Monday, January 19, 2009

This Above All...Really?

I'm not sure when it all started. I don't think it was yesterday. But yesterday certainly played its role. Sunday. I'm beginning to think I've lost my grip on Sundays. I used to have Sundays all figured out, but now.....now I'm not so sure. Yet Sundays really aren't the problem anyway. And that isn't where the story starts...

Whatever the case, the whole DEAL was precipitated by two critical, tactical errors, and one accident.

The first mistake was letting church get to me. For a while now I've been doing the Dance of Strategic Denial, that sometimes tricky two-step that requires you not to think a whole lot about the eight hundred little niggling irritants that crop up in any social combination. And you anti-church types, don't kid yourselves: You gotta learn this dance no matter what party you've come to. Family. Work. Neighborhoods. PTAs. Domestic terrorism enclaves. They're all the same in one glaringly consistent way: Someone, at some time, in some way, is gonna drive you NUTS.

Anyway, the secret to doing the Dance is that under no circumstances should you look at your feet, metaphorically speaking. Keep your head up, keep your eyes on something else, and above all, keep moving.

Well, yesterday, I looked down.

Looked around my little ward, at a group of people who I know to be good, decent folks, folks who are trying and working, serving and sacrificing, struggling with their own stuff and managing to keep it together at least for the three hours we're all under the same roof. Folks who certainly deserve better than what they get from me.

Folks I could walk away from tomorrow and not miss a lick.

Yikes. What a terrible thing to notice. What a terrible thing to stumble over. What a terrible thing to admit about myself.

Which, in a way, brings me to the second tactical error. I read a post, or more specifically a few of the 380-something comments attached to the post, on Kristina P's blog. It was all about secrets, and giving people the chance to anonymously "confess" all sorts of things from nose picking to infidelity.

The crazy thing was, I knew fifteen seconds into the read that this was poisonous for me. I was already suffering from interpersonal pneumonia, and here I was running naked through the attitudinal snow. Who does that to themselves?

I had only read maybe 20 comments before I was buried and suffocating in an avalanche of negativity. Was there not a single woman on the planet who was living a life of integrity and honesty? Was everybody carrying around these terrible, even soul-destroying secrets? Could we really trust anyone? Our spouses? Our friends? Our parents? Our leaders? Ourselves?

The weight of it was crushing, and cold. And it put me in a foul humor, let me tell you.

So when, in reading the newspaper that evening, I accidentally hit five-in-a-row on my Buzzword Bingo card (keep reading, it will come together) I finally stamped my foot and shouted to the cosmos: ENOUGH!!
And maybe this is where the story really starts. It starts with the latest fad in social lingo:

AUTHENTIC.

Let me say, for the record, that I am so fed up with hearing Queen Oprah and Dr I Don' Need No Stinkin' License Phil and Saints Tommy, Katie, Angi, and Braddy all slobbering over the absolute MUST of living an Authentic Life I am ready to go WMD on the whole lot of them.

Setting aside the laughable hyprocisy of the Tom Hanks of the world - whose bread and butter and rarified air supply are all about pretense - telling the rest of us that the key to happiness is to be fully real and true to oneself, I ask all rational people everywhere to consider this question:

Have we lost our ever lovin' minds?? An Authentic Life? Really?? THAT'S what we want for ourselves and our families and our communities?

'Cause I gotta tell ya, the Authentic DeNae is useless. I'm not kidding. A buck ninety eight worth of carbon and unprocessed M & Ms.

The Authentic Me is lazy, selfish, and prone to bouts of self-righteousness that border on the sociopathic. Authentic DeNae doesn't follow through on anything, never returns phone calls, sleeps late, stays up later, eats garbage, ignores her family, and has no interest in most of the domestic arts.

If it weren't for guilt, or not wanting to look bad, or love, or - perish the thought - duty, Authentic DeNae probably wouldn't achieve anything more in a day than try to figure out how to get Baskin Robbins to back a truck into her yard and fill her pool with hot fudge.

And she's hardly alone. How great would it be to work for your Authentic Boss? Would you really want to live with your Authentic Spouse? How about that Authentic Teenager? And don't even get me started on trying to survive under the management of Authentic Public Officials.

In my grandparents' day, they had a name for people who were truly authentic, people who lived in the moment, who were fully awake to every feeling, appetite, need, and urge, people who refused to sublimate their own desires out of consideration for others.

They called them "INFANTS".

And they knew better than to make that way of life the high-water mark for social integrity and responsibility.

One grandfather fought in WWII. Another was a coal miner for the better part of four decades. Think either one of them ever spared a minute for thoughts like, "Is this really fulfilling?" or "Am I being true to my most Authentic Self?"

My mom was caught in the cross-fire of the Women's Movement. Raised to prize, to desire, even to honor the life of home and family her mother and mother's mother had lived, she found herself thrust into the workforce with six kids at home and society shrieking at her that she should be grateful for the wonderful choices she had been given. Yeah, the choice to work 9 hours a day at the office and then put in another 8 on her home and kids. And she didn't get to blame her husband for the little help he provided; he had been raised in the same world, the one where everything that happened inside the home - cleaning, cooking, raising kids to adulthood - was the purview of the wife and mother.

And yet she and those like her, my friends' mothers, my aunts, my teachers, just played the hand they were dealt. They didn't spend a lot of time fussing over whether or not the deck was stacked against them. They didn't snivel over the possibility that they weren't being their truest, bluest, most Authentic Selves.

My parents, their parents, those generations before - they understood words like "duty", "responsibility", "sacrifice", and "integrity".

And they understood that sometimes life required that you put aside what you 'wanted' to do and stepped up and did what you HAD to do.

I can't think of a more frightening world to live in than one where no one acted until they were sure it was in their own best interest to do so. Heaven help us all if we really decide that the secret to happiness is the so-called honest exploration and indulgence of our natural, Authentic Selves.

There are worse crimes than putting a smile on your face when that scowl is more comfortable. There is nobility in offering encouragement and a listening ear when your Authentic Self is rolling her eyes and whining that her feet hurt. It is honorable to be faithful to your spouse and kind to your kids and a careful steward of the words that come out of your mouth.

Some questions just don't get answered, and keeping them to yourself instead of using them to hammer away at the faith of others is sometimes good and gracious, and even honest, and often redeeming.

Knowing as I do that the most truly honest, truly Authentic soul ever to walk the earth was also the most selflessly attuned to the fragility of others makes it a little easier to get my eyes off my feet and my head back in the game.

And as long as the Lord keeps calling the tune, I for one will keep dancing.

24 comments:

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I will restrain myself from a long explanation that would basically be a co-rant, and just say "AMEN." I feel the same way about so much of what you said. Secrets and living only for yourself (and the praise of others) are both wrong. Then end.

Casey said...

You're right, just about everyone I know keeps secrets, from their spouses, from their families...

I don't keep any from my husband. My family is a different story, I sometimes withhold information to protect them (the blog, for instance) since they would be offended.

Great post!

The Yates Family said...

I agree. I've been to a couple of those blogs/websites myself - yes, there are more than a couple out there too. They are poison, and "authenticity" and "self-fulfillment" are things that I feel people truly misunderstand. Just another reason I am so grateful to have the understanding of the gospel in my life.

brudcrew said...

I agree with everyone. Long ago, I decided if if wasn't for guilt I would probably only get out of bed long enough to grab some chocolate. Seriously though, without the higher purpose of loving and serving others what do you get out of bed for? Myself alone certainly isn't important enough to warrant the effort I go through in my day.

Lara said...

DeNae, this is the most amazing blog post I have EVER read. I just made my husband a little late for work because I insisted on reading it to him. (He loved it, and thinks you should send it in to TIME or Newsweek or something.)

My comments: 1. The Secret posts have always shaken my faith every time Kristina does them. Not my faith in God, but my faith in people. Especially in people who are members of my church. I only skimmed them this time, and they were actually much more tame than they were last time, thankfully. Nothing upsets me more than people who leave the Church. Speaking of, my brother and his wife recently "left" because they are so into Eckhart Tolle and his New World, and the authentic life.

I never really thought about comparing the authentic life to the natural man, but thank you so much for doing it. I loved this post.

Alicia H said...

Amen! 'NUFF SAID

texdona said...

Dear Denae:
I understand your blog perfectly. And I agree with your viewpoint. I, for one, love the idea of "Authentic". Although your comparing of authentic and natural man are true, I used authentic in a different context. And I would like to be more authentic, in my definition....
When I joined the church I felt I needed to look like every other Mormon. So I gave up Donna Lynn and became Donna. I assumed that Donna Lynn was not desireable because she wasn't Mormon. Donna prevailed and has gone through some difficult times. But Donna Lynn is important too. I didn't realize this until I went to hear Gladys Knight last year. She started singing, "Jesus loves me this I know 'cause the bible tells me so" a song from my childhood..a song Donna Lynn sang but not one Donna will ever sing. I do not disagree with you, the natural man you described is so me!! I also would never do anything Ididn't want to, I would not hold back the way I do about Harry Reid....I just defined authentic as something different...
any thoughts?
Donna

DeNae said...

Yes, Donna - and from now on, you're Donna Lynn to me!

My nutshell take on the perils of this latest fad is that it can lead people to believe that how they feel RIGHT NOW is the benchmark for a life of personal honesty. Yet were we to follow this to its natural end - and there will be an end, of that we can be sure, since, like Paul's Athenian audience, we are surrounded by folks always looking for "some new thing" - we would find ourselves in a place where no experience had any context, and no one considered what they were trading away in order to indulge 'who I am right now'.

This is not the same thing as making changes that have eternal impact and value. I would suggest that we take the advice of Gamaliel, the great Hebrew teacher and mentor of Saul: If it's just the latest thing, it will fade in time. Don't hitch your spiritual wagon to something so ephemeral. But if it's of legitimate worth and merit, don't fight it. When it takes root, it will improve your understanding of God, increase your love for His children, and give you power and insight you would never have imagined yourself worthy or capable of having.

THAT'S Authentic Living, baby!!

Julie Holt said...

The few times in my life that I look back on with agonizing regret are the times that I did or said something that I felt I deserved to do or say. Those are the times when I let myself go against the way "the rules" were guiding me. Those are the times that I most wish I could do over. So, your "authentic" self isn't always a self that you can trust to make wise decisions! Amen!

BTW - I will say that your authentic self and mine could maybe be best friends. With the shared Baskins Robbins and the chocolate in your pool and the caramel in mine. All we need is another lazy bum with some whipped cream and we would be set!! (That shouldn't be hard to find!)

Debi (Dubs2007) said...

yeah, I agree. I like the way you came back to dancing the dance, I know I am trying.

My take on the Authentic self had more to do with allowing that part of me I am suppressing to come out. The part that says it isn't ok to take care of myself, or play with my kids (read yesterdays post) or I am "too spiritual" or too whatever, so me letting my own authentic self out involves (excuse the phrase) SPIT IN THEIR faces and live my own life, not care who is offended and finally say NO. hmm.. I guess I should go back and re-read your post.. I could probaly get something about tolerance and love.. I'll try again.

Debi (Dubs2007) said...

ok, back again, and this time I would add - your take on how being your Authentic self would "bring you happiness" is the lie ( didn't they say that? - crap, now I have to go re-read it again....)

And I agree, last night my husband and I were talking about all these people who think if they didn't have to work they would be happy, if everything they needed was simply handed to them they would be happy.

And the truth is you are happy because of what you accomplished!! if you sat in the tub of chocolate day after day, several years later (cuz it might take that long for me...) I wouldn't be happy! I would be bored, depressed and sad.

We feel happy when we see watch ourselves progress, or watch our kids progress. Think of your happiest moments - isnt' that what it was all about?

Jacqueline Johns - Your Happy Life Mentor said...

If you ever decide to be true your authentic self and get that Baskin Robbins truck to fill your pool with fudge, can you also get them to throw in some M&Ms and invite me around?

Hel said...

DeNae, as always, I am jealous of the fantastic way in which you express yourself.

I couldn't resist. I went on over to Kristina P's blog and had a look at the post you mentioned. And, ashamedly, I read most of the secrets. I think most of those "secrets" were told either as a form of bragging or to attack some minority. I understood Kristina's motives behind the post, but boy it wasn't usually used that way.

I let the natural man/woman take over my life a few years back thinking that it would help me be happier. Now that I am leading the life that Christ would have me lead, instead of what I would like, I understand true happiness and understand that being "authentic" or "true to myself" is only hurting me.

Steph, you are better than me - I couldn't resist the co-rant!

Becca said...

Hmm.... this one is making me think. I love the thought about the people who have come before us--how part of why we do what we do is because we *should*, and that duty is reason enough. I'll be mulling this one over for awhile!

Lisa Loo said...

Wow!! This is what I have been feeling lately, but couldn't get it into words. You have the gift and I love finding your blog!! I love things that I can "chew" on for awhile--revisit and rethink---this is one of them. And all the comments--everyone has their game on--fascinating reading. Thanx for writing this!

Amber said...

I love this post. I love the way you talk about dancing the dance and keeping your head up and in the game. Loved the jacket. Loved the bag. Loved the shoes. Loved it all! (That was kind of a quote from My Best Friend's Wedding. I'm sure I didn't get it exactly right, but y'know.)

Oh, and love you!

lifeinthehighlands.com said...

I think this is one of the best posts I've ever read, as well.

And, along with M&M's, can we add nuts to the fudge? Because nuts make everything taste better.

Did I mention that I'm glad I found your blog?

linds said...

It's SO ironic that you should post this now when there are certain things going on in my family that have me reaching for the nearest ice- pick to gouge my eyes out. Let it just be said, that we all have stuff to deal with, EVERYBODY does, it's just hard to see your ahem, acquaintances try to bail out on life, cause it's too hard, but they won't admit it to themselves, and because of this, they are ruining a lot of relationships. It's time to be honest and face the music people!!! Thanks for the great post DeNae!

Lisa said...

I hate that another word can be so abused by the world. Using "authentic" in place of the natural man may just seem like semantics, but to me it is disappointing and frustrating. We all know that the natural man--the carnal man is an enemy to God, but the truly authentic and real man to me is, if not completely in tune with God, is constantly striving to be so.

The real me is not the dumb stuff that I do and the poor choices that I make. The authentic me is a noble daughter of God, a truly loving soul. Of course I often take on the natural man role because I am learning, testing and proving myself, and trying to fully understand the power of the atonement in my life. But to call the natural man the authentic self is just...totally missing it.

So, I choose not to accept the world's idea of the authentic self, because I know who and what the real authentic self is. Thanks for sharing DeNae

Mary said...

Great post! You really have a wonderful way with words. I've enjoyed your sarcastic humor of previous posts, but this one showed a whole new dimension of your talent! Thank you so much!

Wendyburd1 said...

I am a dunce I admit it. I am like the only one who does not get if being your authentic self is good or not. When I (think I am anyway) am myself at church, I feel like I am being judged by church (not all) members for not living the typical church life (married by 18 with 8 kids at least), but when I do as they want, I feel so wrong and feel this is not the way the Lord would want me...pretending at something. I think he would rather me set my own pace for things. But I am also one who thinks Jesus and God MUST have big senses of humor and get our faults, etc...and have gotten flack for that.*shrugs* I did like your post though!:)

tammy said...

Love your thoughts here. I really don't like reading the confession booth posts either.

Kim (Davis) Loudon said...

That was SO GOOD! We so get suckered in to the philosophies of men... mingled with scripture. They appeal to the "natural man" in us. I mean if Satan came out and told us all to RELISH in our natural man, we may not be deceived. But Brad Pitt encouraging authenticity? Same thing, just easier to swallow...and way easier to be fooled. I mean, come on...it SOUNDS good, doesn't it? Don't we all THINK we want swimming pools of hot fudge? very thought provoking.

Motherboard said...

Man. I 100% agree! The Post Secret posts made me feel BAD. I felt bad that I had nothing more to contribute than my huge addiction to Burts Bee's Wax. What was wrong with ME that I had kept my covenants, loved my church and had no desire to "be bad"?

I have stayed away from her Post Secret Posts... they don't leave me feeling uplifted.

That's something I have tried to remember as I am writing-- that people actually are reading what I write-- and I want to leave them feeling better. I want my blog to be a peaceful place. I think I had that in my last design-- not so much now. BUT. You can be peaceful and fun, right? (please say yes)

Have you read Jan the Crazylady? Her blog is very peaceful blog. You would like it, I think.

Anway... this is a long way to say that I loved this post. I think you can be authentic without turning yourself over to the natural man. Being authentic to God is the most important, right?