Common courtesy recommends looking someone in the eye when speaking to them, and the recommendation isn’t traditionally wavered for the short or the tall. Charles MacKenzie, whose yester-year like courtesy is as natural as his lengthy and slender swimmer’s frame, characteristically bends over backwards in order to fulfill this small social courtesy. In order to talk to you at eye level, Charles will cock his head to the side midway through conversation, and then unexpectedly his long neck and broad shoulders will follow his heads path until you find yourself speaking to a very amiable but still disturbingly crooked ‘C’. This natural readiness to manipulate himself into a strikingly unnatural position reveals much about Charles, whose metamorphic personal history of growth and new-found self-belief has produced a radically honest, valiantly authentic artist. Having come to know Charles for only a few months fostered in me a profound interest in his uniquely evolved sense of self-worth, and I’ve come to appreciate the value of an uncompromising self-belief through my encounters with Charles.
Spending time with Charles is an experience in and of itself. On most occasions he is the tallest person in the room, and even more frequently is he the most peculiarly dressed. Charles, for now and as long as he decides to keep it that way, has half a head of shocking silver-blonde hair on his scalp and a scattering of light blue bristles covering the rest. His wardrobe consists of lightly-coloured formal shirts, with buttons that rarely find their way into their respective holes and instead flap about over his bare chest, reddened by it’s constant exposure to the sun. The pants he is wearing on a given day is anyone’s guess, I’ve never seen him wear the same pair and none of them could have been considered conventional. He has an affinity for slip-slops and his sunglasses, which look like something Andy Worhol would have worn had he been born in Back To The Future’s conception of the 21st century.
Charles doesn’t walk, he lopes, and instead of smiling and scowling in the restrained manner most people express themselves, he grins and gesticulates in the fullest and most unreserved range of his emotions. For all of these reasons, Charles manages to draw attention to himself in almost any setting he is placed. Charles is thus well-known, or ar rather he is well recognized, on his University campus. Despite the attention that Charles external attributes manage to draws from those around him, his personal narrative, his internal world, is largely unknown even to those who know him well. This is characteristic of Charles’s uneasy journey towards self-belief, and the new and unfamiliar nature of his confidence.
“Confidence, self-belief and authenticity in expression are usually the privileges of those who were psychologically unencumbered by emotional stress in early life.” Charles is not leaning over in his crooked pose that allows me to look at him at my eye level. He is seated on one of the wooden benches outside Provost Café. He is talking to me about one of his favorite topics, the importance of honesty and authentic expression, and his wild gesticulations are out in full force. Swinging his arms out wide to either side of him, coffee flying out of the cup he holds in his left hand, he continues. Imagine watching a lanky Hunter. S. Thompson delivering you a monologue, with long colorful hair instead of a receding hairline and drinking coffee instead of smoking. “Unfortunately for us, who had severe and ever-present emotional stress during our early lives, self-belief just wasn’t within our reach, it wasn’t for us. We were psychologically under-equipped man, you and I, you know, in the pursuit of emotional well-being. The emotional stress Charles is talking about, in his typically well-phrased, expressive and deliberate manner of speaking, is depression. This was something we both lived with in our childhoods and a topic of conversation we gorged on for three days in his smoky coffee-stained lounge the week before.
“I used to look at myself in the mirror growing up, my gangly body, my awkward height, and I knew that this was in there somewhere.” By this, Charles is referring to his choice of clothes, but more so than his clothes he is talking about the confidence he was to wear them. Charles and I are in a sports bar, watching a live music performance from the bar at around midnight. Charles is wearing a white suit and bowtie, and considering the bar is filled with hoodies and sneakers born by a scraggly bunch of students, it would be fair to say that Charles is looking characteristically out-of-place and attracting a lot of attention as a result.
I had just asked Charles what he thought his 12-year-old self would think of the 21-year-old version standing before me. “I wasn’t confident enough to express myself as authentically as I would have liked to, and considering me expressing myself authentically usually results in some pretty weird shit, I wasn’t about to go dying my hair and wearing garbage on my head when I actually wanted to, you know?”
Had Charles grown up unburdened by the spectre of depression, I imagine he would never have appreciated the confidence and authenticity that he so enjoys today. In his extravagant aesthetic choices, his wild gesticulations and radical honesty, it almost seems as though he is making up for lost time, trying to squeeze as much pleasure from his empowering sense of self-belief and confidence as possible because he wasn’t able to do so in his early life. The result, although somewhat sadly rooted in a half-lived childhood of restraint and self-doubt, is a unrestrained zest for life, a confidence and self-belief, a celebration of the authenticity and pleasure available to those who have managed to carry their emotional burdens long enough to finally see them put down.
In his unrestrained expression and passionate appreciation of his own authenticity, it seems as though Charles is still celebrating having finally put his burden down, and hasn’t forgotten how much lighter he has been since.