I’m writing a tangential follow-up to Elaine’s comments on authenticity. Authenticity vs. appearance was not something that occupied my twenty year-old mind. I’d heard people shout at the top of their lungs, “I’ve got to be me.” I’d heard of people traveling vast distances to find themselves. My thoughts were, “Who else am I going to be?” Or, if I take a trip to California, it will be to enjoy a vacation not to search for myself as though that was a package left at a bus terminal.
A course in twentieth century American Literature turned my attention to the choice between authenticity and appearance. The book that most exemplified this issue, according to the teacher, was Saul Bellow’s THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH. I never finished this book because I was tired of reading picaresque novels about males finding their identities. The way I saw it, white males in academia had more than a head start over any female. White men should acknowledge their advantage instead of figuratively gazing at their misunderstood navels.
Another professor, much respected, said that a noted female actress of the time was seeking to have more than her body admired. How ridiculous is that, his tone implied. I’m sure he wasn’t just talking about the famous actress but about all the small-brained female students and teachers who wanted him to see their achievements as well as their curves.
Back to authenticity and Saul Bellow. Despite not finishing THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH, I received an A for the course. Was my grade authentic or for appearance only?
The American Literature professor had to be in his sixties and had spent his adult life teaching. I believe he was examining his roles as teacher, parent, and a Jew in America. During his lectures, I caught glimpses of the professor struggling in his role as a parent, especially towards his daughters. He questioned the value of what he taught. Was he helping the young people who took his courses? What did it mean to be Jewish in America where Christmas and Easter are as important as July 4th?
A quarter of the tenured staff in the English Department was Jewish, way more than the percentage of Jewish-Americans in the population. So why were his religious and ethnic origins an issue for him? Because he felt obliged to give the appearance first and foremost of being a New England Yankee? When I attended college, no Black of Hispanic teachers taught American Literature in the department.
I learned more about the difference between authenticity and appearance from the teacher than from the assigned books. He was genuinely trying to come to terms with his roles in society. He seemed to care deeply about whether he examined issues truthfully or in accordance with the norms of Academia.
So, maybe my A for the course wasn’t a farce. I continue to think about the differences between authenticity and appearance. As an immigrant from the UK many years ago, I could’ve embraced the stereotype my neighbors and co-workers wanted to give me. Something made me resist sinking into the ready-made role. It didn’t correspond with what I knew of my childhood in the UK.
I’ve seen others battle with authenticity. Sometimes achieving authenticity seems not such a good thing. I want to say, “So you’re authentic self is a flake. Maybe you should’ve stayed with appearances.” Or, “So you’re authentic self is a macho, all feminists are lesbians mindset. You’re hitting on the wrong broad.”
Appearances create a façade displaying wealth, perfect democracy and justice, images of people too content to wrestle with the issues of authentic vs. appearances. Once a person steps through the façade, that person has to sort through confusion to find out who he/she is.
WWK Blogger Paula Gail Benson has two short stories running in Kings River Life Magazine this weekend, "Pelican Spring" and "The Mama Factor." Both are Mother's Day short stories. You can read them by going to: http://kingsriverlife.com/category/kings-river-reviewers/terrific-tales/
Linda Rodriguez is a finalist in two categories for the International Latino Book Awards (given out at BEA the end of May)--one for Every Last Secret and one for editing Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriquena Poets Look at Their American Lives (with Gloria Vando, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell). Congratulations, Linda!
The second SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, has been released by Wildside Press. WWK authors, Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise and E. B. Davis have short stories in this volume, which can be bought at Wildside Press, the usual retailers and will be available at the Malice Domestic Conference. Look for "the story behind the stories" on May 1 here!
Upcoming Salad Bowl Saturdays include authors Sasscer Hill on 5/18 and Carolyn Mulford on 5/25. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send a message to Jim Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.