The memory is vivid, fresh. Cradling the phone in the middle of the night, listening to the dial tone, waiting for the person on the other end to pick up. Waiting to deliver with finesse the speech prepared. About how this charade, this farce of a relationship, should continue, because the love, the connection is there. Because many storms had been weathered before, and besides, one couldn’t possibly live without the other. How had you ever done so in the first place?
It rang true. Every delicious bit of it. The tears were real, as were the trembling fingers and the crack in the voice. But then, there was that eye roll. Right before the receiver was picked up on the other and the “click” which followed the connection rang. An eye roll.
In that moment, you watch yourself go through the motions, share pretensions of why it’s all meant to be, why you’re all in, when the truth is that you really don’t care. It’s not even about the other. It’s about you, what you can get from them. And the fact that you’re scared. Scared to hell to be alone after being joined at the hip for so long. Scared to face yourself and all that will lay bare before you. Scared of the truth to the point that you’d rather live the lie. To the point that you actually do.
Tunis, November 2013 / Social Media Reflections
This is where I should probably claim some creative inspiration over the above and draw a parallel with some profound experience I read about, distance myself from the accusation of it all. But I didn’t. It’s not. I lived it. It’s an eerie thing watching yourself be fake, act the part. It’s literally an outer body experience – you feel removed, hovering over your self, watching, thinking, like, is this really me? It’s an eerie feeling, knowing perfectly well you’re putting on a show, going through the motions, rehearsing the lines. And yet, I did it. You do it. We all do it. In so many different ways, at different points in our lives.
Kinda like that Instagram or Facebook photo you’re considering. Rephrase: sizing up for maximum impact, for conveying this persona you’ve created and presented to the world, silver platter included. Figuring out which filter will work best in covering up that wave of loneliness, lack or boredom that’s threatening to engulf you. Anticipating the string of likes, loves, comments that will follow; savoring the feeling of satisfaction, the sigh of relief that will soon come. Accepted. The stamp of approval on your envelope, destination “me too I dey some”. No idea, what this is about? Listen to Mutombo da Poet’s “#SociallyYou“.
Why do we do the things we do? No, really, what’s the motive behind what we all do, behind all we do? Those are the questions I’ve been having a tryst with for the past month. These days it seems pretension rules supreme. “Fake it till you make it” is no longer a question of being courageous in a quest to discover new elements of oneself, but rather, fake friendship, feign interest, deliver a world class, Oscar-worthy performance until you get what you want. Why? Because you can. There’s a scarcity of many things today. Authenticity is one of them.
Even our moments are no longer authentic. So you’re enjoying yourself yeah, chowing down on some serious food somewhere. Mid-swallow, you stop. It’s not the pepper. It’s not a bone. It’s not even the fact that you’d promised yourself you would only eat in moderation. It’s that you haven’t been ceremonious in your eating of the food. You take out your phone. Position your bowl of food, half a showing of the sprite you’re sipping on. Click. Now, let the games begin. Only thing is, you barely have a chance to savor the food, you’re distracted by the “love” notifications popping up from Instagram.
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”- Jim Morisson
Accra, January 2014 / Defining Authenticity
How exactly do you define being “authentic”? Being true? Keeping it real? Dropping the Act?
Who is authentic? Is it she who fills the shoes of a role delivered to her by “society”, presenting what is expected of her? He who is unapologetically crude? They who, knowing full well what selfish, ungrateful bastards they are, act generously, graciously — because that’s who they are aspiring to be? We who really and truly believe we are being ourselves, not seeing the canvas of social constructs that dictate our every thought, every word, every action and reaction?
Who defines authenticity anyway?
This post was stalled when I tried to define “authenticity”. Where I’d come to the conclusion that being authentic meant “being you, being true to your calling, your path”, I was approaching it from my own notions of authenticity, of what is “good”, “purposeful”, “real”. That’s when the writing stalled. Fast forward some weeks later and this is what comes to the fore: being authentic is different for everyone. Even for any one person it can be different from one moment to the next. It will not succumb to any one definition, because there is no any one person to do the defining.
The authentic you is the person you are effortlessly. Without thought, on impulse, naturally, the very stuff you are made of. As humans going through natural stages, we expand in our thinking, in our doing, in our very being. Someone might seem “shallow-minded” to you – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are non-authentic (because you have defined authentic as being “deep”). The thief who stole your purse might seem “bad”, “wayward”, but you don’t know them or their full story. Perhaps their authentic persona is someone who provides for their family – at all cost. It is who they are, in that moment in time. It’s the level of awareness they have gotten to. Don’t judge that. You might choose to not acknowledge it, but don’t judge it. Once upon a time, you were there. In your learning, you stumbled. And you stumble still.
Does that mean people cannot be held responsible for who they are? No. With time a pattern develops. The things you gravitate towards. The things that bring you joy, that irk you. Your response/reactions to people, things, situations. The things that continuously come forth when you mirror with another person. The pattern emerges. And therein you find the brushstrokes to canvas who you truly are, the ingredients to discover the authentic you and all that comes along with it.
Things are rarely what they appear to be. You see the fufu and light soup, but don’t see the garden eggs, pepper, ginger, yam, and all else floating as molecules in that soup. You don’t see Behind The Seens.
And so, it comes to this: the why. Ask why. Not necessarily to others, but to yourself. Why are you doing this? Why are you reading this? Why are you posting that photo, why are you taking that video? What’s the end goal here? And be honest with yourself. “I’m curious”, “I want everyone to know I’m having fun.” “I want to share” “I feel left out”. Speak the truth, speak your truth. Not necessarily to the world wide web, but to yourself. Watch yourself and in time, you will see the patterns.
How will you know when you’re faking it? You will just know. On a subconscious level it will be against the very blueprint of your being. You will know, and you will feel it. As will others. Again, as will others.
The Bible says: “The truth shall set you free”. I always wondered – so if I kill someone and go report myself, then I’ll lose the shackles of guilt and maybe even get a jail free card? That was literal thinking. The truth shall set you free. Each one you speak, each you honor, each angle of authentic truth you acknowledge, brings you closer. Closer to meeting that authentic you – waiting behind layers of time, space, realization. To that best version of yourself that you’re growing into. It shall set YOU free. Not the who you are now, but the who you are meant to be. You are the work in progress here. Even as you observe others. Even the inauthentic helps unravel the authentic. Stay true.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou
In the spirit of practicing authenticity, this first post ended quite unlike what I’d expected; maybe even a little anti-climactic. I’m tempted to edit it kakra, to make it sound more, I don’t know, deep? Maybe I was hoping there would be some grand formula in all this, some clear direction on how to discern the authentic from the..well, inauthentic. But after a couple of interesting episodes over the weeks, I see I was being a tad bit high-handed, “holier than thou”. I promised raw, uncut, unedited, so that’s what it’s gonna be.
The questions remain, but this is what it boils down to: People work with what they have. A child and a parent can look at the same thing and see very different things. Likewise, that person who you consider to be “inauthentic” might just be being who they are, in that space, in that time. You can’t force a flower to bud before it’s time.
So. Don’t judge. Focus on you. Stay true to who you are and ultimately to who you’re destined to be. And where you interface with another, do so with love and understanding. Recognizing that each is on their own path, and at different points in their journey. And that someone’s journey is not necessarily about you – or your definition of what/who they should be.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.