Monday, July 20, 2020

Early Self-Portrait

I'm a kid, lying on the kitchen floor, cradling a puppy on my chest. I can't remember now whose—possibly ours, Molly, but I think she might've been on loan from a neighbor. I was alone, enjoying this nice moment with a warm animal on top of me, when a subtle shift in consciousness occurred. I slowly became self-aware, seeing myself on the floor, an image of a small boy with a puppy. I imagined what I looked like—precious, I probably thought, though I wouldn't have used that word at that age—and then I imagined what I'd look like to one of my siblings if he or she walked in the kitchen. Precious, I probably thought—so I struck a pose, staying there on the floor long after the spontaneity and immediacy of the moment had passed, and certainly long after the poor squirming puppy wanted to bolt to better fun.

An ordinary moment, yeah, but one I find myself returning to as a kind of melancholy origin story. I see that moment as the beginning of my awareness of myself as a person who others notice. I became, in effect, a tableau, or part of one anyway, part of a stage set that I constructed. A step toward maturity and self-actualization, I guess, yet clearly too a step away from purity of feeling unburdened by self-consciousness, purity which is I guess is a definition of innocence. I was proto Instagram. I was branding myself. ("Cute kid and puppy.") I became mannered. Early Self-Portrait. I was concerned more about appearance than authenticity—again, words and ideas that I wouldn't have know or used at that age, but, you know, childhood: it's all about catching up to experiences with the language to express those experiences, and often failing. I think of this moment as a sweet one, and on days when I'm feeling generous I see it was the burgeoning of a writer's sensibility, but I also recall feeling quickly foolish on that floor, a phony, annoyed by my own self-interest. Then that sweetness of that moment curdles, becomes something unappetizing, a fact of the human condition I grimly accept and often try to flee. Like you, I can attain moments unburdened of self-awareness—at a live show, or two or three drinks in, or during sex, or occasionally on long walks, solo or with Amy—but those moments are finite. This is hardly news, is in fact is simply the hard won stuff of maturity, I guess, but it says a lot about me that I try and doge it as often as I can. Live in the moment, they say. How brief those moments are before marauding, toxic self-awareness arrives. I wish that poor sap on the kitchen floor had has a few more moments to himself before his self showed up to spoil everything.

Photo of "Mannington vinyl floors—Roman Square pattern (1974)" (detail, filtered) via Click Americana

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