Yesterday, I walked past a young reporter and her cameraman and afterwards found myself wondering why we have such a deep need to believe that we matter. This drive in us to be seen seems to go beyond our basic instinct to survive, though perhaps we become more urgent as we age.
When I was small, my father worked for the children’s TV program Terry Tell Time, and I remember how proud I was then to be his daughter. As the program name suggests, the show revolved around teaching children how to tell time, and it had at its center two lively puppets. Although I don’t remember much about them except that they were from Switzerland, in their own way, I know I was enthralled by the magic of making the inanimate animate. Some Saturdays, my father would be in charge of public relations events, and, once I grasped the concept and mechanics of telling time, he took me to one of these.
The idea was that I would dress up as Tina Tell Time, Terry’s sister, and then strut around gorgeously for as long as I was needed. Although I only vaguely remember the dress I wore, I recall with astonishing clarity what was done to my dull brown hair, which my mother braided and sprayed all over with gold paint. I thought I was the cat’s pajamas.
We went to a theater in Queens, where a line of screaming children was wrapped around the block, and I was told to stay in the lobby with my balloons until the doors were thrown open, at which point I was to greet my adoring fans with enthusiasm. Not content to remain still until it was time to get started, I paraded up and down in front of my admirers, whose noses were pressed against the glass, and batted the balloons up in the air as a kind of taunt. They could see me all right, but they would have to wait if they wanted to touch me.
I admit that my hunger for attention was overdetermined and could in part be traced back to my family, but I think there was something much more elemental at work. I remember how I felt on that day more than I remember what I did, and I can say now that there existed in me then the feeling of being completely alive. It is a sense that only occasionally visits me these days. I was such an open and creative child, as most children are, and so it must have been something about the puppets, the dress, the hair, the balloons, the crowd, the very notion of time itself that possessed me. It was my spirit that longed to matter.