I was in the shower last Thursday night, trying to ideate what this blog post should be. In theory, I keep a reserve of a few blog posts I can put up as a fallback, but too easily a fallback turns into a crutch. I didn't have a single post in reserve. What was I going to write? Maybe I could churn out another politics post, but was there enough meat to make it distinct from last week? Perhaps I could put up something I'd made previously, in lieu of a new post?
There’s a debate about whether alcohol makes a person more authentic. Some say that it acts as a truth serum, revealing the authentic desires of a person that they are too scared to let out. Others maintain that since alcohol interferes with judgement, it inspires the person to do and say things that aren’t authentic to them at all. Obviously, I don’t much experience on the matter, but both sides can’t be true—can they?
I was going through in my head the most meaningful posts I’d written: “Utopia,” "Echoing,” “The Avocado vs. Cucumber Game,” “Who Should A Representative Represent?” and “Someone’s Treadmill” came to mind. (Go read them if you haven’t!) These aren’t perfect posts. But writing each of these posts wasn’t an arduous task to complete, it was a chance to get my feelings onto the page. My essence came through.
Hillary Clinton has been rebuked on many occasions for not being authentic, whereas others like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders haven’t been. Perhaps it’s a gender thing? That’s undoubtedly part of it, though plenty of male politicians have been considered fake. Is it a malleability/rigidity issue? If so, rigidity can be just as dangerous as malleability, yet the latter seems to be more often disdained. Anyway, couldn’t the polished, some would say robotic version of Clinton be authentic to her? Many people are serious by nature.
Authenticity! My best posts were authentic to who I was. I quickly came up with a gimmick: I wouldn’t edit the post at all. Just submit my first draft of the post. That would be the most authentic, right? I’m a big fan of the meta. Also, I wouldn’t include images, italicized section headings, or the quote feature. Those features were just pulled from articles about what the human brain finds most aesthetically pleasing or something. This post wouldn’t be about manipulation. I would also title it as simply and descriptively as possible: “Authenticity.”
I recently finished doing applications and interviews for high school (it feels so good to be done.) It’s all about being professional: don’t use contractions in your essay; don’t talk too much or too little in your interview; don’t do this; don’t do that—but also, be authentic to yourself. That’s the most important part. “See the contradiction?” I remember thinking, or perhaps saying something like that. “The real me uses contractions!”
I sat down to write the post. After writing the first sentence, I tried moving the clauses around. The gimmick wasn’t working. I was going to edit this blog post. That seemed like a lesson about authenticity, that maybe the first thing that comes out isn’t the truest. After all, I’d written plenty of good posts in numerous sittings, with the idea percolating through my brain for weeks. For instance, “Listen,” or “The Conflux.”
Each example above has a common thread—a struggle over what truly makes a person authentic. Is a person authentic when they’re drunk, or sober? Is Hillary Clinton authentic when she’s a duplicitous politician, or an empathetic construct? Am I authentic when I write application essays, or unedited blog posts? Perhaps the answer in each case is both, sort of.
The post would have two threads, one going through the content I wanted to express and the other highlighting the behind-the-scenes narrative, and they would gradually start connecting as the post went on: a conflux of threads intertwining harmoniously to explain the full story.
Truth be told, authenticity isn’t caused by the mental state you’re in, the emotional content of your speeches, or the word choices you use, though it might be correlated. There isn't a checklist for authenticity. One would defeat the whole point of authenticity: something coming directly from you.
As I was working, I took a look at the authentic five blog posts from earlier. They covered vastly different subject matter. "The Avocado vs. Cucumber Game" was about a math game, "Who Should A Representative Represent?" was about political theory, and–fine–"Echoing" was about philosophy, and "Utopia" and "Someone's Treadmill" also talked about philosophy with basically the same thesis as each other. But they're all mine. My identity covers a variety of different disciplines and ideas, all of which are a part of me. Good things came when I unleashed myself.
There's something disarming about authenticity, though. In Math with Bad Drawings, Ben Orlin tells a story of when "my roommate Nilesh smiled and told me, 'You know what I love? How often you use the word "conceivably." It's one of your signature words.' I froze. I reflected. And in that moment, the word 'conceivably' dropped out of my vocabulary." Look at what just happened. Orlin was complimented on something he did that his roommate noted was unique to him, and then stopped doing it because he was scared of positive scrutiny. We have a fear of being different that society has matured in us, a fear of authenticity, that's squeezing in our true selves.
Awhile ago, I did a writing workshop that suggested approaching composition with a metaphorical "writing hat" and "editing hat." When you're wearing your writing hat, you're not supposed to edit. And while you have your editing hat on, you're not supposed to write. I don't do this, but sometimes I feel like I should. As I wrote the final paragraphs of the post, the conflux part, I did both at the same time. The dialogue inside my head was critical of each word that went onto the screen–this is quite nebulous, this is pretty repetitive, this is absolutely not authentic. It's the epitome of ironic that I was having trouble with authenticity in my authenticity post. God, I'm worried the post is losing its touch after all this self-scrutiny. I hope my message is coming through.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that, too often, we reject ideas out of hand, dismissing our new creations instead of trying to make them work. Authenticity isn't about what comes out. It's about the process. Anything can be authentic–as long as its creator does their best to nurture the idea, suppressing their self-critical dialogue and letting it run. Of course roses are more beautiful than thorns–but thorns are more authentic than roses. And there's something about an authentic rose that makes it superior to a fake one. So don't let the beautiful thorns get in the way of the roses: make your life yours. You only have one chance to do it.
As I conclude the post, I realized that, whatever happened with it, this post was authentic enough. It would do. I scheduled the post for Tuesday.