The Face to Meet the Faces That You Meet
“A mask tells us more than a face.”
—Oscar Wilde, Pen, Pencil, and Poison
Look at the great masks of history: Try though we may, we cannot unsee them: The Phantom of the Opera. Freddie Kruger. Joan Rivers.
But Oscar, of course, is not talking Halloween (or how, for a price, you can celebrate it every day of the year). He’s getting at something the Victorians obsessed over: That a face was who you were. In other words, the face did not lie. A beautiful, gentle visage bespoke a beautiful gentle person, and a malformed face meant “evil.” (Back in the ’80s, even my mom, Lynne, had a hard time believing Muammar Gaddafi could be all that evil: “He’s so handsome,” she’d say, and he really was, back then. By the same token, a brilliant, decent man like Dennis Kucinich is not handsome enough (or tall enough) to be president.) Oscar knew that most people are, at bottom, shallow. Not much bottom.
“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”
–Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
The mask we use when we go public is important information. Pretense is fascinating, how we show ourselves is revealing: A woman whose face consists of bare flesh, unadorned, is wearing just as much of a mask as is a woman in heavy makeup with feline features as a result of plastic surgery. In other words, a face is more than a face, whatever you think you are reading in its features.
So what does Facebook reveal?
Are You the Sum of Your Facebook Parts?
Miss O’ is this week on the hunt to understand why a potential employer would think it is useful, wise, and legal to demand Facebook passwords of its prospective employees. The subject ties deeply into not only our corporate and political culture, but also our personal one. Allow her to be fatuous and superior, if she may.
Here’s one lawyer’s “trying to be oh-so-reasonable” take on the “I deserve your Facebook password” argument, which I find unbearably lame. I can’t find any substance in it to even argue with:
“Work with me,” he begins. Ahem. One of the arguments against this, he points out, is the following:
It may violate the federal Stored Communications Act. The SCA prohibits unauthorized access of an electronic facility so as to obtain access to an electronic communication that while it is in electronic storage. But the SCA expressly excepts conduct that is authorized by the person who makes or is the intended recipient of the communications. Employers have been using this “consent exception” for almost two decades in their technology use policies – if you want to work here, sign this policy that gives me the right to monitor your technology use.
Think it’s not consent if the employer requires access?
Actually, nobody thinks that, Mr. Lawyer. If you require it, and I give it, that is “consent.” However, should you require access, and I deny it, I then lose any “opportunity” to “work” for you. That is the sticking point, you see.
If employers cannot compel applicants and employees to consent to things they do not like as a condition of employment, then we will need to rethink noncompete agreements, drug testing, and really any kind of background checking whatsoever. Certainly applicants cannot be forced to consent to things that are otherwise illegal, so for example you would not demand consent to information beyond what you have determined you can properly review. But the SCA standing alone should not render illegal the review of applicants’ social media information.
See, this is where I get pissed off. First, “noncomplete” is not a word. Second, I don’t believe in drug testing except in the cases of employees who will be handling firearms, such as the police and the military; I also think that sports associations that ban steroids should have the right to test for those steroids. I think it’s an invasion of privacy in any other case: You are either performing well at your job or not performing well. Third, background checks unearth what is essentially public information, but consolidated through an agency so that it can be located efficiently. For example, when people want to buy a unit in my co-op, I as a board member run a credit score, criminal background check, and proof of employment. That’s all I am allowed to have, and it’s basic for my purposes of determining good credit and general honesty. (If the buyer does not have good credit and cannot pay maintenance fees, for example, our heat could get turned off if our co-op’s bills do not get paid.)
But here are the arguments and the tone that really piss me fucking off (boldface and underline mine):
I submit that, if everybody calms down, the job-relatedness consensus can be applied to applicant information on social media. Legislators who are rushing to ban the consideration of social media are doing a disservice to employers, to good employees who are entitled to work with colleagues of a certain quality and, in extreme situations, to the public by depriving employers of job-related information about applicants.
I disagree with his premise, beginning to end: “Work with me here” my ASS. I don’t have to “take a deep breath” or “calm down.” DICK. He’s the kind of boss/leader-type who meets every “I disagree” with “You are an hysteric.” It’s beyond condescending: It’s manipulative and, as for the other boldfaced comment, snobbish.
He keeps talking about “job-related information” that not knowing Facebook stuff will “deprive” him of.
Then I took a deep breath. I calmed down.
And I remembered back to the interview for my first teaching job.
My First Teaching Job Interview: Demand and Supply
The superintendent himself was conducting the interview, as this entire county in Central Virginia where the high school was located consisted of only four schools: one for primary (K-2), one for elementary (3-6), one for middle (7-8), and one high school (9-First Prison Sentence/Farm Harvest without Dad). He was very kind, this man, whom I’ll call Mr. Lipscomb.
When we spoke on the phone, he suggested we meet on my college campus, as he was a frequent visitor, Virginia Tech being his alma mater. We would meet in the lobby of the Donaldson-Brown Center, a conference hall and alumni hotel. I had aleady sent him my résumé, college transcripts, and recommendation letters, as requested, when I initially applied. Based on these things, he had elected to interview me. For the interview, he told me exactly what else to bring.
I had to borrow my friend Mark McPherson’s car to haul it all: the three boxes of personal journals and diaries dating back to childhood; my yearly calendars of class schedules and appointments, my address books (old and new), my photo albums, and the eight boxes of personal cards and letters, to say nothing of the memorabilia from all my years of high school and college theater. I had to ask the nice concierge at the lobby desk if I might borrow a hand truck or dolly. Mr. Lipscomb, seeing my burden as I wheeled through the automatic doors, also graciously helped me unload the collection at the small sofa there by the conveniently located lobby restrooms. He ordered us coffee and donuts: “This is going to be a long afternoon,” he quipped, and I giggled nervously.
As he began to sift the contents (“These are quite nicely organized by year,” he commented), my mind raced. “I sure hope my Auntie Clare didn’t write anything lewd in my birthday cards,” I thought. (“I don’t see your music and book collections here,” Mr. Lipscomb frowned. “Oh, wait, you supplied a list. That will do.”) “Had I mentioned anything about masturbation in my journals?” I began to panic. My palms sweated. “I don’t even know WHO I AM,” I internally screamed. (“I trust,” he intoned, pointing to a snapshot of a blinking sophomore me in short shorts and tank top holding a red plastic tumbler, “that you were not actually drinking alcohol in this picture,” and I smiled, shook my head, blushed.) “I will never work, not only in the American school system, but not in America, not ever,” I realized. I brushed away tears. “Perhaps in France….”
What He Actually Asked Me to Bring to My Interview
Instead, we held what used to be called “an interview.” In it, we talked. He asked me questions, and I answered them. This caused us to fall into what used to be called “a conversation,” meaning that what began as formal dialogue segued into a mutual sharing of information, ideas, and questions. It’s quite an experience, if you’ve never had one.
After an hour of talking about where I was from, my Virginia education, my goals for my profession, my teaching philosophy as I had come to know it, and my reasons for wanting to enter my vocation as a teacher of theater and English, we shook hands. He smiled. “Your transcripts and test scores are excellent,” he said. “You come so highly recommended, I feel confident in hiring you,” he said. And that was it. Right there in the lobby of Donaldson-Brown, I had become a professional teacher. I would start in August. “Call my office,” he offered, “and my secretary will give you the names of the realtors in town so you can find a place to live. In the meantime, I’ll schedule an interview with the high school’s principal, merely a formality, so you can see where you would be working.”
And I had the job. By the process of talking, we—both of us—had made decisions about my potential value and success as an employee. By looking into each other’s eyes, listening to one another’s vocal inflections, judging body postures, and using other nonverbal signals, we enhanced the verbal exchange. We seemed, hard though it may be to believe in the age of an electronic Social Network, to come to know one another through engagement in the same physical and aural space.
Why is this way of interviewing no longer valued? I think it’s about the newest American culture fear: Fear of the Real.
Fear of the Real
I listened to an interview on NPR’s podcast of “Fresh Air” between Terry Gross and her guest, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Maddow, who is by far the most marvelous combination of intelligence, education, honesty, and grace in our modern media age, spoke of the real wedge in our American political and personal landscape: We disagree not only in ideology, but on actual facts. Perhaps Monty Python illustrates it better than anyone else, as usual. This is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Plague “Bring Out Your Dead”:
He’s dead if I SAY he is. And if he’s not, we’ll MAKE him dead. There’s your “facts.”
But what is “fear of the real” in an interview? The employers who want your password claim to be searching for “facts.” What they really want to do is “not engage” in order to learn about you. They fear intimacy. It seems to be a disturbing national trend, and possibly it’s going viral.
Speak Up: The Human Voice
Intimacy is not sex. Sex is sex. Intimacy is closeness, the sharing of confidences in the same space, but more to the point it’s about being present. According to acclaimed voice teacher and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg, whom I heard interviewed years ago on NPR, humans have a fear of using their own human voices to express needs and desires. We used to sing, do call and response at gatherings, yell “Get the fuck out of my way.” Now we barely mutter an “excuse me” when we bump shoulders.
And it occurred to me as I walked up 6th Avenue (because I do most of my writing in my head when I'm in transit) that I needed to Google Patsy Rodenburg. (My friend Quinn has taken her workshops, but I never have. Now I really want to.)
In this brief clip, filmed at Michael Howard Studios in New York, Ms. Rodenburg is beginning to present a workshop on acting and getting inside a play. She talks about why she does theater. In the final couple of minutes, she tells a stunning story, and it has to do with reaction to human sound. Please watch all the way to the end of the 6:47, I beg you, before you read the next bit.
When she got to the end, I was sitting on my sofa, wailing, shaking from my deepest core, tears falling, unable to stop—and only when I started to come out of it, did I notice how I was reacting. That’s why I do, love, breathe theater, and it’s why I write, and why I tell stories: To tell the truth, even if you don’t like me all the time when I try to do it.
In this next clip, Rodenburg talks about her theory of being present as a way of beginning to find character. She calls it The Second Circle. For background: All actors need “a way in,” a shorthand, to find a way into a character. There are all kinds of methods, from chakra work (from yoga) to locating centers of gravity; from sense memory to building a personal character history. This is the most effective thing I’ve learned about in a long time (and I think the best actors work in combinations of methods, probably), and I just found her work this last week.
“If you are not able to get present, you cannot succeed.”
The Second Circle
(I saw the London production of Richard II with Ralph Fiennes to which she alludes. His entrance, in First Circle I now see, is possibly the most memorable I've seen. His shift to Second Circle, in prison, again was stunning, and now I see how this work got him there.)
Here is more on the work of this remarkable teacher:
Here is more on the work of this remarkable teacher:
One of the reasons I get depressed so often, I am now convinced, is that I’m in Second Circle almost all the time. In constant intimacy is an exhausting place to live. When I crash, I retreat into First Circle. To get through my day job, I push into Third Circle. This was an enormous personal epiphany, and I’m sharing it in case it can be of use.
Being present is deeply tied to the use of the Voice. People have come to fear their own voices even in New York City, even to say “excuse me,” so I make sidewalk announcements, loudly and regularly, to the rude and clueless: “When I have a decision to make, I try to stop in the middle of the sidewalk so I block EVERYONE…” or “When I’m not sure which way to turn, I STOP AT THE TOP OF THE SUBWAY STAIRS…” and it scares people, and they get embarrassed. And I think, “GOOD.” Maybe they won’t do it again. VOICES. So much better than a body block. But the intimacy required to use the voice frightens many of us, while a punch feels safely distant. It's curious.
The Second Circle and Teaching
How I wish I’d known about Patsy Rodenburg’s work when I was a teacher. Today, as I talked aloud to myself figuring out this blog, I found myself talking about teenagers, how much they hated giving speeches, and then of how many people get terrified to perform a public speech. And I realized, “They are giving the speech from First Circle.” So I found First Circle in myself (I’m already in it, today), and imagined having to talk to a group from that place: I began sobbing. Because when you speak from the private, protected place, you have no armor, you are giving away your safety. What you have to teach teens to do is move out of it, even if it means jumping into the Third Circle: the big generalized energy of the politician, the CEO, the “hail fellow, well met” sort of energy. Third Circle is where I lived with the out-of-control classes I had, the ones that needed to be constantly monitored and “sat on,” the ones I had to “fake” until I could learn about them.
The kids in those classes were afraid of Second Circle energy, as I think most people, at least in this country, are. Judging from nonsensical reactions to him, President Obama, I suspect, lives mostly in the Second Circle, and often in the First Circle. When he pushes into the Third Circle to give the grand speech, and he is feeling a good audience response, he can close in Second Circle (he may even begin a speech there, but he cannot stay there). Americans on the whole are only really comfortable with politicians who speak in Third Circle.
Intimacy scares them. Real connection is suspect. Because they don’t know how to do it themselves.
Implications in Personal Life
The man I “tried” for this year (as in dating)—lives in the First Circle, and in public lives in the Third Circle. It’s the Second Circle he can’t navigate, which I learned when trying to talk to him. By way of final proof, when I sent him the above videos via email as something of interest and as a way of checking in, he dismissed Rodenburg's work as “simplistic.” Of course he did.
Only a boss who has no conception of Second Circle, no tools for communicating with the voice, or understanding of how to read a body, needs your Facebook password. He (or, less often, she—yes, I said it) will learn no more there in your Facebook pages than in an interview, because such a boss has no understanding of how to “be with” anyone.
People, I think, fear those leaders who inhabit the Second Circle—Jesus, for example, must have lived in the Second Circle. Devotees who live in the same Circle are comfortable with such leaders, but no one else is. We all inhabit each of the Circles at some point, no mistake: As I said, when I’m in a depression I live in the First Circle; when I am formulating my notes for a blog or a play, I live in the First Circle, and once I am writing and fully engaged I am in Second Circle. And when I’m feeling introverted and quiet and walk into the office, I have to push to inhabit the Third Circle, armed with witty responses, “I’ve never felt more fulfilled,” for example, when someone asks, “How are you?” in order to “put on the show” and get the day started. Sometimes when doing tedious work, I have to live there in Third Circle all day; and then someone will approach to talk and expect Second Circle energy, and I can’t give it, and they look at me funny and become afraid of me, and I see now that’s because I’ve cheated them of intimacy. It strikes me that the Second Circle is the ideal place to live, and also the hardest. It seems I live there naturally, except, as I say, when I simply can't.
People who live primarily in the First and Third Circles live in a general and constant kind of fear, I think. And they create the culture of paranoia in their own image. Whether faced with “Give me your Facebook password” or “Let me legislate your reproductive rights,” we are in a cultural moment in America that we of the Second Circle must reclaim: Use your voice.
“Perhaps, after all, America never has been discovered. I myself would say that it had merely been detected.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray