The Character of Character

Last night I hurt Jack. Of course I didn’t do it intentionally, but it happened nevertheless. And now I’m dealing with the feelings of disappointment that come along with this sort of thing.

Jack came over to my apartment. We were happy.

Earlier in the day, Jack had made a “creative” Twitter[1] persona, based on a fictional character who he did not invent. A curious thing, as the character, “Donald Draper” from the television series Mad Men, is undeniably sexy and powerful, yet somewhat lost, as unsatisfied in his own personal life as he is wise in his work life. Again, this life is fictional.

I now remember that first learning of the creation of this meta-fictional character left me feeling a little strange. Certainly, we all have what might be called alter-egos, personae, the masks we wear in different situations. And certainly in the (meta-real?) realm of the internet. This very blog is the creation of a woman (me) in the image of an artist. I am a persona here. Some of this is real, and some of this is imagined, and some dreamed-up.

Here, I walk the line of sharing and what is called “oversharing”. Names are changed. Edits are made. They are all truths, but they are my truths. One of my truths is fantasy.

Jack was both excited and proud of his creation.

I failed to both see and respect this. I was (and am still) entirely unclear on what the reason is. The intent. Does Jack consider the persona a hobby? A project? I asked him something along these lines and he revealed that he wasn’t sure, so the character/persona “speaks” only actual lines written originally by the writers of the “artwork” where the character lives.

The idea of plagiarism certainly crossed my mind. As an artist, I believe in stealing. I also believe that if you steal, you must build upon what’s stolen, or change it, and change it enough so that it exists as its own work. This may be possible (and I imagine, or at least hope, intended) with Jack’s “borrowed” character. Though, I’m not sure how.

We went out and walked my dog. Jack told me he’d like to create the supporting cast of characters as well.

This would be daunting, and I have yet to learn what the goal is to be, or Jack has yet to discover it. I don’t think that all of this should have been planned out in some kind-of silly prospectus before the beginning of the experiment, but it’s hard for me to get on board with a collaboration if I don’t see at least minimal direction. These ideas are more clear in my mind as I write this than they were yesterday evening. I must admit to being rather dismissive, saying, “I’ve got my hands full” in regard to various artistic commitments, especially in this particular media.

Jack interpreted this as a lack of “support” on my part. Which was, I believe, a fair assessment, as much as I’m loathe to admit it.

What we were left with was the only too familiar quandary of a relationship of expectation: “You should have done x. I didn’t explicitly tell you I wanted x, but you should have known. And now, it is too late to do x because I’m here having to tell you about it.”

I don’t know if I wanted the character to go away or if I wanted to simply “get it” more. Lucky for me, today is Wednesday, and I spent my entire hour of therapy with Dr. M on the subject. We didn’t come to a conclusion, and I left without a neatly wrapped package of understanding. But I did have more questions.

Does Jack identify with the character? And if he does, to what extent?  And why does that worry me? As I said earlier, in my assessment, “Donald Draper” is confused and lost. He creates a life of infidelity, though he dotes on his wife. Draper is something of a genius, creatively, and is himself his own creation. He is gentlemanly and fashionable, but also closed and unsure. He fears aging. He is conservative, but also sees potential in an ingenue. The character bespeaks a complex dissonance between public and private integrity. In short, it’s a truly great and moving character for a hero of a work of art/story/fiction. And this is why we love the show.

What is the worth? Why is it important to him? Is it entertainment? For Jack or for those who view the character? Is it plagiarism? Furthermore, does Jack intend to “hide” behind the character? He has yet to reveal his original Twitter “identity” as related to this new, (more?) fictional identity.

Am I being unduly judgmental? Is my critique too harsh? This wouldn’t be the first time I’d been called out for that (and again, justly). But Dr. M brought up the point that I didn’t even give Jack’s “project” the time of day, much less a fair and honest critique. Jack and I have discussed an artistic collaboration, our very own project, but nothing as of today has come to real fruition. Today I find myself admitting that I am afraid of a collaboration. And I’m even more afraid of telling Jack I’m afraid of collaborating with him, most especially because (if I remember correctly) the idea was my own. There is some kind of safety in vastly different roles: Jack is The Scientist, I am The Artist. With that dichotomy, there’s no room for competition. I’ve seen the competitive nature in both of us, as individuals. We’re both fierce.

Should I support something my partner does, even if I don’t agree with it? I simply do not want to give up the aspect of myself, my own identity and often a source of pride that is opinionated. Outspoken. How safe I find myself in my own belief of the strength of my intellect. How safe I feel in the identity of “critical thinker” and even, by extension, a critical person. But can I bring this critical thought into a relationship? Am I looking at Jack’s creation or am I looking at Jack?

Throughout this relatively short (and truly lovely and awe-inducing) relationship, I think of Jack creating and building upon his identity, especially considering his recent divorce. His life changed drastically.

Why didn’t I ask these questions last night, when I had ample opportunity? I am sometimes afraid of Jack’s quick temper, despite the anger having never been directed at me. I cannot help but be reminded of my father, who is now at the age of 58, finally learning how to laugh at himself. Another reason might be that I wanted to ignore the issue, hoping it would disappear. I find myself frustrated that recent debates about theory and politics sneak into becoming dangerously personal, and I wonder what we say in these talks behind the words. I find myself frustrated at Jack for taking these discussions personally, but I cannot deny I’ve felt deep and clear emotion as well, especially concerning discussion of the beliefs and ethics I hold dear. Are we not what we believe? And what does it really mean, as I said last night, to “agree to disagree”? How much can two people in a partnership disagree? It would certainly be nice to have some kind of mathematical proof, a marked threshold wherein we could size up the number of different topics upon which we held differing beliefs, or how vastly those beliefs different on a single topic. Even still, I don’t think I want to be so devoted to someone who agrees with everything (or even near that) I believe. I want to be challenged. I seek it out. I believe these challenges strengthen my acumen, understanding of emotions and the complexity of issues so that I can take a position and thus, continue to form my identity.

And what is the character (role) I myself have created for Jack? On one hand, I like to believe I accept Jack fully for “exactly who he is”, but do I also glaze over certain shortcomings in the hopes that they will change in the near future? And if I do want Jack to change, to overcome certain faults (at least as much as I hope to overcome my own), to what extent? I fell in love with him, I continue to be in love with him.

How do these roles serve us? Or, how do we imagine they will serve us?


[1] Yet another Web 2.0 social networking service that works like a mini-blog. Posts are limited to 140 characters.

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3 Responses to “The Character of Character”

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