One of the marked similarities between the New Testament and Greek philosophy is their particular hostility towards actors. In the New Testament, we are familiar with the word actor mostly because it has become transliterated into English as the dreaded insult of “hypocrite.” A representative example of what the New Testament says about actors/hypocrites may be found in Matthew 6:5, which reads: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” In Greek drama, actors wore masks to portray other people, especially legendary or historical figures familiar to the Greeks, and acting was considered to be synonymous with putting on another face, and so as a result acting was considered to be the most obvious example of hypocrisy, namely that of someone who was so skilled at deception that they were able to put on another face that was not their own and convincingly portray someone else. Although in some contexts this may be admired, it was not admired either by Jesus Christ as recorded by Matthew, nor by the Greek philosophers, who are considered by contemporary philosophers  as being hostile to actors as a profession. Yet our particular age encourages acting, not least because of our awareness of the roles that we put on for different audiences. Indeed, strikingly, actors in our contemporary world are finding it more and more difficult to pretend to be something that they are not when it comes to their own sexuality, both because of the gap they feel between the reality of their own behavior and the pressure of pretending to be something different, as well as a sense that there is less need to pretend in order to be accepted by others than was the case in previous generations, a fact that speaks to our cultural decadence as well as the very real hostility towards restraint that presently exists with regards to personal behavior.
It was my intention to travel to Spokane to a ski weekend hosted by friends of mine from that part of Washington, but as has been the case previously, events have conspired against me. A few months ago, an all-hands meeting at work discussed various new holidays that we would be paid for, including MLK day. However, given the fact that Mondays during this particular season are my longest day because of the largest number of reports to send out, it was not entirely surprising that I received an e-mail reminding me that my presence was expected during this particularly busy time. It was a bit more surprising that outside of work I was given a set of keys to return on Sabbath to one of our congregation’s deacons, and that I would find my schedule particularly full on a weekend that many people enjoy as a relaxing three-day weekend. There is no rest for the wicked, I suppose. Given the alarmingly large set of errands and tasks that I acquired, I thought it would be worthwhile to examine my interactions on a day like today, to enjoy the drama of interactions in what might often be considered as a mundane day, and to give truthful and honest replies to the queries that are normally fobbed off, to see what interesting results follow.
As might be expected, several people stopped by my new desk location  to comment upon the fine example of ironic needlepoint that is hanging against a wall. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the needlepoint, which was made by a friend of mine at church, is perfect for me in the juxtaposition of a .45 pistol and gangster references with peaceful scenes of rainbows and squirrels  and butterflies. Everyone stopping at my desk commented at how uproariously funny they considered it and how perfectly it applied to me. Rarely in my existence can such unanimity be found, but apparently everyone considers me the most ironic of gangsters. Other people stopped by with other comments, including one co-worker who said that she could not work in the desk next to me because she finds it unacceptable for others to be able to sneak up from behind her, given her tendency to panic. As I told her, I know exactly how she feels, as I have written about in these pages from time to time. Apparently in some previous desks some other coworkers took it upon themselves to sneak up behind her with the intent of scaring her, something I view as particularly uncharitable. Another coworker, a supervisor who participates in a rather long-running and somewhat elaborate gangster competition with me , thought it was pretty ridiculous that I was getting off work early in the afternoon and that I was an hourly employee. As my own supervisor told me yesterday, he liked it when I worked exactly 40 hours, and so I did, which ended at 12:17PM exactly, which is exactly when I finished updating a report that has gone back and forth between people all week long.
After leaving work I went to get a haircut. This is a customary activity of mine whenever I start looking like I come from rural Central Florida, something I wish to avoid giving the appearance of. When I was asked about how I wanted my hair to be cut, I commented that I wanted it cut short on the sides and back, with the sideburns cut off, and a square cut in the back, but that I only wanted a very light trim on the top because I didn’t have much hair to lose up there, which seemed to provoke awkward laughter in the barber shop. After the haircut was done I went to Costco, which is a place I don’t like visiting, largely because I find it an uncomfortable place to be with people constantly jostling me in order to get deals, something that makes me feel rather uncomfortable, especially because there are few items that a solitary person like myself can buy in bulk to any kind of profitable use. Anyway, I was there to get my glasses straightened out at the eye center, as that is where I got my current set of dark gray gunmetal glasses from. The gentleman behind the counter, after taking my glasses in hand, asked how I had gotten them bent in the first place, and I explained that it had happened when I missed a set while playing volleyball and the ball hit me square in the face, deforming the glasses. He commented, as I stood blindly, that at least I had not been hit in the face directly by a spike, a point that I agreed with. Often the truth is far more amusing than any story we could make up. After this, while having lunch I was asked if I was reading a new book, and managed to have some more humorously awkward encounters with the waitress, including a situation where she bumped the pitcher of iced tea into my extended glass and ended up spilling some of it on the book that I was reading on the grand strategy of the Byzantine Empire, a book about a subject of considerable personal interest, although one where there are few books to be found . I often wonder if I am really that much more awkward of a person than others, or if it is simply that I record my awkwardness so that I may reflect upon it and so that others may read it and reflect upon me as a particularly awkward person in ways that others are not because they do not leave such a rich textual record documenting their awkwardness for posterity.
Fifteen years ago, while I was a college student at the University of Southern California, a song came out that was a minor hit on the Adult Contemporary charts. The song, “Camera One” by Josh Joplin, resonated with my own place in life at the time. Living in Los Angeles was a somewhat disorienting experience for me, not least because knowing the scenes of so many movies and television shows and commercials, it was impossible for me to suspend disbelief and to imagine those places as somewhere else. Over and over again, while visiting my family and friends in Central Florida on breaks, I would point out while watching something that I had walked through the filming of it, or that the scene of the supposed private school in Virginia was actually an auditorium in the middle of my university’s campus, right across the street from the commons where I routinely got bottled water and two butter croissants in the morning, and where my favorite quiet reading place on campus was located near, the largely deserted but luxurious philosophy library. In our world, to some extent, we are all called upon to be actors, not to put on a false face, but rather to emphasize certain aspects of ourselves in different situations. To some extent, we can put on a face to please others, and not feel appreciated for it, only to lash out in our frustration, because we can no longer keep up the act. We wear masks to protect ourselves from the intruding demands of a world that seems not to care for who we are, but only for what we can do for them at the moment. And yet we are all complicated people, full of many stories and many identities and many roles, far too complicated to be viewed from only a single perspective at a single moment in time. And yet playing ourselves is the hardest thing to do, not least because to show ourselves is to make ourselves vulnerable, and not everyone replies to that vulnerability in an appropriate way, not least of all we ourselves. Even so, no one can play the roles that we were born to play better than we ourselves, and so let us do so as best as we are able.
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