The Illustration Friday word of the week is layer.
In a dog-eat-dog world, survival is a strong motivator and hiding is a most useful skill. One could even make the argument that hiding is natural because the animal kingdom demonstrates such a plethora and variety of adaptive physiologies and behaviors. Environment-appropriate colors, shapes, spots or stripes are everywhere, and hunting, foraging and mating behaviors are perfectly synchronized to particular surroundings and particular species. An animal surely knows (if it can know such a thing) who it is, where it fits and how to survive in its world.
But is hiding natural for humans? Without significant survival instincts and when faced with what seems to be a hostile universe, humans frequently resort to hiding strategies (more kindly referred to as ‘coping behaviors’) that take the form of postures, poses, masks and personas. Many of us resort to a different layer of personality for every area of our life. To our boss or clients we are one person, to our parents we are another, to our kids or friends we are yet another, and to the opposite sex, yet one more still. Could this be natural for anything that is not a chameleon?
Humans are born fur-less and defenseless, and maybe that is a cue to the path we are meant to travel on our journey through life. Some might argue that ‘superior mental faculties’ (should one interpret this as ‘the ability to manipulate’..?) are meant to replace the ‘less evolved’ survival tactics of tooth, claw and stripe…but have those same faculties brought the human race any percentage of the apparent tranquility that most animals seem to enjoy? A wikipedia essay on the Theory of Camouflage (both animal and human) notes that, “the methods by which concealment or obscurity are attained share a common set of strategies intended to deceive the observer.” Natural or not (and successful or not), for humans this hiding business is exhausting and alienating. It leads to stress and strain, illness, paranoia and lack of connection. It destroys the opportunity for true communion and creative evolution. Seems a high price to pay for propagation of the species and the safety of one’s soft underbelly…
For those of you who are wearied by the rat race and the dog-eat-dog version of reality, I send a wee bit of comfort with the poetic lyrics of Leonard Cohen (from the soundtrack of McCabe & Mrs. Miller).
Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me their song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.
Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes round to your soul.
Well I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned:
When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.
Well they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them.
They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem.
If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn
they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.
When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon.
Don’t turn on the lights, you can read their address by the moon.
And you won’t make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night:
We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right,
We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right.
“Parlor Persona” (oil on paper)