Each Sparkle and Each Spangle

Posted on November 2, 2012


I love Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic ‘I am what I am’. Love it. Always have done. Always will do. I remember as an 18 year old being at a party, rather the worse for wear, and taking over DJing duties late into the evening. After the fifth repetition of Gloria the rest of the partygoers realised what I was up to and I was relieved of duties quicksnap.

I am what I am
I am my own special creation
So come take a look
Give me the hook
Or the ovation

It’s not that campness I love about it though, although I’m hopelessly camp when it comes to my musical tastes (as anyone who has me on their twitter timeline can attest to). It’s just that I feel the song speaks to me and to my oxymoronic worldview: that people should be confidently humble and humbly confident. Just look at the opening lines above. She knows some will want to give her “the hook” (humility) and others “the ovation” (confidence) but the two together, confident humility or humble confidence, give her the self-belief to talk about herself as being “my own special creation”. And that’s how I think people should live their lives, and it’s how I try to live mine.

Here’s another line from the song that illustrates my meaning:

I am what I am
I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity
I bang my own drum
Some thinks it’s noise
I think it’s pretty

Again, knowing that some people will think what you say is “noise” (humility) whilst others will think it’s “pretty” (confidence) is fine, but banging your own drum is that special blend of humble confidence or confident humility. You don’t know which response you will get, but choosing to wield the drumstick by opening your mouth in the first place is a powerful act in and of itself.

Maybe it’s another case of serendipity that I love the song and have a personal ethic that is shaped by its words (am I really admitting here that the song shaped me, and not that I have found a song to reflect my beliefs?). After all, when I was 11 I played Jesus in my school’s Easter play ‘The Trial of Jesus’ and the only words that I got to utter in the whole play, in response to being questioned whether of not I was the Messiah, were “I am what I am” (and don’t think I don’t know that some of you were hoping I’d say “No, I’m a very naughty boy”).

The fact that this was my only line ever in the whole of my school acting career gave me 14 years to consider the significance of their meaning, and then along came Gloria with a rousing choon and some powerful lyrics to help me in my search for meaning.

I am what I am
And what I am
Needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace
Sometimes the deuces

I could dissect the humility and confidence in that section of the song but I think you have the picture now. Dealing the deck is the confident humility or humble confidence. Yada yada yada.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about ‘my sad childhood’ so I won’t bother doing it again but suffice to say that “it’s not a place I want to hide in” and “life’s not worth a damn till you can shout out” resonate deeply with me. But it’s the actual title lyrics from Gloria and the protestation of identity from Jesus that strike me as the most confidently humble or humbly confident form of words in the world. To be able to speak or shout or scream or stutter or simply say “I am what I am” seems to me to be the most strikingly confident/humble affirmation you can ever make to yourself and to the world. Try it in a mirror. “I am what I am”.

Think about the thing you least like about yourself and say “I am what I am”. Doesn’t it make it just a little better by reminding you of your inherent frailty as a human being? Doesn’t it stop the voices in your head that otherwise tell you that you’re a very bad person? Confident humility?

Think about the thing you like most about yourself and say “I am what I am”. Doesn’t it make your chest swell with that pride of validation that you’d like to hear from others, but that so often goes unsaid? Doesn’t it also reinforce that you can do more and be even better? Humble confidence?

All of which brings me to another reason why I try to live my life according to the gospel of Gloria and the song of Jesus: life simply is too short and I don’t know for certain what comes at the end of it. There is “no return and no deposit”, even if I accept the tenets of Hinduism. The ‘I’ that ‘I am’, Keven Bartle in the early 21st century, will cease to exist sooner or later. I’ve already had 27 more years than my brother was permitted, so I’m damn well sure I’m going to enjoy them (each sparkle and each spangle) by being confident in my humility.

But I also recognise that every person I meet, personally and professionally, also has only a finite number of heartbeats in their body and I’m damn well sure I can help them enjoy their lives (seeing things from a different angle) by being humble in my confidence.

To close I want to apologise if I have come across a little preachy in this post (humility). And I want to thank you if you’ve found in it some words of wisdom (confidence), but in the words of the glorious Gloria I do genuinely believe that…

Your life is a sham till you can shout out I am what I am

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