Monday, April 28, 2008
2:21 PM |
Things You Don't Know
"Real life is an excuse for fiction."
Past 30, you marvel often at the things you've done in the name of reckless youth.
When I was in college, I pretty much played the field, with a charming subtlety that bordered on the somewhat deceitful. What can I say... I was young, I had a nice ass back then and wore tight jeans often, and was careful to cultivate this aura of sexual ambiguity and this chameleon-like tendency to be both academic boy by day and party animal by night. I played to get what I wanted.
Needless to say, in the games that I wrought, I often got what I wanted, I broke a lot of hearts ... even when my heart broke little by little. All these took a little bit of a juggling act, but it was fun -- "fun" of the strangest kind, but that was me. My philosophy back then was that I had to try everything
at least once, and that life was too short to regret not doing anything beyond one's comfort zone. You can imagine the kinds of delicious shenanigans I got myself into -- but I never did land into any trouble, and it might have been simply because most people would not expect me to do anything that smacked of the outrageous. I was an honor student, editor of The Weekly Sillimanian
, a writer for Portal
, a member of the Campus Choristers and the CYF, a member of the student Supreme Court... all the things that glinted gold in a college resume.
I was also very, very
polite. It was enough to throw people off.
But when people would ask me to name a film that would sum up the kind of existence I strove for, I'd always say Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons
. Glenn Close's superb (and devastating) monologue in that film about how she reinvented herself and her life was, for me, a poetic rendition of what I wanted to do with mine.
As the Marquise de Merteuil, she told the Vicomte de Valmont (played by the wonderful John Malkovich) this confession:
When I came out into society, I was 15. I already knew that the role I was condemned to -- namely to keep quiet and do what I was told -- gave me the perfect opportunity to listen and observe. Not to what people told me, which naturally was of no interest, but to whatever it was they were trying to hide.Win or die.
I practiced detachment.
I learned how to look cheerful while under the table I stuck a fork onto the back of my hand. I became a virtuoso of deceit. It wasn't pleasure I was after, it was knowledge. I consulted the strictest moralists to learn how to appear, philosophers to find out what to think, and novelists to see what I could get away with -- and in the end, I distilled everything to one wonderfully simple principle: win or die.
That was one thing. Indifference was another.
And sometimes the result of that can be quite amusing. For example, it soon came to me, when I came into my own as a Junior, that there were people in campus who looked up to me as a kind of confidante for their unrealized selves. Was it because I dared to live the reckless balance of night and day, and they could not? Maybe. Sometimes, when they sought out my advice, I'd roll my eyes secretly, stick an unseen fork onto the proverbial back of my hand, and say something glib, something full of bohemian bullshit. Once there was a girl who walked with me the entire stretch of asphalt from The Weekly Sillimanian
office to the nearest gate. Let's call her Sheryl. She was one of those goody-two-shoes type, perfectly holy, and in fact once jumped on a chair screaming when someone showed her a VHS tape that had a porn label. "Ian," she said to me that one time when we were walking towards the campus gate, "what do you do when you feel there is something inside of you you can't describe? And you want to let it out, but you're scared of what other people will say?" She said other things, and I was thinking, I really have no idea, dear, and I really don't care
. Of course I couldn't say that, so I just said in the friendliest tone of voice, full of concern: "Well, Sheryl, why don't you get out of your shell, and see what happens." She nodded, and said nothing more.
The very next week, that prim-and-proper girl got herself a girlfriend.
I was amused but I felt nothing.
Labels: fiction, life, memories
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