Recently, my friend Catherine Hollis posted something on Facebook from a poem by François Villon:
My time of youth I do bewail,
That more than most lived merrily,
Until old age ‘gan me assail,
For youth had passed unconsciously.
It wended not afoot from me,
Nor yet on horseback. Ah, how then?
It fled away all suddenly
And never will return again.
We had a short conversation in the comments section, wherein she kindly said I was “authentic”. I noted I couldn’t really take credit for that, to which she replied, “Well, there’s only one of you anyway!” And that made me realize/respond: “That's true! And thus, even when I'm being inauthentic, I am in fact being authentic.”
One of the categories I tag on this blog is “science”. It has been neglected for too long … the last time I used the tag was April 23 of last year, in a post that was more about music than science in any event. The reason the post warranted the science tag was that I was prompted by an article titled “Why You Truly Never Leave High School” that focused on neuroscience.
And there’s this picture, which I posted on Facebook in response to someone else’s photo of Taco Bell back in the day:
This photo brings back many memories for me. For one thing, my longtime friend Dub DeBrie is cut out of the picture (he’s on the left), and in some odd way, that makes him more memorable than if he’d shown up in the photo. The fellow on the left, John, was a truly wonderful guy who has dropped out of touch with us all over the years. On the right is Ann, with her Cheshire cat grin and her languid demeanor … yes, I had a crush on her. I can look at myself and date the picture within a fairly tight time frame: my hair was just starting to grow out for the first time, which means I was no longer under my parents’ control in that area, which means summer of 1970.
What drew the most commentary on Facebook was that thing I’m wearing. It’s a poncho, although for reasons that now escape me, I called it a serape. I wore it pretty much every day for about three years … when someone pointed out the likely exaggeration in that statement, several people who knew me then came to my defense and said yes, he did wear it all the time. I don’t think I gave it much thought back then, but playing amateur psychologist now, I’d say I was looking for an identity that wasn’t confusing, and decided I’d be The Guy Who Wore the Poncho. (I still dress kinda like that. I’m not as bad as Steve Jobs, but I’ve got maybe three shirts, one pair of jeans, and one pair of shoes that I wear around 95% of the time. It’s not related to identity any longer, though … I’m just lazy.)
I want science to explain all of this to me. I treat science the way many people treat religion, in that I have no idea how it works, I just believe in it. I want to know why that fragmentary memento of Ann on that particular day at that particular Taco Bell makes me feel nice. I want a concrete explanation for my various madeleines.
I say this as someone who married his high-school sweetheart, with our 41st anniversary coming in May. That makes no sense, and when people ask me how I’ve done it, I just say that I married the right person and she didn’t leave me. But in the back of my mind, even as I talk about romance and love, I still think there’s an explanation somewhere in our brains.
This makes me think of my psych meds. The person in that photo wasn’t on meds (although my parents had me on something for awhile when I was much younger). You might say I self-medicated, given the amount of psychedelics I ingested in those days. But that guy in the poncho is “authentic”. Now, I’m not nearly so sure of myself … maybe I need another poncho to re-establish my authenticity. The thing is, now that I’m on meds, I feel less authentic than ever. It’s a good thing … I’m not nearly the asshole I used to be. But the meds have never dulled me to the extent that I didn’t know they were working. I think the same stuff I always did. I just don’t act on those thoughts quite as readily, which is for the best.
The question is, am I being less authentic because I take chemicals that change my behavior, or am I being more authentic because the chemicals allow me to be “myself”?