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You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice
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BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL

Last week, on June 1st, 2016, Marilyn Monroe would have been 90.

Idolized as well as parodied and impersonated, the sex symbol, who died at 36 in 1962, went through life as two people; the obvious being Norma Jean and Marilyn, but really her two roles were as the successful actress usually cast as the dumb blonde, and the frustrated, depressed woman, who, no matter how hard she worked, always felt like a joke.

At first blush, this “living of two lives” thing can seem very show biz-centric, but don’t we all do it?

We’re all told to “just be yourself,” yet “fake it ‘til you make it;” “love the skin you’re in,” but “be you, only better,” thanks to cosmetics (or cosmetic surgery), a weight loss plan, or exercise regimen – one that’s usually endorsed by Hollywood.

And if you’re 50-plus, there’s the double life as people trying to enjoy our second act, as well as the one where we feel forced to constantly prove to the world that we’re not old.

In our authentic lives, we feel as though we’ve paid our dues both professionally and personally. In the privacy of our own homes we can read and watch what we want. Show our age with our clothes (I have a shawl I love, but would not wear out as someone might mistake me for my grandmother), or choose to go make up-free, which reveals fine lines and perhaps an age spot or two. We’re perfectly comfortable asking, “Who?” when there’s a news story about a 20-something celebrity’s new movie, engagement, or DUI arrest. We can shake our heads or even laugh out loud when we hear that recent grads with two minutes worth of experience want more respect on the job as well as a raise. We can reveal that our back hurts, and not care that we have to hold on to a piece of furniture in order to get up from sitting on the floor. The most relief comes when, with our spouse or friends, we can make a reference to something that happened back in ’82 without hearing someone remind us that they weren’t born yet.

And then we step outside our doors.

That’s where we have to dress, not necessarily like our daughters, but perhaps trendier than we’d like, dye our hair to pretend that it still grows in that color, and moisturize to the point of greasiness, plus buy make up that promises not to bury itself in our “creases,” so those we meet might guess we’re ten years younger than we are.

We have to feign interest in current events. Not the ones that encompass politics, the economy, or what’s going on in our cities, but the pop culture kind – you know, to show we’re still with it. Recently, I put out there that my daughter went a Selena Gomez concert, not because I wanted to brag that she’s out and about, but to let colleagues know that I know who the former Disney star is. Then I threw in that I was glad she wasn’t dating Justin Bieber any more. See, I’m hip to what’s up with movie stars.

It is indeed exhausting living two lives, but sometimes jobs, or just getting along in a social situation depends on it. In The New York Times, contributing op-ed writer Adam Grant penned, “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.”

I didn’t like or agree with everything he said, but I had to admit I think he made a good point with, “…we pay a price for being too authentic.” I know I did, when as a younger woman I refused to be “phony” and tell the boss I liked an idea I found stupid, made an entire group feel uncomfortable by not keeping my mouth shut and excusing myself because clearly I didn’t have anything in common with them, or confused being slovenly with comfortable.

Marilyn Monroe’s death was tragic, but would she ever have known legendary fame, which lasted well beyond her lifetime, or had people remember her 90th birthday, let alone her very existence, if she had remained Norma Jean?

 

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Lorraine Duffy Merkl
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels BACK TO WORK SHE GOES and FAT CHICK, for which a movie version is in the works.