Listen to me read this here — and my apologies for the shoddy audio quality — I don’t have my microphone with me on this trip, and so I’ve been making do with what I have:
I am here, in Taiwan, with the rain pounding its lead fists on the tin roof and the blankets pulled up to my chin for fear of mosquitos. I’ll be here for another week, and then I’ll be back in San Francisco. Thus far in Taiwan I’ve done things such as eaten at family feasts, sat at a mountainside café and journaled, spent time with a reader-and-friend, and wandered the aisles of a fruit stall while trying to surreptitiously photograph the enormous oranges. These things I’ve chronicled with the #esmeintaiwan hashtag on Instagram, where I’ve been placing these photographs. (Feel free to follow me for more as I snap them.)
Something that I noticed during the process of sharing these photographs is the reaction they created not only in faraway readers and followers, but also in my close family and friends. “You look like you’re having such a great time,” they’d say. “Keep it up!” And in the meantime, I’d feel the urge to grimace a bit, because I’ve been largely emotionally drained and physically under stress. I spend most of my days here in bed, actually; and though I’m deeply grateful to be here, and so glad that I’ve had the opportunities that I’ve had to spend time with my extended family, there is so much that isn’t put on Instagram. There is so much that goes unsaid.
Which brought me to the idea of Radical Sincerity, and how it exists for me in Instagram — how it exists for anyone who believes in authenticity in social media. Few want to post unflattering photographs or pictures of their messy kitchen. Better to carefully arrange the brunch table so that it looks just so. I understand that impulse.
Because Instagram, and any form of image-sharing, involves a degree of the impulse toward beauty. As an aesthete, I care greatly about the composition of my photographs. I care about the way the grain works or doesn’t work. I care about the level of contrast. I like filters that mimic analog photography.
One method that I’ve found for infusing my images with Radical Sincerity includes narrating events in the captions on Instagram. The above meal was beautiful — the Lunar New Year’s Eve feast at lunch, cooked by my aunt — and yet I couldn’t eat more than three or four of the dishes for fear of gluten contamination. When everyone went out that evening for dinner, I stayed at home due to fatigue and discomfort, listening to the firecrackers pop wildly through the streets.
I do believe in Radical Sincerity as a touchstone in what I do. Sometimes that looks like putting up an image of myself sick in bed; other times it looks like putting up a flattering photograph of myself, vibrant and healthy, because my authentic self looks the way that I think it does in my mind. I’m learning how to do it my way, and I share this because I know that I’m not the only one who thinks about authenticity in Instagram, or any other platform in which we put up versions of ourselves.
The brilliant Dyana Valentine commented, “I see you. And am honored you show many phases and parts of yourself and your stories.”
This, I think, is what I’m trying to get at. We can never have the whole of one another, and especially not digitally. What we can have are phases and parts of what we choose to share, and I choose to share a life that, I hope, echoes the one that I truly live.