Fears and doubts to overcome. Defenses and guards to drop, reach or break through. Outer armor and inner blocks to remove. Learning not to hold it all inside, take a chance, open up, let go, let them know, let them in. Sound familiar? It seems that most failed flawed or obstructed human interaction is attributed to humans acting more like well-constructed ancient citadels designed for repelling and withstanding attack than social creatures seeking loving company, compassion and connection. People are all like those maps of old, where the most determined adventurer eventually arrives at that place with no other information offered but the warning "here be dragons."
Which is why it’s so strange to find myself in middle age giving up on map reading and dragon befriending, opting instead to retreat to a remote location and build the kind of psychological fortress it takes most people their whole lives to dismantle. Because in the end my life’s greatest losses have not been due to the letters unsent, the words unsaid, the move unmade, the risk untaken, the heart unshared, the realization too late realized or acted upon, but quite the opposite. On principle I still believe in courageously putting oneself out there in full self-awareness and self-accessibility, as I have always done from the start, fearlessly, guilelessly, but admittedly, in practice, I’m not the best proof of this being any better than if I had stayed locked up inside myself where it would have been safer.
So here I am, halfway through my 6th decade, in the process of going back into my long discarded shell, raising (out of thin air) my guard and defenses, assembling a sturdy suit of emotional armor, and storing my deepest thoughts and feelings behind a barricade, while decorating the battlements with spiky suspicion and corrosive skepticism. I’m even adding a moat of non-responsiveness and non-availability, a moat that doesn’t feel the need to apologize, make excuses or explanations for its extended unfathomable absences, inactions or silences, nor will it seek these gestures from other moats. It's what moats do.
Or I’m trying. Turns out, even as an occupant of my castle-in-progress, it just isn’t in my nature to defend against any approach or outreach – trustworthy or not. But I no longer throw the doors open to any and all guests, throw them a banquet, hand them the keys to the vaults, and pledge my resources to whatever cause or campaign they might need my support to undertake. And most importantly, I don't feel at all bad about what would have once struck me as unthinkable behavior. Welcome to Castle What the Fuck Ever.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I did today's self-portrait shoot. I wanted to capture the tension between my irrepressible urge towards unprotected self-disclosure and my new transactional view of any human interaction I engage in - wherein I give no more than I'm given, if that, and the only thing I trust, believe, or am interested in is what is right in front of me at that moment. The New Isolationism. Yes, I can hear you thinking, good luck with that.
Maybe there is a third option, a middle ground, in the decision of whether to withdraw completely from the world that has failed to reward my open door policy or walk through it utterly defenseless and continue to invite its betrayals. Maybe I'm looking at it the wrong way, as a choice between befriending or fleeing the dragon. Maybe I need to become the dragon.
Any resemblance to fictional characters currently appearing in popular HBO series and known for their connection to dragons is purely coincidental.