Smile, you're on Candid Camera

I've been sure my entire life that someone is always watching me. In the beginning, I thought this because the Catholic Church told me an omniscient God and his two best friends were always taking notes on me. And when those three knuckleheads weren't keeping tabs on me, Santa was. It wasn't until I watched Totally Hidden Video and Candid Camera that I realized that my life had the potential to reach a much broader viewership. These hidden camera shows were an addictive, dystopian nightmare for me as a child, one that inspired me to live my life as if I were always being watched. As a result, everything I did was performative.

Since I never truly felt like I was alone, I tried always to be smiling for the camera. I decided only to do things that I wouldn't mind having broadcast on television. If I saw money on the street, I wouldn't pick it up for fear that I'd hear "smile, you're on Candid Camera" the second I picked it up and put it in my pocket. I've always been a pretty scrupulous person, although I don't credit this character trait as moral superiority. It's my fear of either being monitored by a judgmental god or recorded on a hidden camera show that leads me to be an upstanding citizen.

Unfortunately for me, I was a compulsive booger-picker when I was a kid. I did, however, try to cover this up by hiding behind my hand. I was surprised to learn that covering my nose with one hand and picking my nose with the other wasn't a solid camouflage for my action.

"You're not fooling anyone. I know you're picking your nose behind there," a boy in my first grade class informed me one afternoon.

"If the kid knows," I thought, "Does that mean that the people watching my episode of "Totally Hidden Video" also knows what I'm doing?"

Part of always being camera ready was to, at all times, act like I was on a regional theater production of Annie. Whenever I felt watched, I would bat my eyes sweetly and ask myself "what would a desperate orphan do in this situation?" I wanted a Dickensian life for the cameras. However, If I were given my druthers and was allowed to live my life the way I wanted to without the Totally Hidden Video cameras harassing me, I would've just sat around all day picking my nose and watching tv. While I did this a lot of the time, I did have to take breaks occasionally in case the critical eye of God or the camera labeled me an uninspired, lazy kid. I would go in the kitchen and pretend to worship an orange as if I'd never had anything sweet before or go to my room and pretended to fantasize about world peace.

I thought the desire to live a performative life was something particular to me until I met Darla. She, as well, must believe there's always a camera pointed in her direction. I frequently catch her walking around her room wearing a Renaissance Faire dress, holding an imaginary bouquet to her chest, and singing mournful songs about dead parents and hunger.

This year, her performative life was most evident in her letter to Santa Clause:

"Dear Santa,

Darla speaking. I have a couple wishes and I only want two toys this year.

I want know (sic) one to litter and I want there to be know (sic) such thing as getting sick. You know what I mean? And know (sic) such thing as getting hurt. And I want the same exact thing for insects and animals.

I also want a roller skater American Girl doll and a basketball player American Girl Doll. And one more thing. I want everyone to give you presents. And a neckeles (sic) from Rekcles (sic) Unicorn that has golden glitter inside. My very own refrigerator that goes in my room. A pet goldfish and clownfish and a big fish tank to go with it and matching clothes for me and my mom and a banana. Pink cowgirl boots. A flippy diaper for Roy. Roller skating outfit. A (sic) actual iPad not a kindle. A pop-up book. A Barbie dream house. My own pink car I could drive in."

It's evident in the beginning that, before she wrote this letter, Darla thought, "how do people in movies write their letters to Santa?"

Darla decided that the richest characters ask for something kind that makes the world a better place. So this was the kind of letter she endeavored to write. Halfway through, though, she may have envisioned waking up on Christmas morning to nothing but a note from Santa saying he picked up all the litter off the streets in our neighborhood; she was wasting an opportunity to pie in the sky this letter. She switched gears and threw all altruism out the window.

In the few weeks since she's written this letter, she's tried to walk back her insane demands from the second half of the message and become the environmentally conscious girl from the first half. Whenever anyone asks what she wants for Christmas, she bats her eyes earnestly and says, "For there to be no more litter in the world." The other adults coo, amazed by her cuteness.

"Isn't she the sweetest?" the say to me, their hands clutching their hearts.

"Oh yeah," I say. I debate whether to tell these people about the part of her wish list where she asks for the refrigerator for her room or the car she can drive. Instead, I decide to play the part of the supportive mother of a little girl who only dreams of world peace. "She's absolutely the sweetest."

And I mean it because she doesn't need to give up her Christmas presents to show she's a kind girl. She does this every day when she buys her friends snacks when their parents forget to give them money. Or when she makes sure kids don't feel left out on the playground. Or when she helps me out by getting her brother ready for school in the morning. She's kind even when she doesn't think the cameras are rolling.