How to understand the paradox of being celebrated vs. socially celibate.
You don’t normally think of actors as the type who wants to be alone.
When’s the last time you saw Brad Pitt solo hiking the Appalachian Trail, or George Clooney doing a cabin retreat? While some of these thespians are indeed tabloid-mongers, others can be infamously shy, reclusive, and social misfits. They go to great lengths to appear incognito (think Joaquin Phoenix). So why do men who adore the limelight also secretly crave scurrying into a dark corner?
I am personally familiar with this dilemma because I’m an actor. You may have heard of me (take another glance at the byline). No, that’s right, you haven’t heard of me. Unless you were strolling through Central Park in 2005, and saw a bunch of amateurs on the grassy knoll by Strawberry Fields stage-fighting their way through Henry VI, Part I. Truth is, I haven’t been in much. I’ve taken lots of classes, I love scene-work, and I went on auditions intensively eight years ago.
I’m the type of guy who is asked to do the toast at dinner parties probably because I get a certain thrill out of it. It’s the limelight thing. I can’t help it. I was born with it. Ask my kindergarten teacher.
As much as I walk around New York secretly wishing to be plucked from obscurity by Martin Scorsese’s casting agent, I also entertain the opposite fantasy. I crave disappearing into thin air like Christopher McCandless. Of course, he did get pretty famous losing himself in the Alaskan wilderness.
What I’ve come to understand about the paradox of ‘celebrated vs. social celibacy’ is that underlying it all is a healthy drive to be appreciated. It’s my view that even the most reclusive monk wakes up some days wanting to be recognized for his accomplishments, “Hey Mr. Recluse, you sure are good at attaining enlightenment!”
I myself want to be recognized for being a good, talented, hard-working man. I’m not going to deny it. I want others to smile at me, responding, “Wow you did that thing really great. You are really good at that.”
Now that I’m 38 years old I can acknowledge a little praise goes a long way.
Sounds like a metastasized ego talking. I want all eyes on me, and if I can’t have them I’ll just crawl in some hole for shame of wanting to be seen, appreciated. It’s common practice in our culture to shame ourselves, and one another, for having basic human desires. It’s easy to feel like a schmuck when the need for approval and validation goes unmet.
Here’s the thing: desire for appreciation is as much alive on a crowded city street as it is on a desolate mountaintop. Self-appreciation—appreciating my own dignity and worthiness—is as important coming from me as it is from others.
We learn to appreciate ourselves by the example of others appreciating us. Ideally this is a fundamental experience of every child originating with his parents. Sadly not all of us receive such primary appreciation. Regardless of whether we were nurtured or neglected as youngsters we don’t stop craving and needing it. We are always seeking out appreciation in relationship, even in the subtlest of ways. It doesn’t work to manipulate others into appreciating us. We feel fulfilled when it is freely and genuinely given and received.
Then one day we find ourselves alone—in the woods, in a motel room, in an airport, even a hospital waiting room. Either we’ve chosen this solitude or it was imposed upon us. In this instance we start looking, searching. Our thoughts go round and round. What are we attempting to discover, to remember?
We are seeking within ourselves the same appreciation we sought from others when they were close by. The question is amplified in the silence. Can I whisper to myself in the hushed flickering of solitude, “Hey you, you are basically good. You are hard-working, and you’ve accomplished one thing today—even the tiniest thing—with dignity.”
We are all capable of answering this question in the affirmative. We all have the ability to deliver ourselves this unconditional appreciation. Even actors, I think.
What helps is to experience this firsthand with other people. Friends, lovers, or family who understand well enough for themselves the significance of appreciation. Enough so that when the time is right they give it freely and genuinely to you.
This is the argument for surrounding oneself with well-intentioned individuals: caring, thoughtful men and women. When you’ve been appreciated, it makes the time spent by yourself, or surrounded by other people, that much sweeter.