Swimming Upstream in the Mainstream
If you were to write a book in which you told the story of your life – What would the name of your memoir be?
That question caught my eye while I was wandering aimlessly on Buzzfeed.
I enjoy taking silly quizzes, as it can be an insightful and fun way of getting to know yourself better. Especially late at night when I can’t sleep because my mind is floating in a surreal limbo between here and elsewhere, past and present, consciousness and unconsciousness, real and unreal.
The world around me is asleep, I’m alone with myself in a place I feel safe enough to just be, and free to be whoever I am when no one else is there to influence who I may be.
This is the result I received on that particular quiz:
The me I am now, at this point in time while writing this post, doesn’t think I’ll ever write a memoir, but in some ways that’s what I do on my blog. I tell tales of my life, share experiences, review my memories while telling you about them, explore the past through writing about it in the present… so, I guess my memoir is actually named – An Upturned Soul: Sometimes I Climb the Walls and Lie on the Ceiling.
It’s a strange thing… to write about myself. I feel weird doing it sometimes because talking about myself is a relatively new habit, and I’m still not entirely sure whether I like doing it or not. Sometimes I love it, it’s liberating and I’ve always been rather focused on freedom. Personal freedom means a lot to me… but not just for me, for others too – the greatest compliment someone else can give me is when they feel at ease enough around me to just be themselves as is.
Here I am… free to just be myself as is come what may. And I hope what I do here is infectious, and infects you to feel free to be yourselves come what may. But that’s up to you…
And then there are sometimes when I… just wish I’d shut up, and I want to delete everything I’ve said.
I went through a long period in my life when I spoke as little about myself as was humanly possible. I did have to speak a little bit about myself so as not to be impolite, not to draw attention to myself. Silence can be as loud as talking, it can dominate a conversation, be an intimidating presence – I didn’t want my silence to do that as it was not the silent treatment, I just didn’t want to talk about myself. I didn’t want to be noticed. So I spoke about myself when necessary, but I tried to keep what I did say so vague, neutral, nondescript that I could have been talking about anyone.
It’s funny, both ha-ha and odd, to observe who I am now compared to who I was not so long ago.
Talking about myself this much, this openly, this… has changed me, has made me more me, more authentic. It wasn’t so much that I was inauthentic before, I was not being fake per se… I wasn’t anything really, at least on the outside. The face and personality which I gave to the world around me was not dissimilar to a mannequin – I let others decide what face to paint on me, what personality to give me, what clothes I should wear, what pose and what role they needed for me to have for them. At least superficially, in social situations.
There are many reasons why I did that, and those reasons belong to me. They’re part of my life story, what has shaped who I am… but they’re not just part of my story, they don’t just belong to me, they’re part of the experience of being human, and sharing is also a part of that, sharing our story, ourselves with others.
All humans are shapeshifters, chameleons, mimics, people-pleasers, to a degree as this is an element of our natural survival instincts.
Our identity fluctuates, adjusting to our surroundings, to where we are and with whom we are.
We don’t change who we are at the core of ourselves, we are still who we are, however, we filter who we are, we wear different guises (not necessarily disguises), we adopt diverse roles, we wear certain clothes, both real and abstract, to suit each situation.
If you’re walking down a dark alley in a dodgy part of town you’d probably be wearing primal make up, your senses alert for the slightest hint of danger, your mind checking a list of things to do and ways to be in case of attack. You’re not the self who you would be if you were strolling along a familiar high street in broad daylight. In both cases it’s still you, just a different you.
On meeting a stranger, you’ll offer them your stranger-meet-and-greet face and personality, whereas when meeting a friend you’ll give them the face and personality they know, you’ll become who you are when you’re with them.
If the stranger is someone you intended to meet, perhaps a blind date, a person thinking of hiring you for a job, or a shopkeeper in a store, you’ll be more relaxed about meeting them, and each scenario will have a preset you to be, at least until you know them better, then more of who you are naturally will emerge.
If the stranger is someone you did not expect to meet, then you’ll most probably be the guardian at the gate of you, sizing up the other to find if they’re friend or foe, whether you should fight or take flight, be warm or cold, be yourself or be someone else – those alternate identities we sometimes play at being when in a situation where we don’t want to share who we are because we don’t know if it’s safe or okay to do that.
If they’re a friend with whom you feel very relaxed then you’ll be more of who you are when you’re alone with them, but if they’re a casual acquaintance with whom you feel a bit reserved then you’ll filter out some of yourself.
I swear like a drunk pirate when with close friends because they’re okay with that, they’re drunk pirates too, but when I’m with land-lubbers who are proper and prim, I curb my enthusiasm for cursing.
Curbing my cursing, curbs who I am because I can’t express myself as freely and easily, I have to check my words before they leave the house of my mouth, and while I’m patting down my speech for words which polite society considers to be weapons, I sometimes end up removing anything else which might also be too sharp.
- Self-censoring police: Sorry, Miss Sentence, you can’t wear that word-brooch, it has a pin and other spiky things on it.
- Miss Sentence: Those spiky things are diamonds, and this brooch is a valuable word essential for my story to make sense.
- Self-censoring police: Sorry, but those with sensitive skin may be listening and might hurt themselves on your word-brooch.
- Miss Sentence: But how am I going to say what I want to say, it won’t make sense without this word!
- Self-censoring police: Sorry, those are the rules of the word police, the rule book is long, gets longer every time something goes wrong when you talk. Send your complaints to Self-Censorship HQ, but be warned, they’re still sifting through the giant pile of… letters sent to them by narcissists with whom you’ve had the foolhardy temerity to speak at all.
- Miss Sentence: Maybe I won’t bother talking…
- Self-censoring police: Sorry, but that’ll get complaints too, and I’ll have to censor you for that too.
I have to stop talking now as I need to put food in the mouth, and it’s rude to talk when eating… and besides I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore (which happens a lot with me).
Perhaps I should have left this post in the limbo of draft… come back to it tomorrow, but… things might be different then, I might see things differently, I might be different because… life being lived from day to day, moment to moment, has a way of doing that to us.
There are many sentences I’ve left in the limbo of draft, things I wanted to say but decided not to say them until I’d checked if it was okay to say them, and other reasons… some were edited into oblivion, self-censorship whittled them down into a pile of sawdust – what was left of them wasn’t worth saying because there was nothing left to say.
Nothing felt safe to say, so nothing was said… not so long ago that would have been the name of my memoir. A memoir made of memories erased.
What about you – What would the name of your memoir be?