Now Playing: Dear John by Taylor Swift (maybe it's me and my blind optimism to blame, or maybe it's you and your sick need to give love then take it away)
Not everyone knows about Ai Weiwei, a Chinese contemporary artist well known for tweeting pictures of himself flipping off historical monuments and not as well known for designing the birds nest for the Beijing Olympics. Not everyone really likes Ai Weiwei, either; namely the Chinese government aren't really huge fans. But despite not everyone knowing or liking Ai Weiwei, he has made an undeniable impact on the world. He dares to speak out, even though he comes from a place where speaking your mind can be one of the most dangerous things to do.
A lot of people accuse me of being performed or attention seeking of late, but I think they are unfair accusations. I can't talk to people, I can't walk up to a complete stranger behind a counter and ask them for something, I can't tell a waiter what I want to eat or a shop assistant if I can use the fitting rooms. Even amongst my close friends I can't always tell them what I want to do, or even just look them in the eye. I had a panic attack when someone laughed too loudly. Of course everything I do is performed; it's performed because unlike you, I have to actively pull myself together and grit my teeth through everyday life. I have to force myself to do things that involve people and interacting with them; so of course it's going to come off as performed. I do my best. Forgive me for not being perfect.
As for attention seeking, well; everyone's pretty damn attention seeking. Doing anything that differentiates you from a robot makes you attention seeking.Even deliberately avoiding attention is in itself attention seeking. We all crave attention, but we have made seeking attention to be such an obnoxious thing. Women, in particular, are meant to sit quietly and agree politely and hope and pray that some man notices her blending into the wallpaper; we have glorified the wallflower because we're terrified of a woman bold and independent and individual enough to be the life of the party. Men like it when they 'find' someone who is humble and self-effacing and perfect but ignored until now; men don't like women who haven't been ignored, because they're tainted by the male gaze. There is, apparently, something desperate about a woman who puts herself in the limelight; it is because we have made women to be obscene - both 'off stage' and 'disgusting'. The girl everyone likes is someone defined by everyone liking her; if people hadn't happened to take notice she would have been a nobody. I am not like that. Whether you like it or not, whether people notice me in the crowd or not, I will always be a somebody. And we all crave attention; nobodies and somebodies, it's just whether or not we procure this attention without voicing our desire for it that matters, which is ridiculous and hypocritical.
So I am well aware that I'm quite a performed, attention seeking person. But what differentiates attention-seeking Ai Weiwei and attention-seeking Kim Kardashian is sincerity, a sense of integrity; the thing that differentiates artists and performers and activists from reality TV stars is that people like Ai Weiwei refuse to 'pretend to smile'.
I had a very close, very precious relationship with someone that broke because I couldn't pretend to smile. My pretend to smile was to like someone I didn't know; and the only recommendation is that 'everyone likes her' - with the design of pressuring me into liking her, too. I have no doubt she is someone perfectly likeable and worthy of being liked, but the idea that someone is validated as a good or decent or interesting person solely because everyone likes them is ridiculous. I knew a boy who was almost universally liked, too; it did not make him a particularly good person or friend. He was liked because he was so easy to forgive, but that did not make him very forgiving. By circumstance, I could not like this girl; liking her would be a pretend to smile, and an insult to everyone involved. We had nothing in common and far too much to drive us apart. I am perfectly sure she was not very interested in knowing or liking me, either.
I have always considered my relationships totally distinct from each other; it was why I could love a girl and her ex boyfriend equally and at the same time, and there would be no row because they were two individual relationships instead of an attempt to force three people to mutually love each other. You learn, eventually, who and what you can and can't bring up, and it's fine. I have my list of things I'd rather not talk about, too. But that isn't good enough, for some people; to prove how much you care for them, you have to pretend to smile and like someone else, too - their best mate, or their girlfriend, or whoever they consider to be of equal or greater value than you. It's messy and humiliating and inevitably doomed to fail. I will be cordial to whoever you might hold dear, but I am under no delusions that my friends' friends are automatically my friends, too. I should be able to choose who I want to associate with without risking what is precious to me.
And I have watched, too, as people pretend to smile until their falsehoods become realities. They believe whatever is convenient, and twist stories into half-true fairytales in which they are always the hero.
I do not strive to be known to everyone, or liked by everyone. The only people I know who have achieved this are aggressively vapid, and posess no talents either than the ability to pretend to smile. You can claim that all these well liked people are intelligent and outspoken; but only on conventional matters. They only speak loudly because they're singing with the choir. I only want friends who will speak for the silenced, and be unafraid of dissent and defiance; these perfectly likeable, perfectly intelligent, perfectly opinionated people quickly lose their virtues at the face of something remotely controversial. These are not the kind of people I admire, and not this is not the kind of person I aspire to be. I have my faults, but at least people will know and remember me as a person of integrity and sincerity. These perfectly flawless people have flaws, and it is stupid to think that they are immune to human failings. I think the most unforgivable flaw is to be so quick and unrepetant when you pretend to smile.
I know you do not think of me as a particularly honest person, and I know you consider my demons to be great flaws in my character rather than illnesses that I struggle with, every day, with or without your company. But I only lied when I felt obligated to pretend to smile. In all other things I was honest to you, even when it hurt, and even when I knew it would hurt you. I thought someone like you might be deprived of someone to tell it like it is, so I did. I risked everything to be a good friend to you, and when you forced me to pretend to smile I did my best. I know you are not really listening, now; I know your great talent for believing whatever is convenient will make me seem an even greater liar than you thought before. But I don't live for you, anymore. I live for myself. And I know in my heart that I was always as honest and as sincere as I could possibly be, with you. If you don't believe me, then consider why I believed everything you said, why I believed you did everything in good faith, why I took your word for it when you promised me all those promises you broke. I believed you because I was being honest, and when you're honest with someone you cannot help but believe, or hope, that they are being honest, too. But I was not the liar; you were. Your honesty was nothing more than a thin veil to hide your cruelty; when you were being kind, or generous, you were also lying. And now you have broken me like a promise, and I realized too late that just because everyone forgives you doesn't mean that you are worthy of forgiving. You broke me like a promise, but I was honest to you to the very end. I don't need you to hear it or believe it. I am assured in my heart of my own integrity, and that is enough.
For my friends I have forced myself to smile through tears, to bite my tongue and hold my breath; always with the threat that if I did not pretend to smile for them, they would leave. But I cannot, I cannot pretend to smile; and even if I did you would see right through me, because for all my performed attention seeking I am too real and too open and too vulnerable to convincingly lie. And it will always be a lie; I don't see why people get so angry about that. I can't change who I am, all I could do is lie, but then you get angry because the painful lies are not convenient truths. And so I will not pretend to smile, anymore. The only thing that sets me apart from everyone else isn't excessive beauty or excessive wealth or excessive talent. People only become Ai Weiweis and avoid becoming Kim Kardashians by refusing to pretend to smile.