i like my webcam. it’ll be two years old this march, and i like it. i like being on it and i like being caught mid-sneeze or mid-yawn or even mid-stretch.
why? being vain has something to do with it, of course. i like the way i look, even sans makeup and in sweatpants, because it’s me. i’m the only person who looks exactly like me. profound, no? well, no. but it’s the truth.
why else? i like being seen. i spent a large part of my childhood hiding silently, not to avoid any sort of trauma or humiliation but because i was painfully shy. i kept amazing people, though, which thrust me back into an uncomfortable spotlight. my parents are both charming as hell, and i never felt that charming. i thought i was being realistic about my advantages; in my mind, if you were good at one thing, you necessarily had to be bad at another. my parents were perfect examples, being so opposite and each being so good in wildly different areas. as for me, i was good at school so it followed that i wasn’t all that great with people.
but i was okay with people. i always had friends, and was semi-popular … as popular as the geeks ever got, anyway. that system of advantages and disadvantages haunted me throughout adolescence in the form of repression, sexual and otherwise: i’m good at acting, and i’m bad at being a girlfriend. i’m good at writing, and i’m bad at being funny. things weighed out, in my mind. i was willing to make these trade-offs.
along the way, people would try and convince me otherwise, that i could be both, that anyone could be both. i saw others excel and thought secretly they must be heroin addicts, or that they hit animals when no one else was looking, or drove drunk, or lied to their mothers. i expected faults in others to justify the faults in myself. if we all did bad things once in a while then i was at least fitting in.
there were some related appearance issues along the way. i was told once by a theatre teacher in high school that i had beautiful, expressive hands, and they soon became my vanity. this countered the fact that i was told repeatedly by friends and boyfriends that i was scrawny-chested. “nice hands, bad boobs” was a trade-off i thought i could make. doing well in english and poorly in math was another trade-off that i thought i could make. both squished my spirit, albeit temporarily.
later, when i realized that not being terrific at everything was no excuse for closing myself off to new experiences, i saw all i had lost as a child and an adolescent. i saw every time i had picked the default fork in the path just because it was “what i was good at”. i saw every person i had avoided because there must be something awful lurking under the surface of so much success.
and i also saw what i had to do next. i had to let go of so much prejudice about what people can accomplish, what i can accomplish. i found myself dreaming my childhood dreams again, picturing myself as the one thing i shoved furthest away each passing year: a librarian.
it may not seem like a glamorous occupation to some. to me it is every sparkling inch of success. i am good at many things, i can say this now, and this is one of them. looking at myself, i see someone less afraid; not unafraid, but bolder, taking more risks and learning more as a result. i never liked looking at myself, not really, because in every bit of me i saw the choices i had forced myself not to make. no wonder i hated being seen, if all i saw was what i had not accomplished. my failure was not in what i did wrong but in what i didn’t do at all. and all it took was one glance at me to see it. what started as a child’s shyness evolved into an intricate structure of self-loathing that’s just now starting to dissolve. the person underneath wants so desperately to be seen.