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Life has begun to feel like I am sort of auditioning for one long YouTube video. I’ll be alone, say, in an empty windowless corridor or in the bathroom. But when I speak and move, I edit myself as though I am being watched, More specifically, I am picturing myself as if I am on film. Even down to my thoughts – often, I’ll be talking to myself in my head and if mid-thought I stumble over my virtual words, or think the wrong word, my brain will go back and re-run the thought as if I were saying it aloud. To an audience. Why can’t I be myself with myself any more?

I’m not quite sure how I let this happen. I’m not exactly a performer, there is certainly no unrealised desire in me to be famous, to be seen. I prefer to be alone. You could argue, quite rightly, that writing a blog is a performance. But clearly the appeal for this writer is that I can always edit.

tv sketch editI’m sure I can’t be the only one who has noticed themselves doing similar. Ringing any bells? Although I’ve been thinking about this only recently, I know it’s something I have been doing for a long while. And I blame the television! A pretty easy target. But, worryingly – or rather, not worryingly at all in this day and age – my TV is always on. It literally is a member of the family, a friend. Well, come on, friends – we have several. And so with 30 years of such indoctrination is it any wonder that we are constantly putting on a show. We’ve been practising all our lives – almost trained to act like we’re being watched. Like it or not, it’s not just the actors behind the screen – somehow, we have all become performers.

It must be even more intense for the younger lot or perhaps – not that they will have noticed. It will have been this way for their whole lives. For this generation TV isn’t so much influential as dictatorial. A guide for a life in front of the screen. Even on the most basic level, there’s always the threat of someone taking your photo. Then there are the bigger, inescapable eyes of Big Brother, watching our almost every move. And now, with social media, we are always being watched.

It’s exhausting! And not just the show, remembering to check your words and your outfits. No, there is the vast mental effort needed to consider, and the impact this performance has on our self-esteem. Our ideas about life in general. With so much visual competition there’s a lot to learn from, to inspire and challenge us to improve and grow, yes. But we have all set up an outer image of ourselves – the persona we want the outside world to recognise us as, the persona we want to convince ourselves that we are, even in private – and how can we constantly live up to that? It’s as though we are measuring up to a hologram.

I recognise this because I know it is something I do in myself. As a teenager I had created a persona that I never let myself switch off from, even once the bedroom door was closed and it was just me (and the TV), because I wanted it to be real. Laughably, that aspirational figure was very much based on Bridget Jones. Somehow, the constant pretence made it more believable. It was comforting to pretend.

Remember those poignant words of William W. Purkey? You gotta dance like there’s nobody watching. I’m wondering, are we actually capable of this anonymity anymore? Or has the mantra turned on its head? You’ve got to dance like somebody is watching, because there most likely is – even if it’s just in your head.

I came across an article recently about what was referred to as the great illusion of the self. Of what little of it I understood, there seems to be a growing argument among psychologists that we – or rather ‘you’ – are not the person you thought you were, underneath it all. And with this in mind, maybe there isn’t any real harm in pretending. Besides, what greater comfort is there?

I am unashamedly moved by Christmas lights. Sometimes to the point of actual tears. Lights in general, really. Street lamps casting their eerie glow in this autumnal (or should that be wintery) fog. The less subtle sugary glare of neon shop signs, arcade games and pencils that light up when you write. The pop of those fairy lights that people string around their gardens. They all provoke a reaction in me. Maybe it’s part of growing up in the city. The lights signal home.

So as you can imagine, this time of year is a particularly emotional one for me. Whenever I walk past a ragged municipal pine tree in town – and there are many – there is a song in my heart. Even the most down-trodden Old Bear style trees are brought back to resplendent life with a few glowing baubles strangled around the bare branches. Ahh, lovely.

Since our city’s Christmas lights got switched on ceremoniously at the end of November my heart has been going lords a leaping and bells a jingling at every corner. Just this morning I swooned at the sight of one of the Jewellery Quarter’s themed lights – a man hammering some steel (or something). It took the chill right off the gale force winds that have arrived out of nowhere. My fellow commuters didn’t seem cheered. If only they’d look up at the lights instead of rushing like salmon into the nearest Costa** – you can’t be sad at the sight of a be-mittened waving snowman. Or a man wielding a hammer.

It’s a different animal at the weekends though. Now that the Christmas-shopping-countdown has commenced I’ve been witnessing other grown adults reduced to fits of childish emotion out on the streets – however I’ve got a feeling that’s less to do with joy at the lights and more stress at the checkouts….

The fizzy charm of pretty lights must touch most of us in some small way, even if we wouldn’t rush to admit it. Judging by the on-steroids manner in which our suburban streets are dressed to the nines with camp glittery reindeer and acrobatic Father Christmases careering down drainpipes all over the nation – and those of us who drive around said streets specifically to ogle this spectacle – there is a real thirst for putting on a light show. It can’t all be for the kids…

All those colours. Can’t get enough of them. When I think about it, I’ve always found myself very susceptible to colour – something just switches in my brain when confronted with particular ones. Sometimes I allow my life to be dictated by colour without quite realising what’s happening. (I may be sounding a bit hippy dippy now but don’t worry, I’m not a wearer of mood rings or anything). I must be an advertiser’s dream. They will be the first to tell you about the power of colour – cleverly manipulating it to control us. Well, our spending habits at least.

Which is why I’ve mixed emotions about going to see the Coca Cola truck. You know, the illuminated van from the adverts? (I was surprised to learn that the first of these was only made in 1995. I say only, although that was nearly 20 years ago…feel old) Anyway, in case you have managed to avoid the constant adverts, Coca Cola are sending their trucks on a UK tour. While I find myself rather abhorred by the idea of going to gawp at a huge multinational brand in the name of Christmas – a shameless marketing ploy, and in a shopping centre just to hammer the message home – I don’t think I can resist the call of those famous lights.

I know I’ll basically be looking at a stationary lorry for a few seconds… I mean, I could do that at the back of any old takeaway any day of the week. But, oh! The childhood(ish) memories of pure unadulterated excitement when the advert came on! That catchy jingle!* I am moved to tears by the bloody thing.

Because for many people, people like me, Christmas is a consumerism thing. I recognise it is a little sad to say that, but it is nevertheless true. We were never a religious family. I’m not religious now. It was all about exchanging presents. Well, and spending time with ‘loved ones’, of course. But mostly the presents. So, maybe Coca Cola is my God after all… There’s a thought.

One thing is for sure – as soon as I set eyes on those chirpy lights there will be tears.

*Please let me apologise to those of you who now have the ‘holidays are coming’ song stuck in your head. 

** I do like Costa’s Xmas-themed cups though – very kitsch

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