authentic adjective au·then·tic | \ ə-ˈthen-tik , ȯ-\
Definition of authentic
1: worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact
3: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character
SO yes, I did take a brief hiatus from Words of a Dandelion. New job, new dog. (My next blog will cover the dog situation.) But in the meantime, this one word keeps popping up in my life: Authenticity.
Five syllables slung around a lot by celebrities, artists, gurus, life coaches and especially poets. We all search for it. And by age 40, we are supposed to have a solid grasp on how to incorporate it into our lives.
The challenge is that we are different selves in different situations with different people. Authenticity demands we be ourselves, warts and all, all the time. It’s not smooth, it’s not contrived and it’s not pretty. In early adulthood, we tend to seek validation of the obvious. Surface attractiveness, blending in, perfect costuming for the situation, clean yet robust resumes of an excellent life and perfect childhood.
We carefully curate our outward image and social media existence.
I have spent my adult life with more than one name. My intent and endeavor was to keep “work” me and “art” me separate. I have learned that it does not work that way. Just as creative parts of me are required for my livelihood, pragmatic parts of me are required to deliver content in my art. When we attempt to compartmentalize our lives, we only end up bleeding into ourselves.
When I wrote for my high school newspaper, I did not want people to know I was even remotely funny. I did fake bylines. After all, I had a primo cutter goth chick nihilistic image to uphold. I was not wearing all black and listening to The Cure for four years to make people laugh.
Authenticity though, like water through a mountain, will find a way. The first time I told a dick joke onstage, my boss and entire work crew showed up to witness it. Sure, they came to see if I would bomb. Sure, they came to outdrink each other and do some male bonding. (I was the only girl in the office.) But also, they came out to support me in my authenticity.
Some time later, my mom came out to see me tell dick jokes. She was sat in the front row. The club owner asked if it was okay. I said, “Of course, she knows what she hath spawned!”
Sometimes it went badly. And yet the only time I felt like I was “faking” it was at work. Forty plus hours a week, I was another Hollye. I was the nice and capable lady who tried to help. If I changed jobs, sooner or later someone would find out about the “real” Hollye. The one who wore spiky Vera Wang heels and told dick jokes.
I’d feel sick when someone said they had seen me.
I walked into work one day ready to do some fierce bookkeeping. My then-boss called me to the sales floor. He ran my musical comedy video, “Stupid People” in front of the entire employee population. I skulked back to my desk horrified.
The reaction was positive. I even had one co-worker state that “Stupid People” was their new theme song. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did. For that day, the mood lifted a little. And I started to reconcile both the business banks accounts and my own disparate selves. There was no longer any point in building pretense.
It was a relief. It was a step toward Authenticity. It was lovely.
The first time I witnessed a woman being truly authentic, I was twelve. My grandmother Green, or Granny Grunt, or Diamond Lil – all the same person with different names – told a dirty joke at a party.
As far as I know, the joke is original. If not, I don’t know who would claim it. Lil claimed she made it up that morning and felt really clever:
“What’s an Irish weenie? When it gets to Dublin!”
Yes, it’s about a penis “doubling” in size.
That evening, I watched my 64-year-old grandma recite this racist dick joke 73 times in two hours to every human in a half mile radius. People walked away, chuckled and hugged her, looked confused and handed her their coats, told a dirty joke back, directed her toward the kitchen, etc.
Nevertheless, SHE persisted.
At first, I was mortified. My grandparents were my guardians. My grandfather was quiet and straight-laced and strict. He would normally have pulled her aside and reminded her that there were children present. But he could not rein her in this night.
As the party got into full swing, Diamond Lil did too! She got better at telling her joke. Her confidence was off the chain! She had a voice, she had an audience, and she was working the room! Did not care if you heard it before because you will laugh again! Diamond Lil was shining.
My grandfather tried to send me downstairs to play with younger cousins. But in the stairwell, I could hear little voices shouting “Irish Weeneeeeeee!” and screaming giggles. The pervasive ripple effect of the Dublin Weenie had taken over the whole house.
Eventually, the party began to wind down. And as we gathered our coats to leave, Diamond Lil said her goodbyes loud and proud. My grandfather’s face, set in an embarrassed non-smile most of the night, slid into exhausted relief.
As a preteen bystander, I felt that internal tsunami of fear and shame building the whole evening. As we started home, I sat in the backseat of the car wondering when the lecture would start, the backlash. Or at least the warnings. My grandfather was very clear about language people should use. My grandmother had once full-force backhanded me for saying the word “stud”. I had no clue what it meant, Sandy said it to John Travolta in Grease! And only uneducated people say “Fuck”.
Instead the ride home was silent, a sharp, dark January night when the stars seemed touchable. I watched my grandfather’s face in the rearview mirror. He would move his lips sometimes – like he was trying to remember something – like he was practicing. Sometimes a hint of smile would creep into the corner of his mouth.
As we pulled in the driveway, he opened the garage. As the door lifted, he turned to my grandmother.
“Hey Lillian. A little cowboy who orders an ice cream sundae:
Waitress: You want chocolate ice cream?
Waitress: You want sprinkles?
Waitress: You want your nuts crushed?
Cowboy: You want your tits shot off?”
The universe paused. Then Diamond Lil erupted in laughter.