“There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen.
When you are looked at, your eyes can be closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight. When you are seen, your eyes must be open, and you are seeing and recognizing your witness. You accept energy and you generate energy. You create light.
One is exhibitionism, the other is connection.
Not everybody wants to be looked at.
Everybody wants to be seen.”
As a performer and musician, I would not understand this differentiation of being looked at and being seen, until after I ceased to perform any shows and quit my band. The decision was based on many variables, but the underlying feeling was that I hated being looked at and I wanted to be seen so badly that every show became an opportunity for connection or rejection. The rejection was strange; it was not rejection of my persona, but a rejection of my true self I so desperately wanted to be seen. The rejection came with flattery and being looked at and I would chew on drink straws while a young artist would try to convince me that I should come hang out in their van. My persona would laugh and shake her head, treating the request as an ironic joke while understanding I was the prey and he was the manipulation wanting to be looked at, not wanting to be seen.
A decade of playing to bars taught me a few things about perspective in the entertainment field, specifically the stage of music and rock stars. Lies were imminent, impulse in full gain, and the crowd competed to be looked at in a staging of their own, in front of my microphone. The young lady on the side, inching up to the platform, would always become my focus to smile at. I see you, I see you seeing me. We are kindred. I stand where you stand at shows, close enough to be enveloped by the music playing form the giant speakers, far enough away from the rowdy middle. Safely tucked in the darkness, the whole experience unfolds and I was pleased that one person took the time to see my true self tucked into the lyrics. This simple exchange was the motivation I needed to share and relate in my own narcissist need.
I loved the music, the power of the chords and the flaws in a solo that created a unique live experience. The collective experience of band mates and friends gathering together in unity for the purpose of fun was what I lived for. I never wanted to be looked at and truth be told if I could have worn a bucket over my head and played anonymously to the crowd, I would have. I would plead with my band to wear stage makeup, but in the end I would show up in my favorite comfort jeans and a t-shirt, donning a pair of cheap chucks. We would play shows with all different types of artists, eye liner heavy on the men and cheetah print abundant with the push up bra industry of women fronted bands. I sat between the men, who tended to be able to convince at least one woman a night to sleep with them based solely on the fact that they played an instrument on stage that evening, and the cheetah women who looked at me as though I was no threat to their sexuality or attention they basked in. I was intimidated by the women’s sexuality and power, while also misguidedly hating their animal print in defense of the judgement I speculated from them. (I do honestly think it’s weird to dress in the skin of an animal and then add boobs and presto! Hot woman. I was more cup o noodles; Add water and I’ll pee 1000 times before getting on stage and then bloat with beer and salt afterward.) The actuality of what my friends thought I was doing at out of town shows was glorified and unrecognizable. The best times were the quiet moments when a conversation turned philosophical and away from sexual. These moments, I felt truly seen and satisfied. This conversation was proof that my true self was recognizable and relatable.
Early on in my entertainment career, my band mate took me aside on the eve of my impending divorce. This is what he said.
“Peggy, you cannot be a slut.”
I was like “Um, why not?”
“Look, I know you see men in bands do it all the time, and it is a double standard. You don’t want your fame that way. You don’t want to get shows based on sleeping with bar managers or other bands people. I know you’re getting divorced, but we need you all to not be a slut for the sake of you and our reputation. We want shows because we play good music. Don’t be a slut.”
I mulled this over, and not tending towards slut factor, I found it was easy to say no. I can happily tell you I have turned down many who went on to find infamy and the infamy has no bearing on regret. I have no regret for listening to my friend, who was asking me to hold myself to higher expectations of being seen, not just being looked at.
I still had impulsive moments, but every single moment came with a lesson that reinforced the idea of letting my creative work speak for my true self. I loved playing music, but also found that playing the same type of music was not educating or furthering my abilities. When I left my band, I quit music for over a year. I quit listening, I quit playing, and I soaked up silence waiting for the magic to return.
The change brought on by life circumstance of my failing health had twisted my world into a scattered mess of need with no categorical system. Starting in silence was the beginning of the rewiring of my dearly beloved music affair, and I found myself seeing the performers’ pain or triumph dancing from ear to ear in my headphones, the space between capturing the waves of sound in the invisible middle part of my brain. I found Mozart here, Camille Saint Saens, Chopin, as well as uplifting words from Grouch and Eligh, Patty Griffin, and of course relating to my earliest mentors; Amanda Palmer and Ani DiFranco. I found healing within my body as well as in my soul while feeding my mind with whimsical notes.
Many instances of my life have circled the same ideology, the possibility of achieving success having to be met with ‘the right way’ for me. I would never tell a woman how to dress and risk criticizing their sexuality out of my jealous misunderstanding and lack of femininity. I want success, but I want it on my terms. I want kindness and rewards and balance to flow through my community, my community being the like-minded intellectuals trying to make the world a better place while being seen for who they are in their entirety.
Sadness and depression circle around the confusion of being looked at and being seen. If I have one gift, it is the gift of sight.
I see you.
I thank you for seeing me.
*if you have not read Amanda Palmers book, I highly recommend reading or listening in audio. You can find her book here:
And her website here:
And for fun, her Ted Talk here: