Every few months I get around to remembering that I am me, and not someone else, and it’s always a bit of a surprise that I forgot.
I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.
But somehow, that little detail gets swept up in the flurry of living and working and relating to other people, and then I sort of wake up and realize I’ve been living someone else’s life.
Note for readers who happen to be psychologists and/or my parents: this blog is not about fugue states. Also I’m fine, and thanks for the chard — it was delicious. Psychologists, do with it what you will.
For me, it shows up most clearly at work. I’m an editor, and I like being an editor. I like working with words and learning things and explaining things and understanding things — what’s not to like?
Sometimes, however, I become “the editor”: I show up to work and lay out the paper, quickly and competently and effectively, and I don’t realize until the day is over that I haven’t shared any personal information, asked any personal questions. I’ve put on my editor suit, my editor tie and my editor face, and I’ve been her for the day, not me.
If I have a lot of busy work to get done — filing paperwork, correcting to AP style — she’s very good at doing it. But creating a newspaper is a form of storytelling, and maybe robots or neckties tell stories (how would I know), but I bet people tell better ones.
It worries me more when it happens with friends. I’ve been good, before, at filling other people’s spaces.
When I moved to Worthington I didn’t know anyone here beyond a few college acquaintances, and I remember a moment when I was “out making friends” and someone told a convoluted story about how much they hated board games, and I thought, I’ll have to make sure you don’t find out how much I like them.
Not, I’ll find someone else to play them with, or even, We’ll find something else to do together. Instead it was a clean break, an almost subconscious decision to be someone else, someone they’d like.
It still scares me, when I think about it. If I hadn’t noticed that thought, would it still be there?
“You don’t really get angry,” a friend informed me recently, offhand, and it took several hours for me to realize that he was serious — he’d never actually seen me display one of the primary human emotions.
When I tried to correct the mistake — yes, actually, I am angry rather a lot, sometimes at you — I got a wave of the hand and a, “sure, I know you get stressed sometimes,” and I couldn’t think of a way to persuade without overemphasizing it until I sounded like I had a rage problem or something. (“I get angry! Like, all the time! I’m angry RIGHT NOW! BELIEVE ME!”)
It’s so much easier to be other people. We’re adaptable — I can be the exacting editor, the competent organizer, the distracted artist, the affectionate friend. And all of them are me — the roles we play aren’t just skins we put on for awhile each day. But the person is a bit more complicated than the sum of the parts.
I have tried, before, to fit into the gaps other people leave for me. I have convinced myself it’s less of a bother to others if I stay out of the way, if I become the person they think they need for awhile, see if it fits.
I can never get small enough.
I’m guilty, too, of demanding that people be people they aren’t. If I’m being someone else, I’m too focused on the work of it to check and see if other people are wearing their own faces. Being someone else is a form of self-absorption, I think. Too caught up to look around.
When I first started this job, I was stressed and tired and nervous, and I remember telling a friend, “I don’t think I have a personality at work.”
“That’s OK,” she said, “but remember she’s pretty great, too.”
This is for the next time I forget.