Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Pretender

     “Be yourself,” said the famous playwright, Oscar Wilde, “everyone else is taken.”

     The idea of being authentic isn’t new. It isn’t pop culture, although it appears to have gained momentum in the last hundred years. It echoes the ancient Greek aphorism: know thyself. It appears in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when the obsequious, posturing Polonius gives the ironic advice to his son: to thine own self be true.

     To be honest, I have occasionally wrestled with the maxim of being one’s self. There are just too many times, throughout my life, when I have pretended to be someone else. Besides pretending to be a princess who has fallen on hard times in order to exude the poise and confidence to get a job I felt unsuited for, and pretending to be an artist in order to come to terms with my new glasses, I have repeatedly pretended to be a younger, slimmer, nearly chic Mrs. Claus at Christmas; a British woman named Jane who works in a bookshop on Charing Cross Road; a novelist like Charles Dickens, or storyteller like Isak Dinesen; a friend of Miss Marple’s who has come to tea at Danemead Cottage; and countless other characters from novels and film.

     I must have spent half of my childhood pretending to be somebody other than myself, but I don’t suppose that is anything out of the ordinary. It was later, when I crossed some invisible line drawn in the sand that I began to feel the pressure to either look and act like everyone else or just be myself. The thing of it is, I am both. And I am neither. I am a pretender. Isn’t it ironic, that being myself often means imagining I am someone I am not?

     But I am not alone. I recently heard pop singer, Meghan Trainor say to a nervous young artist on The Voice: “When I get nervous before a performance, I pretend I am Beyonce.”


  1. I'm happy being me; I don't have enough sense to wisely choose someone else.

  2. I'm happy being me to but still long for ways to better the me I should be:)
    I empathize thoroughly with this article. I watch The Voice and remember those words by Meghan and thinking h-m-m-m!!

    Right now I'm reading Little Women because there's a bit of Jo running through my veins...and Marmee and Meg and Beth and Amy too:)

    1. In William Nicholson's play, Shadowlands, he gives C. S. Lewis the line: "We read to know we are not alone." I found myself in Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables), often off in another world pretending to be the Lady of Shallot.

  3. Do all of us play at this Pretender game or do we only recognize it as was grow older?

    But it is a wonderful game, as you play it in relation to the books we read, isn't it? What is the name of that wonderful book I'm thinking of that a senior moment is stealing the name from me right now? Something like I Capture the Castle? Is that it? But the young girl speaks of putting herself as a character in every book she reads? And isn't that the miracle of reading a good book? These characters you've written about above, what fun to try on their shoes it has been for you and for me! This joy continues to be something I indulge in.

    But yes, "crossing that line"? How tempting it is to make the wrong choice, the choice to try to be what we're not, to imitate another even if it's not an authentic choice for us. And the result usually is that we lose ourself in the process. And experience dissatisfaction from trying to be a copy, a wannabe.

    It is often difficult for me to live authentically. I get distracted by the demands of life, the demands of blogging, the expectations of others. And I have to face it, by wanting to please.

    There are glimmers of hope sent to me lately, from Scripture and even from pulling out an old Alexandra Stoddard book yesterday and opening it up to a chapter on living authentically. And once again I come back to asking myself: What is really important to me? How do I want to spend my time today?

    I will still read to know I'm not alone! If I'm alive and capable of reading I will be doing that. And your post proves to me that blogging can offer the gem, sometime, of clicking on a blog friend's post and discovering that I'm not alone. (But it can be such a slippery slope, can't it? A tiger to keep tamed?)

    I found strength this morning from reading The Pretender. And joy from discovering mutual roles we've played. And from Janet, above, remembering when I read Little Women and played out all the rolls but secretly wishing I were like Amy--beautiful, artistic, engaged to a wealthy man!

    This post has been a joy!

    1. Lovely to read your thoughts, Dewena. Thank you for taking the time to articulate them. I think my life would feel wizened without this gift of imagination; it gives me such pleasure.

  4. I used to know a real woman called Jane who worked in a bookshop called Silver Moon on Charing Cross Road. When we were little my sister and I used to play a game called Anns and Jeans. I was always Jean and the game ended there.

  5. Oh, how I wish I could pretend to be someone else! It would be fun to exchange brains with someone else!

  6. I spent most of my childhood pretending to be all manner of different people - such a vivid imagination that hasn't really left me. But now as I age realise I can only be me - there is little time left to be anyone else even though I am not always happy with who I am.