“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
I am 67-years-old now, and as I look back through the string of events that have been woven together to create my life, I can see that much of my past behavior was based on partial or cloudy bits of information–the illusions that I allowed to pose as truths to myself and that have often blinded me.
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
and feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone.
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way
In the year 2000, I watched a fabulous All-Star Tribute to Joni Mithcell. Joni sang Both Sides Now again, and I was struck by the difference in the two recordings. I may have been reading too much into her latter performance, but to me, it seemed as though the much older Joni Mitchell was admitting that in 1968, she truly had not seen life from all sides and that it was only in the living of life that greater truth was revealed. In the latter performance, Mitchell had been sobered. It was obvious in Mitchell’s demeanor and in her voice, that thirty years after Joni Mitchell had seemed to see life from all sides, she had finally begun to truly see.
Once more, the contrast between what we think we know when we are young and what we actually do know is cliché. Unfortunately, there is no way to become older and wiser without becoming older and wiser.
If You Are Not a Liberal at 25, You Have No Heart. If You Are Not a Conservative at 35 You Have No Brain – Author Unknown
When we are living within cloud’s illusions, we do not know it. We have fooled ourselves and we often fool everyone around us, too. Ultimately, however, our denials become the masks that we wear–the false personas that we adopt, and at the very least, our masks blind us and force us to miss opportunities.
“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.” – Shel Silverstein
“She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms—and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too—end up in their shadow.”
― Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
Perhaps we want to elevate ourselves in our businesses, but we perceive that the others ahead of us are preventing our ascensions. We might do things to discredit those other people with the administration or with other clients. If we do that and KNOW that we are doing it, we are not in denial–we are merely mean. This type of mean manipulator has probably devised an invisibility cloak that allows him to slip in and out of people’s views. Thus, the very skillful manipulator can be greedy without appearing to others to be so. The most deceitful people are masters of disguise.
Great politicians often fall into this group of people. Salespersons also often fall into this group of people. When people can behave selfishly without being detected by others, they are excellent schemers. That type of person is probably not in denial at all. That type of person may have compartmentalized himself away from having to deal with anything that he does not want to acknowledge, but this is less a case of denial than it is a case of narcissism. Narcissists simply do not care about the people that they hurt or about how many people that they have forced off the road, to jockey themselves to the fronts of the lines. Narcissists may also be in denial, but a narcissist’s denial has evolved into a state of evil treachery. People can be in denial without being narcissists.
In 1968, I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class, and by most standards, I was quite bright. At the time, I believed that my valedictory address was inspired but fifty years later, I now realize that in 1968, “It’s cloud’s illusions I recall. I really did not know life–at all.”
In the above photo, Jacki Kellum is on the far right playing the guitar in 1970
Some people seem to skip through life. They seem to scurry about, dodging all the bullets. As though living were an enormous belt line, some people seem to reach the end, without being scathed at all. Those people would not understand how and why Joni Mitchell had literally changed her tune over time. But I do. I have also begun to push back the veil on some of my own delusions, and in doing so, my voice has also changed.
Fifty years after I delivered my valedictory address, this Jacki Kellum would also sing a different song than she sang in 1968. If I knew then what life has taught me since 1968, I would merely stand before the crowd almost speechless. Breathless, bruised, scarred, hoarse, and with a cracking and trembling voice, I would simply bow my head and whisper, “I surrender.”
“Let’s burn our masks at midnight
and as flickering flames ascend,
under the witness of star-clouds,
let us vow to reclaim our true selves.
Done with hiding and weary of lying,
we’ll reconcile without and within.
Then, like naked squint-eyed newborns,
we’ll greet the glorious birth of dawn;
blinking at the blazing, wondrous colors
we somehow failed to notice before.”
― John Mark Green
©Jacki Kellum June 24, 2017