Who Do You Think You Are?
blistering in the sun
“To sit in the light of her sun was to blister; but the chill of her shadows penetrated the soul.” ~my ego about myself, to everyone else.
Like most people, my experiences on social media are a mixed bag of questionable memes, the humdrum mundane posts of folx lonely, bored, or invalidated, and tipsy arguments with friends of friends, buffered by the occasional thirst trap pic and people celebrating their pets or grandparents or partners.
And I participate in most of these myself, to varying levels of shame and joy and IDGAF.
Every now and again, though, I interact with real content that makes me think about something longer than it takes to scroll through some comments.
This morning, a writer friend posted an eloquent little story about the death of his father, which included the idea that we never truly know who we are. That, in fact, other people get to decide who they think we are, and they often have the last say via the obituaries they write and the memories they keep of us.
He ended with a challenge: In one line, describe who you think you are. It’s a little bit like the tombstone game that some of us play, in which we imagine how our epitaphs will read.
When I read his post, I’m sitting outside by the pond of one of my best friends, watching the dragonflies dance across the water, laying their eggs amongst the lily pads, frog heads peering up between swathes of algae. It’s the last day of a long run of pet sitting, after a few weeks of making major life decisions that I will now spend the next few weeks sorting out. I’m contemplating how to make my creative life a financially stable one, an everyday part of who I am, in the face of limited income, ADHD, anxiety, a cluttered apartment, a crumbling world.
You know, the usual mild existential crises of Sunday morning revelries, complete with the added jitters of a second large cup of black coffee.
Suddenly knowing how I would describe myself seems the most important part of everything that I’m trying to figure out creatively; a key, even, to a door I have not yet opened.
And perhaps a great excuse to engage in some purple prose, and meaningful sentence fragments.
As I reflect on how I would describe myself in one sentence, I think back on all of the feedback I’ve received from other people in the past few months. I’ve been described as passionate, creative, angry, impulsive, a bitch, kind, and self-aware, often to a fault, depending on who was talking and in what context.
It’s like the story about the elephant and the blind men, each feeling and describing a different part of the elephant, and seeing its truth in pieces.
If we were to ask the elephant what they are, and how they would describe themselves, what would they say?
We can’t really see ourselves the way other people do, so we have to trust that friends and family and observant strangers each hold a piece of the truth about us, filtered through their individual lenses. We have to trust our own feelings and motivations, and our understanding of how the people around us tend to interpret the other parts of their lives that they see and touch.
Do they always see things in an optimistic light? Do they read everything in the voice of their critical father? Do they think everyone is a jerk?
Somewhere, through all of that, we find a shadowy, incomplete picture of who we are, like a slightly mishandled polaroid.
What do we gain by understanding ourselves in this way? Does it matter who we think are? Who others think we are? And when our understanding of ourselves conflicts wildly with the views of those around us, who are we to believe?
Among the queries I’ve made of Google search this week, one has been searching for resources on minimalism. I, like many folx, am seeking simplicity. In order to reach my creative goals and connect more strongly with my core self and more authentically with those around me, I am looking to reduce the noise, the distractions, the unnecessary clamor of stuff, both mental and physical.
Somewhere, at the core of who each of us believes ourselves to be, power lies.
The process of all of this searching and seeking and trying to pinpoint what I want and who I am isn’t exactly pleasant. The working title of this piece while I struggled to put down what I wanted to say was, “I Hate Everything About This.”
And while I believe that my obituary should read, “To sit in the light of her sun was to blister; but the chill of her shadows penetrated the soul,” because it’s true and mildly poetic, “I Hate Everything About This,” is probably much closer to the truth of who I am.
There’s a specific sort of power in that bit of raw honesty.
But these are just the pieces of myself that I can see; putting them together with the pieces that other people share is the ultimate puzzle of life. May you see your own pieces with as much clarity as possible, and receive pieces of yourself from others with humility and gratitude, to discover your own power.