Self-Portrait, July 2006

Apparently, someone out there in the blogosphere wants to see a picture of me, based on information WordPress provides. I was also able to deduce that, instead of me, the searcher was directed to a picture (posted here a couple months ago) of Ashlee Simpson!

To rule out any possible confusion or conspiracy theories, I am not Ashlee Simpson writing under an assumed name. And I never, ever lip-sync.

self-portait-july-3-2006-f.jpgHere is what I look like, right now, warts and all. I took this picture myself, just by holding my arm out, pointing the camera and shooting. If it’s good enough for my son and all his IM/MySpace buddies, it’s good enough for me.

I was sitting on the stern of a boat at the time. It was nice to be a guest on this boat. A little glass of tequila and lime was nearby. The approaching evening was warm and quiet, except for the musical chatter of my 4-year-old niece. A big pelican circled the cove. A seal occasionally bobbed up from the depths.

Normally, I don’t look so serious, but I was thinking deeply at this particular moment about the strange twists my life has taken. Ten years ago, I could have hardly imagined what my 40s would bring in the way of tragedies, disasters, and bizarre injustice. (I’m just speaking objectively, not complaining.) There must be a reason I have gone on this ride.

There are important lessons here, almost too many to keep track of. It is up to me to use whatever skills I have as a communicator to synthesize all of this into coherent stories, if the stories will illustrate truths. Truth has intrinsic value. The question, the test, is whether I am a competent enough witness to convey these truths.

Personally, I have no complaints whatsoever. I remain healthy, and enjoy infinite blessings. Despite everything, I am far more light-hearted today than I was at 40, when every peaceful moment was ruined by anxious thoughts. Now I know sheer joy, and I know that sheer misery doesn’t destroy it. I have many people in my life to cherish. Ten years ago, I didn’t cherish anyone nearly enough.

I am angry at almost no one. The people who damaged my reputation and my life didn’t go out of their way to hurt me. They did what they did out of weakness: Ambition, expedience, wounded vanity, fear. These are human failings, to which I am also prey. I am sure my moments of greed, laziness, pride and cowardice have caused grief to other people. Just not so publicly.

Even though I believe the actions that led to my recent trial were misconstrued and misrepresented (to say the least), I can’t completely escape responsibility for my situation. I was swimming with sharks and didn’t recognize the danger I was in. I made decisions to bestow trust in people and institutions based on flimsy and nebulous factors. Words like “culture” and “family” should be discounted in the two worlds in which I dwelled for much of my career: Corporations and politics. They’re always part of the pitch, but they’re never really on offer.

There are harsh realities in both the corporate and political worlds to which I naively thought I was immune. Despite the romantic image Jimmy Stewart, Audrey Hepburn or Tom Hanks movies lend to naïveté, it is not always so charming to be naive. In my case, it was careless and stupid, and I’ll be paying the price for a long time.

I continue to fight, vigorously and with a clear conscience, to redeem my claim of innocence in the court case. But even after I am exonerated, I won’t be “in the clear.” I made avoidable mistakes. I hope that as I process and regurgitate this experience, I can lead a few other people away from the chasm into which I tripped.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent this past weekend in the company of some very young children, little ones who are still piecing the world together, word by word, experience by experience. They face a challenge, and shrink from it at first, crying in protest. Then they try again and succeed, and laugh, and all memory of their tears vanishes. I’m just like these kids, but because I’m 50 and not 4, when I discover something important, the consequences linger along with the lesson, even when I can laugh.

So it seems appropriate to close with a quote I found today from Dr. Thomas Szasz, the controversial professor of psychiatry:

“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.”

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