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A friend of mine perpetually asks, "Who would you be and what would you do if you weren't afraid?"
I wonder why. But some people live an amplified life and throw their contradictions out there. Their life is a work of art. This will sound weird, but I'm thinking about Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga is unique. One couldn't really copy her, but one could learn from her, from the way she sometimes portrays herself as someone willing to inflict pain, a disturbing cyborg, witch, or monster. She doesn't seem to worry about how people would react to seeing this side of her personality; she throws her imperfect self out into public view, even with a certain recklessness. She opts out of things that are deadening, repetitive, and routine. She has moved beyond that fog that is fearful to approach. She is on the other side of fear. As the saying goes.
First of all, people with passion are simply less willing to be ruled by the tyranny of public opinion. They have the courage to be themselves, only with abandon.
Second, they have a sense of humor about themselves and their projects. They delight in new ways to implement their goals, expand their personalities, and express themselves. They use imagination to understand their emotional histories, and open up new possibilities. They explore their issues like modeling clay, whether as artists or cooks, entrepreneurs or writers. They discover themselves through play.
Lady Gaga is always being hurt in her videos, or thrown off balconies. Images of mutilation recur throughout. Fame and body issues are the things that preoccupy her, her core concerns and tender spots. She may change styles during the course of her career, but whatever she does she is mostly digging down and playing with the same few issues.
Passionate people put themselves in danger, as Martha Nussbaum has written, attaching themselves to something they value but can't control. They have high levels of both vulnerability and courage.
If my emotional nature ran into some kind of consuming vocation, that external activity might bring some coherence to the scattered impulses of my inner self....
People are the only animals who are naturally unfinished, and I imagine people who live with passion must have started out with an unusually intense desire to complete themselves in that way, to build something out of their fantasies and terrors of fame and brutality. Gaga herself said as much the other night at a dinner hosted by Americans for the Arts (where I won't mention I was a guest, because that sounds somehow boastful, but rather leave it to the reader to figure it out, in a classic case of the humblebrag-by-omission): “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like."
The organization had given her an award alongside Herbie Hancock, Sophia Loren, and others, and her acceptance speech was as dramatic as the music. Tears flowing, she said that this blessing of respectability was “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”Sadly, no. The speech (you can see online text here) wasn't an acceptance speech, as if she had agreed to run for office, but thanks, and she certainly didn't express any gratitude for the "blessing of respectability" but for, weirdly enough in the way it illustrates the way Brooks's mind is indeed made up of scattered impulses, acceptance:
I am here tonight because not only have you accepted me, but you have accepted someone that is not Lady Gaga. My name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. I am an Italian-American. I was not born hot, like my mother would have you believe. I, over time, read so many books, watched so many movies, did so much art, met so many sculptors, filmmakers, poets, musicians, sidewalk artists that I invented something that was much stronger than I ever could have been on my own....It's always projection, you see. Respectability is, rather, what Brooks longs for, and somehow never obtains, in spite of the deeply respectable way he has tried to conduct his life, the bottling up of those impulses of fame-lust and sadism. Gaga is outrageous and fearless, and she's respected (not "respectable") for her discipline, of all things, while he, though self-condemned to the deadening, repetitive, and routine, for which he is heaped with money and honors, is treated by everybody on the street as an idle fool and an intellectual pimp, what's up with that?
The funny thing being that, if he'd only read his work, he might be able to figure it out—but reading it backwards helps.
Also, I don't think Nussbaum is sitting back and admiring those who are mysteriously born passionate, with their especially intense desires, while she enjoys a celebrity dinner, I think she's saying a passionate commitment to something you can't control is the only way to live and within everyone's reach.