Thursday, May 10, 2012

Would the real Reticula please stand up?

I've been watching the third season of The Big C. In the show, Laura Linney plays a high school teacher, Cathy Jamison, who deals with a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment by going a little crazy pretty much insane. Oliver Platt, who is the sexiest ugly, fat man on the planet, plays her husband, Paul. These are some heavy hitters.

Laura Linney and Oliver Platt
It's a good show, but like a lot of third seasons, this one has some weaknesses, some shit where they try too hard, make the problems these people face too ridiculously big. It's Showtime though, the station that made a serial killer sexy.

I still watch it anyway because this season Cathy does one crazy thing that makes me want to do the exact same crazy thing. OK, two things.

The first has to do with my biggest girl-crush ever, Susan Sarandon, who plays one of those self-help gurus who make people joyful. She kisses Cathy right on the mouth. Right on the mouth! I want to do that -- kiss Susan (because that's what I'd call her after I kissed her, Susan, instead of Susan Sarandon), and there's nothing crazy about wanting to kiss Susan Sarandon on the mouth can I get an amen!

My crush.
The crazy thing Cathy does is sneak to a bar where nobody knows her, and where she creates a different Cathy. She pretends to be someone other than herself, someone who doesn't have cancer. She smokes cigarettes, drinks martinis, tells the patrons and the bartender she's an airline pilot to explain her absences. She makes up stories about her family, and even creates a child after she finds out she can't adopt a baby because of the cancer.

She makes friends there. People care about her. The bartender knows her name .... ish. It doesn't matter that it's not her real name. She becomes part of the bar family.

Cathy at her bar

I want to do that. At least I think I do.

What would it be like to visit a micro-culture and re-make yourself into the person you want to be? To try on a new person just like you'd try on a pair of jeans at the mall? To be brand new and traveling light with no baggage? What the hell would that be like?

I want to do it. I daydream about doing it. I imagine different stories I might tell about myself.

Let me be clear that I don't want to do it so I can do hurtful things I wouldn't do normally. I don't want to be a sociopath or a bully or a slut. I'd want to make up a normal story, a normal persona, but one I could control. I might wear clothes I'd never wear in real life. I'd make up the people I want in my life -- even though I'm blessed by practically perfect friends and kids already. Maybe I'd wear a wig.

I want to do it.

But then I run into the ethical dilemma because, as my mother has told me thousands of times, I think too much. Would it be fair to create relationships with people based on a total lie? Yes, I'd still be myself, but the details of who I am would all be false. Doesn't that potentially go beyond crazy to cruel?

I've known people who do that -- pretend to be someone or something they're not. It hurts like hell to find out who they really are. I've written before how I feel about liars. I don't want to be that person. I've been hurt by people who pretended to be someone they're not.

On the other hand, I could maybe justify doing it because I'm a writer and I could call it research. I could write a novel or even a memoir about it. I could open a blog under that persona. I could call it professional .... something.

But if I grew relationships with the patrons of this place and they ever found out I'd lied about everything, I think it would potentially hurt those people deeply. Buying a round for the house wouldn't fix that shit.

I have no doubt I would develop relationships. I've sometimes gotten too friendly with the natives and had to stop going to certain places as it is. I have no problem meeting strangers.

It seems odd to me that I'm so intrigued by this idea. I'm always striving to be authentic. I try never to lie about myself (except my name) here on this blog. (And I know bloggers who pretend they're writing about themselves and lie big about themselves. I have no respect and I stop reading as soon as I smell the foul lies.) Doing this would be the opposite of authenticity. It's in the realm of sociopaths.

And yet -- I'm rationalizing here -- in some ways it could be even more authentic to be the person I want to be. To try out being the person I might be if I hadn't been potty trained and spanked and subjected to peer pressure. I could be so free!

I want to do it. I'm still working out the logistics in my head. And now I've opened the subject here.

Help me out. Would you do something like this? Surely many of you have wondered what it would be like to be someone else for a few hours. Is it crazy? Is it cruel?


  1. Why don't you just adopt the personality, ethics, and preferences of the persona you'd like to create while maintaining your true name, situation, and history? No lies. No danger of being caught lying. Maybe you are just needing to reinvent yourself. I suspect the person you're itching to pretend to be is, like you said, closer to the real you. Do it. It would be a beautiful thing to behold.

    1. I'm not sure what intrigues me about what she's doing. It could just be the acting -- the challenge of acting like another person only doing it in real life. Much easier than reinventing myself, which I've pretty much done over the past few years anyway.

  2. It may just be this stage of life, but I have more than enough drama and details to track as it is. I can't imagine piling on more. Give me ten years to shake a few more hooligans from their dependency.

    1. Ha! True that! My hooligans would love hearing the stories if I did something like that. Cathy keeps it a secret from her family. I probably wouldn't. Elvira would sniff it out and know I was doing something.

  3. Seems similar to some studies that are done in anthropology about bar culture. Or studies that should be done in anthro about bar culture if they haven't been, given that I'm at the University of Fafafa and we don't tend to talk about such "lowbrow" things. Personally, I'm really fascinated by pub culture, and was also tempted to do something similar to what you're describing before I was inundated with work. I'll look into it, see if I can't bring you back some "empirical" evidence. (I'll probably also think about doing some ethnographic research in a pub, if I think I can get it published.)
    Otherwise, we all have multiple identifications that we employ as they suit us. Who's to say that doing something like what Jennifer is talking about isn't just expressing another one of yours? Though if you're talking about something more like in the TV show... well, in my experience, being thought a bit odd for what I am is much better than being loved for what I'm not. Just my two cents.

    1. Here at Wrong State we do talk about such things. I was even assigned a pub culture ethnography for a class I took on teaching ethnography.

      You are in the perfect place to do something lowbrow, AmJam. If you couldn't publish that, a comparison with US pub culture would be interesting. I'd read it. But an ethnography always has to be up front about who she is and what she's doing. No question about the ethics there.

      As for multiple identifications, I've gone through a number of those as an adult. Always interesting, and I think I always become a more authentic me.

      Maybe I just need to write a novel. ;-)

  4. yep, i get where you're coming from. i think maybe part of it (for me) is the urge to Get It Right This Time? maybe try it out on a vacation sometime and report back??

    1. I can understand wanting to get it right. I think of it as wanting to dump my baggage, but it's probably the same thing. I will definitely report back if I ever do it.

  5. I share your taste for The Big C. I love that show. I, too, would like to kiss Susan Sarandon right on the mouth.

    As for the becoming someone new, I think that's why I enjoy acting and writing. I've recently come to the conclusion that writing is my escape. I create characters and places I wish to be a part of. Then reality hits and I'm cranky that I'm not there in that fictional place.

    I think it would be fun to create an alter ego. If you get busted you could always say you're in witness protection. :-)

    1. HA! I love your idea to blame it on witness protection! It's perfect.

      You should know though that anybody who gets between me and Susan Sarandon's lips will be shanked hard. I don't mess around when it comes to Susan. She's mine.

      It wouldn't be so bad to make up an alter ego in real life if I actually wrote about that person, would it? I could call it research. Have you ever thought about spending a night "being" one of your characters?