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A liar, a scammer

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NOVEMBER 28, 2016

“What is your column about, exactly?”

I was quite literally asked this question on a date last week. He, like an assortment of other people in my life this semester, was mildly curious about my column’s intentions. People seemed to like my work, but clearly the larger whole of my column’s common threads and throughlines didn’t make a lot of sense.

Some of my close friends and family seemed really proud of me for what they perceived to be my newfound sincerity, which they found to be embedded in my writing. I’ve been an exceptionally opaque person for the whole of my life, so the emotional transparency in my work probably seemed like emotional growth.

One fellow columnist remarked that my work was composed of a set of “aesthetic conversations.” My editor declared lovingly that each piece I wrote was a string of pretty truisms and heady discourse.

Forgive me for being unclear. In my own life, where I see myself being transparent, other people see smoke and mirrors. I don’t mean to be this way; it’s just my nature.

This column, first and foremost, has been about lying. It says so right in the title.

I’m a liar. I always have been. Honestly, I’ve lied in every Fake Out piece I’ve written. Sometimes I lied about the chronology of my life for narrative clarity. Sometimes I streamlined event timelines for word count. Once or twice, I lied just to get away with it. I encourage you to make a drinking game of spotting the lies in my column.

In retrospect, I’m not sure I believe myself in every column. My viewpoint on my own work has changed too much week to week. I did my best to write opinions that I believed to be genuine, but sometimes in spite of myself I wrote for effect.

Authenticity, to me, is such a cop out. It’s based on a bunch of norms I don’t fit into. I don’t know what an authentic identity is, really. I do believe that I’m as authentic-adjacent as I can be. I have to consciously decide every day on the most authentic set of traits to represent myself and then put them on like a second skin. I’m a different version of myself in front of every person I encounter in my life. Day to day, I mix and match and try on all the versions of authenticity that I could think of. In 21 years, that hasn’t changed, though it has gotten considerably less disorienting.

I feel everything way too much all the time. My feelings are too big for the size of my bony white body. I don’t know how other people deal with the heaviness of being alive, but I feel like everybody else is in on some secret way to live wholly and genuinely. Meanwhile I’m left eternally disappointed, living inside my own absurd fantasies. I’m Joni Mitchell and Amy Winehouse at the same time, living in a David Lynch movie, performing the monologue from “Macbeth” to no one in particular. I know I’m the only one paying attention to all my nonsense. I expect too much of myself, and it blurs my vision unreasonably. Mine is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing, but at least I tell it with pizazz.

I’ve never felt in half-measures, but I’ve always had to live within them. I myself am a half-measure. I’m a shadow of who I’d like to be, wrenched halfway between the internal and external demands of my personhood.

Clearly I don’t have the tools to articulate myself on my own. My irony doesn’t cut it. So, for most of my life, I’ve let artists speak for me.

Art and entertainment are just profitable forms of lying, projections of selves that can only ever be half-true half-measures. Human voices are too loud to gather honesty from most of the time, but art’s voice is quiet enough that if you strain to listen, you can almost hear the truth, even in spite of the artist’s human hand.

This column was the closest I could come to self-expression — a collection of truisms and heady sentiments that I processed through the vessel of other artists’ voices. In spite of my narcissism, I still couldn’t find it in myself to write autobiographically without a proxy lens.

I curate myself as thoughtfully and meticulously as I can online so that maybe, if someone chances to listen, they can hear my voice in my work. I don’t trust my real voice for that. As I’ve learned once again over the course of this semester, it’s far too opaque.  

Social media is my favorite mode of self-expression. I started my Twitter five years ago. I launched a Finstagram at the frontier of the Fake Instagram thing. Then I started a third account for even more honesty. I now have seven Instagram accounts in total. It speaks to my character that I feel a need to be that seen.

I could always opt for silence of course, but I like the sound of my voice far too much.

Don’t ask me who I am. Ask me who I built. God knows, I’d love to talk more about it.

Justin Knight writes the Monday arts & entertainment column on building identity by consuming culture. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @jknightlion.

NOVEMBER 28, 2016

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