If you do a good enough job inventing yourself you will find your way into a world you want to live in. – The Chair
It occurred to me when swamped in a myriad of student scripts that it is the perception of many more than one person under the age of 25 that we are living in post apocalyptic times. Don’t keep telling them, this is not normal. They get it. Believe me.
I’m not sure what to do with this since I don’t necessarily disagree. So I went to see a new documentary film called The Gospel According to Andre, which traces the life of former Vogue creative director and well-known fashion icon Andre Leon Talley.
Mr. Talley is a huge 6’6” gay African American man of a certain age who grew up in a time of segregation in Durham, North Carolina, has a masters degree from Brown University in French literature and for a number of years in the 1970s was the Paris bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily. Not to mention he is friends with every major designer on the planet. He has also for decades had a reputation for being a character.
This is often the kind word used for flamboyant, larger-than-life gay men of any age. The unkind words – well, we all know what they are, so there is no reason to repeat them.
What does bear repeating is this: Gay men like Mr. Talley are not merely characters. They are studied human beings who, when faced with marginalization and oppression consciously choose and hone a character to be and use it in order to be the person they want to become.
They, or shall I say we – after all, I refer to myself here in the third person and as an inanimate object – may initially be seen as a bit of a joke to some but what’s presented is dead serious.
Like one’s choice of clothing (Note: Mr. Talley’s being luxuriously bold printed flowing caftans that I could never pull off as anything other than draperies, and even that’s doubtful), it becomes, in Mr. Talley’s words, one’s armor. It is what makes you feel empowered enough to navigate – the more unkind words are claw or climb – to the places you long to but fear you never will.
Yes, we all make these choices daily. Whether we choose to acknowledge, admit or even know it or not is an entirely different story.
I have spent decades observing, meeting and writing about successful people in pop culture as a writer, journalist, social climber, friend and wanna be acquaintance, and one of the few traits every one of them had in common was a fierce understanding of their talent(s) and an evolving plan in how they were going to present themselves (and it) to the world.
They often don’t do it alone. Many times they begin, or even continue to thrive, by imitating other people they admire. Still, what they eventually evolve to becomes uniquely them – even if it’s more often than not an amalgam of quite of bit of what came before them, and then some.
In Mr. Talley’s case it was a little bit iconic Vogue editor Diana Vreeland (his first mentor in fashion), his grandmother and other churchwomen he grew up with in the Jim Crow South, and a bunch of fellow fashion-obsessed contemporaries he met at Brown and RISD, among many others. This was then mixed with major dollops of himself to become the person you see in the film with the grand lifestyle and laundry list of achievements.
For the rest of us – well, what we’ve done has gotten us the experiences and lives we’ve all had up to this point. They might not all be the subject of a feature film (Note: Though each probably could be) but are a result of every choice we have made – both consciously and unconsciously.
And as any decent writer can tell you it’s always better to at least actively contribute to your own narrative, even if you can’t totally control it.
Yes, this makes all the difference. Rather than acted upon, you are acting out – or being out, proudly – using your smarts to get you to where you want to go in a world that to you might often seem post apocalyptic. It offers that many opportunities.
But this is the way that it was – and probably always was – for many of us, and so many others who won’t or up until recently still refused to acknowledge it. Not to mention, it is the way it seems to be for too many now.
It is most certainly what many of my current students are feeling and writing about judging from the pile of scripts I’ve just gotten through. Of eight screenplays in one class, six were set in post apocalyptic worlds. That’s 75%. The seventh was about an inanimate object in a pushed fictional reality – so draw your own conclusions there – and the eighth was set in a foreign country its young protagonist had never been to nor successfully navigates until we get the feeling that, at the very end, perhaps she just…may?
Though the veneer changes it would seem the circumstances of the world are likely just as crazy as they’ve ever been. So as a default human warrior you want to choose an arsenal to make you strong, to make you feel comfortable enough in your own skin to do your best AND to keep you safe in the inevitable tough times.
Choosing a persona is one way to do this and, no, it’s not about being phony even though technically the word is derived from the Latin term for a theatrical mask. That is according to my husband, who is always annoyingly right about things I am so sure of.
So…since he is so…grrr…correct about so many things and the secret to a happy marriage is admitting when you are wrong even when you still want to insist you are smarter despite all evidence to the contrary – why don’t we just compromise (yuck) and use the more modern word everybody and their mother has adopted for this instead– branding.
Yes (ugh) choosing a version of who you are to get you through – with all of the accouterments that entails – both visually and intellectually – is nothing more than an old strategy for what it turns out is the not so new technique of…blech….modern day branding.
And be assured you couldn’t possible hate that word any more than I already do. In case you didn’t know.
But like broccoli and brussell sprouts with nothing more than lots of olive oil, salt and pepper and perhaps a hint of good balsamic, we can ALL grow to love it. (Note: Maybe). Because it WILL make it easier for the world to see YOU – or at least a side of you – that will best showcase an already impressive and/or outstanding aspect of yourself and get you where you want to go. (Note: Trust me, I learned this the hard way).
That is, if like Mr. Talley, you’re bold enough to show a true part of who you really are deep down inside.