I was sat in the hairdresser’s chair looking at myself without my glasses. The hairdresser and I had finished discussing what I wanted to have done that day; ‘just a trim please’ and now we were at that stage where things get awkward. The small-talk stage.
Have you ever sat in that chair and thought ‘how am I going to get through this?’. I’m not sure if it’s the same for everyone but for me the idea of being stuck in awkward conversation with people I don’t know is a nightmare. That’s why, when faced with the arbitrary ‘So, what do you do?’, last time I was captive in that stupid chair, I found myself answering before I could even think.
‘Oh I’m just training to be a teacher’.
It was out before I could stop myself.
It’s a lie, a bare-faced lie. But in that split second I tried on a new identity where I didn’t have to explain what I do, content marketing, what that is, how yes, it’s a bit of a weird job and on and on in agonisingly awkward conversation. It was something we both understood. I didn’t need any explaining. It was still a lie. But in the moment it was easier for me than the truth. It was fun to pretend to be someone different for a while. I liked the idea that in some alternate universe I was training to be a teacher. But it was still a lie.
What are these things; the lies we tell strangers?
When my brother was younger he would concoct identities for himself which he wore for a while, like an ill-fitting coat, until either the allure of that new identity failed him or he found a better one to try on for a while.
So it went, first a rich guy who could fly to Barcelona at the drop of a hat to see El Classico. Next a Phil Mitchell-esque thug who like saying things such as ‘all riiiiight’ and ‘darlin’’. For a short while he dabbled in ‘heavy metal god’ with long flowing hair; but when he realised it would be over five years for him to grow his hair to the desired length and would also require straighteners to tame his wavy locks that identity soon lost its appeal.
Thankfully the proof of that particular phase remains; in photos of my graduation. I love to look at them. He’s so confident with his aviators and shoulder length hair. It’s inspiring to me, a habitual second guesseser and worrier, to see how much disregard he had for the opinions of others when he was in the zone.
It was no use trying to tell him that he was more than enough the way he was. He just didn’t believe us. Because the way he was is tied up with all sorts of uncomfortable truths that his new identities didn’t include; like autism, processing issues and a struggle to understand things that some of us take for granted.
It was easier for him to try on a new identity that didn’t feature those heart breaking facets of his existing one. If he was Phil Mitchell, he’d have respect because on Eastenders the Mitchell brothers are respected. Simple. If he was rich no one would be bothered by his quirks, because ‘money talks baaybay’. I have often thought about the fact that only rich people seem to be ‘lovably eccentric’ which is enough explanation for their quirks. The rest of us are just get labels ‘autism’ ‘social anxiety’ ‘weird’; it’s funny that.
Over the years he has settled down into what I would call a more natural identity. By this I mean he’s less theatrical about it. Every now and then he’ll say ‘all riiiiight’ instead of ‘hello’ and I’ll cock my eyebrow at him and we’ll giggle and he’ll say but it just sounds better! For the most part though, he’s settling into himself; influenced by all of those things but ultimately an individual rather than a stereotype. I’m so happy that I can witness the way he’s working himself out. Because I can’t imagine trying to deal with all of my quirks and autism too.
I used to be frustrated by the efforts that he went to when he tried to adopt a new identity but recently I’ve realised we all do it to some extent. Or at least I do.
We’ve probably all wished we could be more confident when we needed to take a meeting by storm. Or more vivacious, or studious…or whatever it is. Beyonce is Sasha Fierce on stage, for example.
We lie all the time, at home and at work. Business negotiation could just be re-branded ‘we’re both lying but one of us will come up trumps in the end.’ My service is the best you can buy, no it isn’t , yes it is…..and I buy this product for a £1 and sell it to you for £10. It’s all around us, in everything we do, and yet it’s still somehow taboo.
I was chatting to my friend the other day about how we’re different people with different groups. There’s work-me, home-me and the me I am with friends. These are ultimately all me but different occasions draw on different facets of my personality and bring them to the fore. Is one of them less me than the others? I’m not sure, but I think some of us are just more comfortable and open about assuming roles; actors make a career out of it!
In that moment in the hairdresser’s chair, I realised that my brother and I aren’t so different after all. We just go about it differently. If anything he’s more honest about it. Sometimes it’s easier to be something we’re not because what we are requires explanation.
So, next time my brother tries on a new identity and plays around with it to see if it fits, I’m just going say ‘go for it, mate. You do you!’
I still might wind him up about it a bit though, because that’s what sisters are for.
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