Friday, February 17, 2012

Authentically speaking, I'm often afraid of authenticity

 This is the real me, and my real Alyce.

I'm not really sure what "being authentic" means. The word "authenticity" is thrown around so much that over the years I've become suspicious. It seems that we're encouraged so often now to be "authentically who we are" and to "live an authentic life."  Certainly this sounds ideal. I don't think anything good comes from hiding our thoughts and dreams behind a facade we think is more socially acceptable, and I know some of the most exciting conversations happen between people (or a person and his or her internet) when we tell the truth, when we put our feet down against what we think people want to hear.

Isn't this why so many mothers started blogging in the first place? To tell other mothers and whoever else was listening that motherhood was so much harder/exciting/exhausting than had been publicly discussed, and that motherhood is complicated because we're all actually different human beings with different experiences? Hell, yes. We outlined our hopes and expectations, the day-to-day challenges, and reflected on what did or didn't work. We did this to vent, to make other people laugh, and to offer some support to other mothers and parents. This, too, happened to me. And I survived. Or, I feel this way and I'm still a good parent. One way of understanding these new narratives of motherhood is to consider these perspectives as an attempt at authenticity. No longer would we talk about our transitions to motherhood as seamless, or dismiss time spent at home with children as unimportant.

So why am I suspicious of the term? Like I said, I think it's because I don't quite understand it. My only experience with it comes from my liberal arts background where I was surrounded by teams of people arguing for an "authentic" view of the world. They were right: too many of our stories have been told by the same few people. We needed to deconstruct our assumptions about the world, to ask the right people the right questions, and most of all, we needed to listen to their answers. But looking for authenticity--for the real story, so to speak--seemed to spiral into an identity politics that plagued my academic world. Every statement, every research question, became a competition over who had the right to speak about a given historical experience. While I am grateful that the status quo of academia got knocked down a few pegs, at times I was frustrated when valuable conversations about gender, for example, were paralyzed over arguments about who could authentically speak to a given issue. It's one of the reasons I lost interest in my research.

When it comes to blogging, I wonder sometimes about how much our pursuit of authenticity is really about how we want to appear to each other, rather than truly representing ourselves. I have been moved to tears reading about the experiences of other parents, seeing my own struggles in their words. And I've mentioned before how my isolation as a new parent in new country was softened by my discovery on this online community of parents, and of mothers in particular. But sometimes I wonder if so much of what I read online is actually prescriptive, rather than descriptive, especially when it comes to living and parenting authentically. Are the descriptions I read about days spent playing and crafting with kids, making mountains of food for growing children, and political statements about how and what to buy for our families about what really happens in our home, or about what we want to happen in our homes? I love staying home with The Children, including the cooking and crafting and chaos, but my home doesn't always look the way homes sometimes do in blogland. When mothers reflect on their own authentic living, are they telling us how they live, or how they'd like to live? Because I'd like to the live that way, too.

I think I'm over-thinking this. I know, you're shocked. I've been hesitant to describe my own writing as a quest for authenticity because my graduate training left me a little shaky. But when I quiet those voices in my head (still quoting Foucault and Butler) and ask myself what I'm doing with this blog, I am sharing my life as I understand it. I talk about loving my girls because these are my days. I am sharing a part of myself, and while it isn't the whole me, it is still me, still authentic. And when I tell you things about my life that still only exist at the level of ideals, this is still part of me, even if it isn't fully realized yet. This doesn't make me inauthentic, it just means I'm in process. And the same goes for other bloggers and writers.

Do you read A Cup of Jo? Joanna Goddard writes a beautiful blog (and her Friday links are the best around), and today she posted about her own thoughts (and fears) on authenticity. She is ready to reveal something about herself and in the process she is a bit afraid of the whole thing. Naturally, it is scary to share. We are vulnerable, defensive, and downright petrified. For the time being (she hasn't made the big reveal yet) she is sharing some encouraging words from her mother:

"It seems to me that being authentic is being brave enough or just candid enough to be honest about what you are experiencing or who you are, whether it is popular are not. A person gives a gift to other people when they say, 'This is what happened to me or this is how I truly feel, no matter what the popular belief is about what I should feel.' Whenever you are honest, you are speaking for a thousand silent people who don't have the voice to say what they really feel or are really experiencing. So, if you ever talk about [the thing you went through], you will touch a million hearts. Because you are speaking for more than just yourself. You are never alone in what you are feeling. I love you."
Find the rest of the post here.

Joanna's mother's description of authenticity makes sense to me, takes away some of my suspicions. Because this is exactly why I share my experiences about motherhood and life as a post-graduate student-teacher-soon-to-be-midwife-I-hope, and why I share in others' experiences about life as mothers and parents. Life feels decidedly less scary when I know I'm not the only one. Although she doesn't plan to share this particular experience until next week, for today Joanna invited us to reveal something true about ourselves, big or small. You can find hers here.

Here are some of mine. I promise they are authentic:

  • I've struggled with depression for a long time.
  • It takes me weeks to put away laundry.
  • I am terrible with money.
  • I often forget birthdays. Or I only remember at the very last minute.
  • I've never read anything by Charles Dickens or a Russian.

What about you? Do you have anything to share?


  1. Ooh, I have lots to share... but also, when I started my blog, I was looking for a way to focus my gaze & pay more attention to things I'm grateful for... to have a space to ponder and sometimes get feedback. It's not so much being inauthentic in my blogging (and only showing the "nice stuff.") It's more an issue of... focusing my gaze on what is good in my life... what is beautiful... what I love. The other stuff is still there... it just doesn't bother me as much... Maybe it sounds like I'm spouting some "fake-it-'till-you-make-it," Pollyanna-ish rubbish. I don't intend to sound that way, but I'm not sure how best to explain it. Anyhow, great post...

  2. M.Bloom,

    I think you make a really good point. I don't think we all have to share the hard stuff, and I like the decision to focus on the good. There are so many good things! I was talking with someone the other day about how some bloggers choose not to write about the hard side of parenting, but as the reader, some days you forget that, and then you go on an all-out comparison about how your house never looks like that,and so on. That's part of what I meant about prescriptive versus descriptive: sometimes it's useful for me to remember that bloggers are often choosing to share the world as they want to see it--and those ideals can be wonderful.

    And you are no Pollyanna. I am grateful to visit the Blooms as often as I can!