This Is All An Act

It’s an interesting experience being a blogger.

Especially the kind of blogger I am, the kind that talks about his personal life, travails, the ups and downs of life. I’ve talked about my near death experience, the time my daughter had a seizure (where I revealed my panicked fear of death), and I’ve been quite open about my bipolar “disorder” diagnosis.

So when someone meets me who reads the blog, they know all about me. They know about my deepest moments, my biggest fears, they know about so many significant moments in my life, the moments I, ironically, hardly ever share in a face to face setting.

What fascinates me about all this, is that you think people would “get you” if they read so much about you. You’d think they’d be able to relate to you easily.

But the funny thing is I usually get unbearably awkward when I meet someone who reads my blog. Some part of me feels like I should be super-friendly, but I can’t seem to muster it up any friendliness, and instead I just smile and nod at a first meeting.

Part of the awkwardness is that this person knows so much about me, and I know practically nothing about him or her. It’s hard to relate to someone you hardly know, and when they think they know so much about you, it makes it even harder.

But I think there’s also something else that happens.

See, this is the thing. As a blogger, a writer, someone who shares himself on the net, for basically anyone to just come in and comment, or argue against, or support, or defend, or cry along with… the thing is, I still hide so much.

There’s this assumption that when someone tells you about these deep, dark moments of his life, that means that you know him. That you have some kinship.

What people don’t realize is how much that’s not shown. Have you noticed I only vaguely told you about my time in college? Have you noticed that I very rarely talk about my present-day life?

Because truly, how much can writing really show? How much can I really reveal in blog posts published only a few times a week?

And so people think they know me, because they see this deep, feeling part of myself.

But what they don’t realize isn’t just that I’m hiding things. They’re missing the most important element of all.

This is all just a performance.

Yes, it’s true that I talk about my personal life and my thoughts and my dreams and my heartbreaks.

But every writer, no matter how personal, no matter how open, is always performing.

There are parts of themselves that they won’t reveal, if only because they don’t think it pertinent to their audience. Or for more selfish reasons: because they don’t want you to know about the faults that riddle their lives.

That’s why I always find it funny when people assume that a celebrity or a writer or a musician (or any other person who is by the vary nature of their work a performer), is a good person or a smart person or a deep person.

Because at the end of the day, these people are simply showing the sides of themselves they feel comfortable sharing. You don’t know the whole story. You’re an outsider, and you’re only getting a peek. A filtered peek.

And I suppose that’s why I get awkward when I meet a reader. Because they don’t really know me. They’re not privy to all my faults and weirdnesses and screwups. And so I feel like I have to live up to the performance I’ve been playing out for everyone.

As time has gone on, and the blog has evolved, I’ve learned to kind of play along, because I think that’s what people want. I kind of shrug to myself and think, “Okay, well, I might as well play the part. Sure, I’ll act like I act in the blog. Emotional and a bit nuts with a bit of sappiness thrown in.”

And so I go on living that when they talk to me. When someone contacts me, I just act like the blogger they’ve read, and whatever, that’s me. When I’m around my friends, I screw around more, I pretend less, I’m not putting on a show. But with other people, I’m a different person, just because that’s what’s expected.

At first this was a tad depressing to realize. My whole blog was about being genuine! About being honest! So not only am I realizing that the whoel blog is really just a performance, I’m also starting to perform around people now too! I’m a big fat faker, just the opposite of honest! Bah humbug.

Yes, and that’s how it went for a bit, living this sort of cognitive dissonance life. What choice did I have? It was all a performance, I thought, and as long as it was for a good cause, if I was elevating the world with my writing and helping the people who read the blog, then what did it matter?

But as time moved forward and my performances continued, I noticed something. Something weird happening.

I was enjoying my performance. I had always enjoyed the performance of the blog, but now I was enjoying performing to the people I ran into who read the blog, or the people that sent me the message. I liked this persona, this person who didn’t joke around as much, and who was more sappy and emotional and open and raw. I liked being a person who could admit that he cries whenever he gets the chance, who will talk about art whenever he gets the chance, who is a soft, pudgy enthusiastic blogger.

The more that I acted, the more that I performed, the more that I started to realize something. It came upon me slowly, but as it hit me, it became impossible to ignore.

The truth was, I had always tried to write honestly, and that honest writing led me to “perform” by showing the sides of myself I most wanted to show to the world.

But the truth was those sides were the ones I was most scared of showing. And so they had become the things I hid the most. Whether in yeshiva or college or high school or living in a community with a wife and daughter, I was aware that this was a world where being an emotional, sappy man was not so acceptable. And so I reserved those sides of myself for… myself. And my wife. That was it.

The blogging allowed me to reveal those sides for the first time in a very public way. In a way where I could keep a distance from the people looking at me, reading my words, and just focus on showing those sides.

And so… as time has passed, I’ve realized that really… all this “performing” on the blog and with people who read the blog… it’s really the first time I have been living the way I was really meant to. I’m revealing those sides of myself because they are who I really am.

Was I performing before? Am I performing now? Am I performing with my friends? Am I a big liar or am I finally starting to become honest with myself?

I’ve come to the conclusion that, at the end of the day, we’re always performing. We’re all actors in the stage of the world. The only question is if our performance reflects our best qualities, or if it is a performance whose sole goal is to hide our souls from the audience.

Pop Chassid has helped me realize that for much of my life, I’ve been hiding the parts of myself that I consider the most valuable. Which is sad. But that’s life. And so many of us are doing the same. But Pop Chassid also helped remind me that I had those qualities and that they were going to be the only way I was truly going to succeed, to change the world around me in a true way.

So, if you message me or run into me after reading my blog, understand this. You are watching a performance. But it’s the best performance I’ve ever given. Thank you so much for forcing me to do it.

  • Rebecca K.

    I really identify with this post.

    I think that some writers don’t understand this. They either blow up their persona and forget who they really are, or they decide that for “honesty’s sake,” they must share their every private thought, even if it infringes on someone else’s privacy.

    Creating your persona is part of the creative process.

    I don’t think I’ve mastered this yet, but maybe just realizing what’s going on and being conscious of it (your post is a good reminder) helps.

    • First of all, @RKlempner:disqus, mazel tov on being published in Tablet! It was a great piece.

      And yes, I totally think that polarity exists to an almost ridiculous degree in the world of writing, especially online. You can see how unhealthy the attitude is, especially with celebrities, who lose themselves in their persona. But also for the “honest” people, all too often it can mean wallowing in the worst aspects of their lives.

  • Neil Fleischmann

    This is very well done. Thanks for sharing, act or not. It reminds me of the post of mine I probably think of most often of any of my posts:

    http://rabbifleischmann.blogspot.com/2005/10/role-em.html

    • Loved that post. This was my favorite line: “Still, every now and then someone who knows me as quiet will see me speak or perform in public and ask if it’s an act and I’ll respond that the shy me is the act.”

      I’m also shy with people I don’t know, so I can totally relate to that. For some reason, I can launch into speeches and whatnot without too much fear, but the moment it becomes personal, I can close up. But despite that, I recently came to the same conclusion as you.

  • Rivki Silver

    Yes. I do think we are all performing, to one degree or another. I also get awkward when I meet someone who only knows me through my blog, or when my neighbors or acquaintances remark on a recent post. It’s getting better, and easier.

    I also don’t share everything. I try to only share things that I think will be useful or helpful, or entertaining (which is useful and helpful, now that I think about it).

    May your blogging help you connect to those most valuable parts of yourself. 🙂

    • Amen! And may you meet even more fans because your blog will get the attention it deserves.

  • Tzipporah

    I agree. I actually stopped blogging publicly for over a year (after a 9 yr stint) because I felt I had said all I was willing to say at that point in my life. I just recently took it up again (publicly) because I’m finding that need again. Still, no matter how honest I am, I never show all my cards–even when it seems like I may.

  • Shoshana Siegelman

    Kol ha Kavod, you just keep getting better and better. (Which is, after all, what we’re all here on earth for……)

  • Neil Fleischmann

    Thanks for reading the post I linked to and giving me your kind feedback – it means a lot to me.

    This post of yours really struck me. I think there are similarities and differences between our blogging experiences. I’m thinking of linking to this post and writing about it on my blog (already linked to it on Facebook). It will probably start with the phrase I often start with of late: “Not knowing what to write or where to write it…”

    • My pleasure 🙂 Please feel free to share more.

      And yes, please tell me if you do write a followup post. I’d love to read it.

  • Bentzy

    I’m a bit confused.

    On the first half of the article you seem to be saying that you don’y show all of yourself. Your “deepest” self you keep to yourself. And your wife.

    Then on the second half you seem to be saying that PopChassid “forced” you TO share that “deeper” self and thereby be more “in touch” with your real self.

    So, which one is it? Plus, not showing all of yourself doesn’t imply performing. It implies not showing all of yourself. It means that we readers get to know an authentic say 30% of your life. And there’s a lot we don’t know about you, but what we know is really you. And thank you for that! 🙂 (For example, is a parent “performing” in front of his kid? He definitely doesn’t share with his child his “full” self…).

    Maybe you’re just using the word “performing” very loosely (wrongly?), meaning not “showing it all”, but then, who does? Who should?

    (And for the correction (couldn’t leave a comment without one :)): Somewhere in the middle you write “So not only am I realizing that the whoel blog”.)

    • The post was reflecting a progression. The point was that I started off not sharing this side of myself with anyone. Then sharing it with my readers. And now, ultimately, sharing it with people I come in contact with, especially people who have read the blog. I eventually realized that it was ALL a performance, but the performance I was doing in my blog felt more “authentic”, not because it was the real me as opposed to any other performance, but because it reflected a BETTER me.

      I use the word performance in the sense that it is a filtered peek into someone’s life. And the definition changes throughout the post, showing my deepening understanding of the idea that you expressed in the comment: that it isn’t even a performance, just how we choose to present ourselves. Something we all do, and all that matters really is HOW we do it. And that we’re aware of it.

  • yeshivaforum

    Kick Ass. Great post. I think blogging gives us permission to be our best selves. We write out the deep dark (or light) inside and people say wow or ‘me too’. Thats the best feeling.

  • pushedoffthederech

    All the world’s a stage…the play within the play, etc. Willy Shakespeare said that, I think. and when you pour it into a blog, be prepared to get the jeers as well as the cheers. now I wish I knew how to change my discus screen name into my real one, since I don’t normally hide who I am.

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