Authentic Personas?

I read this piece on The Living Notebook blog about artists creating personas in their work. He discusses a number of reasons artists might work with a persona – from exploring a new voice to gaining some distance from their subject matter. We all know of famous, successful, uses of personas in literature, art and music (John Berryman’s Henry in The Dream Songs, or Nicki Minaj’s Roman Zolansky). There have been a few quite public backfires: Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines? Anyone?

Reading the article made me wonder: have I ever used a persona in work I’ve created or on this blog? Since I am on a quest for authenticity in my life, one part of me says a resounding no to this idea. If I speak in the voice of a created character, how can I also be authentic?

Then another part of me remembers picking Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me” as my 50th year theme song. The reason I loved that song was that it allowed me to express a side of myself that usually doesn’t see the light of day – audacious, self-confident, desirable. I would generally not be able to express these qualities in my own voice as I would be both too self-conscious and too doubtful of their reality. But when I sang along with Flo Rida, I became the part of myself that felt those things. I wasn’t Flo (or is it Rida?) – I was me.

Just for fun, I’ve been thinking about the various personas it might be possible for me to explore while remaining authentically true to myself – not overlaying an imaginary person on my frame, but drawing forth a piece of my personality not usually expressed openly. Below, I’ve dreamed up three candidates for my own persona, along with a little of what they might have to say…

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“Cheeks”: an athletic and geared-up woman. Outdoorsy. Her enthusiasm for life results in those who listen to her speak imagining lots of exclamation points and air quotes.

Dude! I woke up to the worst leg cramps EVER! I’ve been sore before but nothing like this! My first official endurance trail race totally took everything I had and then some!!! I can only say “WOW‘! My new motto: “If something doesn’t hurt, you’re not giving it enough!” I just didn’t expect “everything” to hurt this much. I thought I understood “discipline” and “hard work” before, right?! But now I know I’m capable of so much more. Man! I have to hold myself to even more stringent standards to reach my “athletic potential”. As for actually competing – Holy crap – what a rush!!!!!

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Sasquatch: Imposingly tall and muscled, S. is clad only in long, matted hair. She makes little to no eye contact when speaking. Her voice and demeanor are both disconcertingly soft and gentle.

I am here today to share my real-life experience of being a yeti among humans.

The first thing you need to know to understand the yeti experience in common society is this: yeti’s like people, but you scare us. We will do anything to maintain the safety of our solitude and to stay separate from those around us. We hide out. We keep to the shadows. Why? Because you people have great potential to hurt us. You get close and then you blab about us, exploit our vulnerability. And yetis do not like being hurt. We strike out in response – and we are powerful enough to really hurt you in return, which frightens us immensely. Hurt or be hurt – its a terrible choice. So, for the sake of all, let’s just stay apart, keep a safe distance between us. Let’s preserve our aloneness and separateness.

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Shirley: A middle-aged woman with salt-and-pepper hair. She speaks only after taking a sip from the cup of black coffee seemingly welded to her hand.

I know what you’re thinking. I have the same name as Jenion’s mother. Well, too bad for me – that’s life. In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t really matter what I say, I will end up being blamed for everything anyway. See? Life isn’t fair.

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Hmmm. Perhaps it takes a more skilled writer than me to actually pull off this persona thing. Jenion/Cheeks does not equal Hemingway/Nick Adams! On the other hand, as I said last week (here), we need to reclaim the parts of ourselves we’ve rejected, the parts we’ve disowned. That includes both the parts we are happy to reclaim (an idea of ourselves as capable of things we didn’t realize, a la Cheeks) and the darker parts we don’t like looking closely at (the inner yeti whose fear and shame makes us want to hide from others). Imagining these pieces of ourselves as various personas, we can learn so much about who/what they are. Who and what we are. My inner Shirley may be a bit cantankerous at times, but she is also realistic and practical – two qualities I’ve tended to shun in favor of projecting a more creative and airy self-image. Is that a trade-off I want to continue making?

Allowing these inner selves  to speak can be a very powerful means of working towards authenticity and congruence – a way of bringing the scattered parts of ourselves back together so that we see their gifts as well as whatever liabilities caused us to disown them in the first place.

For now, though, I think I’ll stick to a strictly internal dialogue with my personas!

P.S. Thanks for being a good sport, Mom!

Searching My Soul…for a 2012 Theme Song

We all have them: things we are a bit red-faced to admit in public. I’m going to step right out into the spotlight here, and admit that I was a closet “Ally McBeal” fan. I saw the first episode when it aired, and loved it. But somehow, I just didn’t seem to have the time to watch it until it was in its last couple of seasons – luckily, the early seasons were in syndication by then, and often shown in marathons (making it easy for me to catch up in the days before Hulu or Netflix). In a particularly memorable episode, Ally visits a therapist, played by Tracey Ullman, who tells Ally that she needs a personal theme song. Ally’s first suggestion for her song is “Searching My Soul”, the actual theme song for the series (Ullman’s character rejects it as not upbeat enough).

I think this concept resonated with me because I’ve always had my own, albeit mostly secret, theme songs. In my childhood, certain songs just stuck with me and made me feel ready to face the world. Later, I started purposely selecting them. The first theme song I remember consciously choosing was after a break-up in the 80’s: “Goodbye To You” by Scandal. It was empowering.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of theme songs – some embarrassing to admit to now, others still on my list of great songs. U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was my theme in 1988 and again in 2005 (it’s just that good)!  In 2006, I stumbled upon a CD by singer-songwriter Ari Hest and his song, “A Fond Farewell” (lyrics here) became my new anthem.

In 2011 my mania for the perfect theme song took a very bizarre and Ally McBeal-ish turn when I picked the song, “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida as my theme song for the year. If you don’t know it, please check it out:

If you know this song, or just watched the video, you should now attempt to picture me on stage at the Sip-N-Stir – or the dive bar of your choice – singing it, karaoke style, during my 50th birthday celebration. Takes your breath away, doesn’t it? Yes, I know you’ve lost your breath laughing and I’m ok with that.

You may be wondering what a song like this has to do with me? Why in the world would a 50-year-old middle class, midwestern woman who has never been clubbing pick such a song? First, it has the classic elements of a theme song: it makes you want to dance, gets your blood flowing. Second, it’s got a catchy refrain – so what if you can’t keep up with the rapped lyrics? You can definitely sing along with the chorus. Finally, and most importantly, it is audacious. Flo Rida oozes self-confidence…and so do I when I sing along with him. This is an incredibly important point for me – I need some audacity in my life.

On New Year’s Eve, I took a long afternoon bike ride. The temps were fine, but the wind was killer, causing me to work harder than I anticipated to pedal up the long hill to Ely. But on the ride back down, toward home, I experienced an endorphin rush. Luckily, I had my iPod on, and just when my speed topped 23 mph, I heard the familiar opening strains of “Club”. In what can only be described as a transcendent moment, I flew downhill, singing my theme song aloud to the wooded hills, the Cedar River, and a few stray exercisers sharing the nature trail with me. It was a fitting end to 2011, and a last hurrah for Flo Rida as my theme-song muse.

When it is time for a new theme song, you just know.

So, I am on the lookout. There are a few candidates rattling around in my head right now but I can’t say any of them feel exactly right for 2012. My criteria:

  • It needs to be fresh; no tired old songs will do!
  • It can’t be a song that I think would be perfect for someone else’s theme song (“Moves Like Jagger” and everything by LMFAO are already taken, therefore);
  • It can’t be focused on others; theme songs are inherently self-referenced. I love Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go”, but it won’t do for this purpose.
  • Most importantly, it must be audacious.

I think I’ll know it when I hear it, but I’m willing to consider suggestions. So if you think you’ve got the perfect song for me, don’t hesitate to share! What’s more, if you have a 2012 theme song of your own, I for one would like to hear about it!