Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gnomic Philosophizing

Driving to work this morning, I saw a man who, except for the fact that someone had already colored him in an uninspired palette of browns and greys, reminded me of the gnomes in my favorite coloring book when I was a child. He wore a fluffy white beard, dull brown overalls, mud caked boots, and a droopy charcoal colored stocking cap.

Personally, I would have colored him much more brightly. His chosen tones made him look depressed. While this man was probably dressed as he was, because he was on his way to work, his coloring book alter-ego clearly looked like someone who would fit right into a world of enchanted forests filled with red-topped, polka-dotted mushrooms. Of course, I'm sure the man is probably not grey in all aspects of his life.

As I drove along, I thought about the faces we all present to the world. Being a confirmed introvert (and a relatively guarded one at that!), I often think that my outside face must be very different from the "real" Martina who lives on the inside. I have a pretty rich inner life. The outside one? Well, that is a more difficult question.

From in here, the outside one looks a lot more fragmented to me than the inside. Different people and situations know different parts of me. My older friends (the ones who've gotten to see more, but probably not all of the fragments) know how easy it is to get me laughing so hard that the spot behind my ears actually starts to hurt. They also know and (for the most part) gracefully put up with my indignation concerning politics, Walmart, Nike, sweatshops and pretty much anything else that presents an affront to my sense of fairness.

In school, I think people saw me as smart, but shy. I remember a professor when I first started grad school calling me to his office after class one day, trying to prod me to speak more in class, because he could see in my eyes that there was "a lot going on in there". My boss who knows a Martina who has a strong work ethic, is good at explaining things, and is very patient except for where ill thought out projects and half-assed effort are concerned, was recently shocked to learn that I could play the violin. The patient part might come as a surprise to close friends who know the secret of my inner musician, but also know me as very impatient when it comes to procuring things that I want. Friends at work know a Martina who focuses very hard on work, but is also colorful. Even now, C. knows things about me that even my oldest friends and family will probably never know - vulnerable things, secrets, hopes. Before he left, he got to know (as he put it in his charming Franco-Germanic way) "the back yards". But I still have some secrets. As of yet, no one knows just how loudly I can belt "Mein lieber Herr" in the car on my way to work. That secret is just too potent to release into the wild.

Yet I don't think that I am alone in this fragmention, and that is not just counting the percentage of the population suffering from multiple personality disorder either! We all know people who, for example, show one face at work, but are very different at home. Accountants, who deep in their souls are really dancers; apparent homebodies, who want nothing more than to travel the world. I suppose the irony of it all is that deep down, I don't think we want to be fragmented. A lot which face we show is just a natural extension of comfort level, situation, appropriateness. It is side effect of living in society that we end up compartmentalizing in large part as a self-protective mechanism. Yet, at the same time, I think it is also human nature for us to want other people to somehow see that we're not just grey gnomes, but that we have a whole rainbow of colors.

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