Friend of a friend

So, recently, a business associate told me I should further develop my network on LinkedIn. I know that’s sort of a horrible sentence but there you have it. I have business associates and they advise me to do things that probably have some purpose beyond my understanding. Generally I am okay with following their directives so long as they don’t involve public nudity or large amounts of money. They know more than me about some stuff.

The way LinkedIn works is by burrowing into your address book and your resume and your underwear drawer and pulling up long lists of names and smiling portraits and you are supposed to click on people who you know and want to link to. When you do, each person’s links are then joined to yours in an ever-expanding gyre of connections until every man, woman and Chihuahua on the planet is arrayed in concentric circles around you.

Let me now confess something else to you. Despite how garrulous I may appear within the confines of, I am not an especially outgoing person. For much of my career, I was the person standing in the dimly lit corner of the office party, gnawing carrot sticks and clutching a bottom-shelf gin and tonic. I was not glad-handing, back-slapping or table-hopping. Over time, as I grew older and slunk up the ladder, I knew more and more people who didn’t seem to despise me so I would allow myself to slink out of the safe zone and talk to people. But I was never and never will be a ‘networker.’ Fortunately for me, I have been in love with two women who were quite the opposite and dragged me into various social circles where I could mumble and make self-deprecating remarks to ever-increasing numbers of people.

When Linked In began to present me with long lists of smiling faces, I swallowed hard. Some faces looked familiar, some names looked familiar, and I began to click on the faces and request to be connected. Some people were easy, the ones who I knew well and who were outgoing. Some were harder, people I knew well but who I was embarrassed to be asking, who I assumed would scoff at such a fawning request, surprised that I was not, like them, too cool for school to network.

My associate prodded me to further expand my timid circle and so I delved deeper. I began to click on the faces of those I had not shot the breeze with in their cubicle and not invited to lunch, but had sat with in endless meetings, sometimes with dozens of others, people in other departments, of other ages and ranks, like soldiers in adjoining platoons, veterans of the same wars but not aways the same battles. People who I might nod to as we motored past each other in the hall, who I might have had that one long talk with as we waited for a flight to Columbus or Wichita for another regional committee meeting, people who I might have even had one drink too many within a Holiday Inn Express lobby on the eighth night of a shoot that seemed it would never end and shared opinions and revelations that I woke up the next day to regret.

And then there were those faces who I knew and who I knew knew me but who I thought hated me for one slight or another — a layout I hadn’t approved, a suggestion I had dismissed, an opinion I had contradicted. I winced reflexively thinking about what they might think years later when I appear on their virtual doorsteps, hat in hand. I assume these requests would be junked, that I would never hear from the person whose meeting I had twice arrived ten minutes late for, the person who scowled that one time when I interrupted in a briefing, the person whose coffee mug I had taken by accident.

But masochistically, I clicked their faces nonetheless.

In the next few hours, I received emails, confirming that even these outliers were willing to open their chains and link to mine. I reached out to a few with InMail™ messages, tail between my legs, wishing them well in their new endeavors. And they responded, tails aloft and wagging hard, sometimes with their paws stretched out, ready to play.

I’m perplexed and dismayed that someone who spends so much effort thinking about and writing about and drawing himself can be so self-unaware, that I often have no idea how I appear to others. I can think I have offended someone and they have no idea what I mean. I can think I have been a pal to someone and they will reveal a long-held grudge. I can pour over a blog post and get a stinging response from some reader, dash off another one unthinking and hear it has helped someone else a lot.

Despite my quest for seeing myself objectively, I have come to terms with the fact that it is pretty much impossible. In part, because no one else sees me objectively. In part because there may not be any absolute truth there. In part, because my monkey still lurks back in that dark hole. But most of all because I am a work in progress.

I try to do my best most of time, to avoid being a selfish dick, to contribute where I can and to take others’ feelings into consideration. But beyond that, I have to stick to my own knitting, to be true to what I know of myself, and to hope that those who are in my newly expanded network of links will see and value those things that I am.

It’s important to connect with others, to engage, to be of service, and not spend ones’s days crouched in a shadowy hermitage. But it’s just as important to link in with oneself.

I contain multitudes

I am a wiry cowboy or maybe an ex-con, sideburned, sunburned, sheathed in jailhouse tats, wearing Dickies, Vitalis and Old Spice, a hand-roll dangling below my Fu-Manchu, stonily silent, a solid peckerwood who’s 1000-yard-staring through glacial blue eyes.
I am Robert DeNiro as Vito Corleone in Godfather II. Poised, determined, resourceful, lethal.
I am Aimee Mann: thin, blonde, beautiful; cynical, hilarious,profane; part angel, part construction worker.
I am Eminem.
I am Miles.
I am Tyson.
I am the Dalai Lama.
I am Jimi Hendrix: my fingers scrabbling and singing across the strings, my cheeks sucked in, my eyes closed, my shirt a riot of psychedelic paisley.
I am Steve McQueen, leaping the barbed wire fence into Switzerland on the back of a stolen German motorbike.
I am Francis Bacon.
I am Warren Buffett.
I am Jesus Christ.
I am Keith Richards: kohl eyes, turtle skin, brown bony arms gripping my axe.
I am Curtis, holding a piece of cardboard and a cup on Sixth Avenue.
I am Vincent in the wheat field.
I am Arnold, winning Mr. Olympia yet again.
I am Henry Miller, fingering in Clichy, scribbling in Brooklyn.
I am Dy Thomas, blowing a fag end into a BBC mike.
I am a spotty fourteen-year-old with a meager moustache.
I am a bloated middle-aged bald man.
I am a corpse.
I am Chas Eames.
I am Dick Feynman.
I am Wally Whitman.

Last night I was thinking about how hard it is to stay in my own skin. Maybe that’s the way art is supposed to make you feel, to catapult you into another aspect of yourself and let you dwell there a while. Or maybe that’s just what it is to be human and to try to live an examined life.
I’m reacting intensely to all of the things I am going through right now, all of the different audiences I seem to be strutting past. I want to’ be me’, to express that me-ness, and yet it is so varied, so contradictory. There’s me as husband, father, son, and brother. Illustrator, author, blogger, copywriter, professional, and novice. Teacher, student, know-it-all, and idiot. Ad guy, art-guy, ugly American guy, and Registered Alien. Jew, Christian, Buddhist, and atheist. Hermit, tireless self-promoter, success, and failure.
It’s not really that I’m seeking the answer any more. My adolescence is so far behind me, and I have worn out my allotment of mid-life crises. It’s more that I’m perpetually restless, only temporarily satisfied with every conclusion.
Perhaps this is the biological imperative that moves successful organisms towards adaptation and evolution. Those who are content to keep chowing down on a certain kind of leaf or to hang out by a certain waterhole are secure … until the shit comes down. Then it’s only those shifty, scuttling rodents in the undergrowth that make it to the next level. We are the descendants of every successful shape shifter there’s been till now, the freakiest of all mutated freaks, and these days, as the shit comes down more heavily than ever, only the unsatisfiable will survive. So perhaps I’m working my way up to missing linkhood.
Or maybe I’ll just be the first lemming off the cliff.
Or worse yet, somewhere lost in the middle of the herd.