I’d wear Groucho Marx glasses every day if I could. It has limited effect now, however, since practically no one now knows who Groucho Marx was. The fun of flicking a stogie is lost on 90% of the people I encounter. So, why bother?
Plenty of life is about dress up, pretending to be hip, smart, beautiful, compassionate, interested, competent, confident, energetic, able, willing and unafraid. Personally, I think a person has to be unafraid to pretend to be any of those other things.
A long time ago, following the observation of a very good friend that I was pretty uneven around the edges and needed a shrink, I embarked on seeing a psychologist every week. I would walk to her office which was in the back of her neat little bungalow across from the town’s city hall and library. I’d try to get glimpses of her life, analyze her wall hangings and plants on my little march through her living room to the room in the back that served as her office, the place where she shrunk people. I came to be shrunk.
In these sessions, she endeavored to understand why I had done all the things that I’d done and why I couldn’t do the next thing that needed to be done. Why did I have the pluck to make so many mistakes and not the wherewithal to take control of my life.
“You are who you pretend to be,” she told me more than once.
I want to pretend to be Janis Joplin singing but not her the rest of the time.
I want to pretend to be Bernadette Devlin but not hurt anybody.
I want to be Layla.
Oh, please. Get serious.
We spent a whole hour talking about how I felt I wasn’t good enough to date a man who was running for mayor. It seemed self-evident to me. She sat in her armchair and looked at me, cocking her head this way and that, “Why don’t you think you’re good enough for him?”
Because I’m sitting here?
“You are who you pretend to be.” The obvious message was: figure out how to pretend to be someone better than you are pretending to be at the moment which is a chasing her tail single mother involved with a not healthy person who, if she lets things go the way they have been going, could end up doing her harm of a long-lasting variety.
“I want to pretend to be not nuts.”
We talked more about this. What it would mean. What are the core elements of not being nuts, needy, dependent, enabling, and screwed up?
“I like your shoes,” she said one day after I flopped down in the patient chair, the one with the flowered slipcover next to healthy, green potted plants, nothing like the lone jade plant in my window at home, left there by my mother on her last mission of mercy. “Are those your catch-me-fuck-me shoes?”
I wondered if she was coming on to me but she sat still as can be in her shrink chair, her yellow tablet on her lap, her pen poised just so ready to write down my answer. Yes! I should answer, these are, in fact, my catch-me-fuck-me shoes. Thank you for noticing. Aren’t they lovely?
I remember that moment. I remember it well. But I don’t remember the shoes. What were they saying about me? Who was I pretending to be? I don’t remember.
But I know I bought the shoes. I put them on my feet. I know they made me feel some kind of way that I liked. They weren’t bought for me and put on my feet. I controlled that. I decided. I was who I pretended to be.
The lesson wasn’t lost on me. In fact, I think, looking back, it saved my life. A little thing like that, who could believe it?