it just doesn't pay to drop your 'stage face,' something I definitely found this year.
I often talk about how I can finally 'be myself' in my work life and how I don't have to pretend to be perfect anymore. I don't live a traditional lifestyle, for instance, and I don't have to try to simulate one. Most people know about my potty mouth and my somewhat wicked sense of fun, and some even know about my rather twisted predilections when it comes to music or movies or other pasttimes. But of course the 'myself' that people at work see is a different version of the 'myself' that writes fanfic or the 'myself' that holds court when I'm with family or close friends.
As long as fundamental things about me remain true, people are okay with the rest. And I've got some pretty important fundamentals that I've worked hard in my life to develop and to personify, like being competent and confident, respectful and ethical. And certainly being in control--of both myself and of most situations--is one of the most important.
This year when I let down my guard and showed weakness, I found some fascinating reactions--reactions I won't forget for a long time, if ever. The people who needed me to be strong either looked the other way and tried to pretend I still was or actually resented the fact I had allowed them to see a chink in my armor. Only a couple people (outside my own family, that is) just responded to the human me and awkwardly tried to help.
And this was a good lesson, really. Because it reminded me of what I already knew. When you've taken on a role in life, you gotta play it, even when you're just pretending. The truth doesn't matter. People need you to keep up the illusion, whatever it is. So if you're a politician, do a better job of hiding your peccadilloes. If you're an athlete, don't let us catch you doping, and if you're a player, don't let us catch you cheating. If you can fool us, we'll participate in the success of the deception.
In the book 'The Pledge,' the character of Borden calls this "The Pact" between the audience and the illusionist. The Michael Caine character, Cutter, exposits about this complicity to in the movie's frame. "You want to be fooled," he says. It's an interesting way of looking at something I've always marvelled at: the subtle, almost imperceptible difference between pretense and reality. I always tell people to 'pretend' they're confident and to 'pretend' they're at ease when I'm helping to train people to communicate in different settings, both external and internal. If you pretend often enough, you'll become more and more comfortable. Eventually the pretense will become reality for both the audience and the main player . . . or so close to reality that the difference doesn't matter.
This is a concept that's relatively easy to grasp and surprisingly successful. Almost everyone had a chance to indulge in 'make believe' as a kid, and it's a delightful thought that as adults the ability to pretend can make us more successful.
'The Prestige' takes all this to extremes, and I'm loving reaching my brain around those extremes and trying to find ways to use what I learn in my own life and in my writing.
And of course I sucked it up after my little meltdown. Once I saw there was no one to fix the problem--that I was the only one who had the balls to do that, so I just had to do it for myself--that's just what I did.
Some people get what they need in life by the very act of being needy. But that will never work for me, because I'm one of the strong ones. It's the role I've chosen to play, and at some point the illusion became reality.