Earlier today, my wife and I had an interesting conversation, as we often do, verbal intercourse having proven at least as vital to the thriving of out 25-year marriage as sexual or any other kind of intercourse has.
This morning’s discussion was sparked by the concern currently most crucial to us both, which is the campaign she’s on to try and sell herself, her personal qualities and academic skills to a university that’s located somewhere liveable and is prepared to pay a salary sufficient to support us both.
Not that I don’t still work, but these days, having long exceeded my use-by date, at least employmentwise, and now being subject to a penalty of sixty per cent on every dollar over $200 that I earn to supplement my pathetic age pension, there’s no point in my working freelance, except in the unlikely event that it earns me a pension-eclipsing fortune.
But failing such a windfall, I’m not only free to write if and when and whatever I like, as long as it doesn’t earn me a fee, but also totally liberated from any need to go on selling my services by touting for assignments, meeting deadlines, or shaping my style and content to satisfy the demands of clients in the hope that they’ll keep hiring me.
In other words, I can finally follow English literary identity Cyril Connolly’s dictum that it’s “better to write for yourself and lose your audience than write for an audience and lose yourself.”
But of course I’d be kidding myself as well as you and whoever else I’ve thus far failed to lose from the advertising and other mass audiences I formerly sold or rather sold-out to if I went on claiming here that my writing is totally candid and free of self-censorship or other more or less subtle forms of what could be called salesmanship even now.
For example, even in the state of complete literary liberty fancy I’m now enjoying, I still conceal my true self, and by extension the identities of my family and intimate friends, by writing under a nom de plume that’s an abbreviated version of my real name.
And, though what I write these days is the or at least what I sincerely see as the truth, it is, and perhaps can never be, what I could swear to on some allegedly ‘holy’ book to be the or even the whole truth or nothing but the truth.
Or, to bring the discussion back to my sales theme, I may not be trying to sell myself as a writer any more, but in truth have to admit that I persist in avoiding topics so embarrassingly or even shamefully self-revealing that they might threaten to un-sell the product-identity or brand-image that I’ve made it my life’s work to carefully-craft for the purpose of marketing myself as successfully as possible to the people and publics that have been or at least seemed important to me.
In this sense it seems to me that all of us, in or every waking moments, are, whether we’re aware of it or not, selling, trading, and otherwise engaged in self-interested and self-sustaining transactions between ourselves and the people and institutions we depend on for our economic, emotional physical and mental well-being, and indeed survival.
And some of the most testing challenges most of us face in our cradle-to-grave self-sales careers are the campaigns of personal promotion we have to wage for the purpose of landing the best possible jobs.
Because, as I mentioned above that my wife and I discussed earlier today, it’s not a matter of selling our whole selves, which is difficult enough if not impossible, given that, as I admitted above of myself, we all have aspects of ourselves that we’re too ashamed or simply too shy to reveal to others, especially those who are judging us on our potential worth to them as personable, presentable and above all profitable employees.
This is particularly problematic for my wife, who loathes, and thus has precious little will to or skill in, presenting or rather misrepresenting herself as anything but what she perceives as her real self.
And as admirable and attractive as I find her “what you see is what you get”, “take me as you find me or fuck off” attitude, which was in fact what sold me on her when we met 27 years ago, and has kept me besotted with her ever since, I’m as sadly aware as she is that it tends to alienate those grim impersonalities known as ‘human-resources’ personnel, and po-faced allegedly impartial members of selection panels.
But at least she’ll never find herself left unsold on the shelf, as long as she continues to be appreciated by the all-too-rare professor at one of Sydney’s universities, who is apparently such a real person himself as to sufficiently appreciate her genuine worth, metaphorical warts and all, as to regularly hire her as a part-time tutor.
In which role her students, according to their official feedback, vastly appreciate her selling and telling them the real thing, instead of, as the rest of us are all-too inclined to do, keeping a whole variety of alternative ersatz selves in stock for selling in a whole range of situations to various categories of customers ranging from families,friends and students through to conquests, colleagues and employers.
In closing, however, I must conceded that among philosophers there remains some doubt as to whether such an entity as a ‘self’ actually exists, or whether what we think of as our ‘selves’ are are actually anything but what David Hume (1711-1776) famously wrote-off as mere “bundles of impressions.”
And, even if we do have selves, some psychologists believe that we’re unable to perceive them in their entirety. As postulated, for example, but the duo who came up with the ‘Johari Window’ theory of the self as having four components: the one that everybody can perceive, the one that only the person him- or herself can perceive, the one that only others can perceive, and the one that nobody can perceive.
But whether it’s a partial perception or a product of self-deception, here’s wishing you all, and especially my wife, the very best of luck in getting a great reception to your efforts to sell whatever you consider your self exclusively to those purchasers, especially potential life-partners and employers, who themselves seem capable of properly and unselfishly appreciating its true value.