I recently discovered a thing that is perhaps known to the rest of mankind but was previously unknown to me, which is that we are never just one self, but rather we are an amalgam of selves. Oh, yes, I knew we all had different aspects of our selves – our social side, our good side, our sweet side, that temper we try to keep under wraps, and other undesirable traits that we ascribe to “sides” – but what I realized is that all of these sides are not traits, per se, but are all part of our true, authentic self.
That it is the sum total of the good and the bad, the desirable and undesirable that make us who we really are at the end of the day. For those of us that are shy, we learn to put on a good social facade, and that's important.
But who am I really? As I was sitting being interviewed again, a process I’ve been through many times in my life now, I wondered which side of me the reporter was going to see. Would she want the writer/journalist side? The person who ran Lumen Editions and was the enfant terrible of publishing for a time? Would she want the teacherly side, the person who could offer her sage advice about publishing and how to go about securing a good job, and hey, if she strikes a good chord with me, might even score a reference or an inside tip? After all, I've come to realize just recently that I have become the very thing or person I once used to hunt and pursue – that is, the mentor, the reference, the touchstone, the person who I look at and say I Want To Be Like Her When I Grow Up.
That anybody would want to be like me is a mystery in itself and I’m not sure that this reporter was after that, though in the past, certainly I have had the experience of being interviewed and then over the next several months, watching the person morph from themselves into version 1.0 of me. I’ve seen the same syndrome when I’ve run other companies – the younger women and interns begin as themselves and over the course of time, begin to emulate, just as I once emulated my mentor, only this time it is me whom they emulate. Which is just damn weird…
How odd to see other women whom even I would admire — smart, beautiful, talented women — who want to be like me. It’s a strange phenomenon to watch as over the course of several months or years, they take on various traits: suddenly they wear dance shoes with a t-strap and ankle socks. The hair is thrown into a hasty bun and held with a red editing pencil. The skirts lengthen and become darker; the tops are camisoles with a white oxford on top if in the office and nothing if not in the office. They become very Prada – because we all know The Devil Wears Prada and lord knows that it’s my favorite and I love the simplicity of Prada. Even my face is Prada: simple, plain, freckled, and surrounded by straight, wheat-colored hair.
Selves – who we are, who we are at different times and who I am at this moment is part of a great mesh of characteristics and life experiences. There are those aspects of our personality we choose to reveal and others we keep locked, as Tom Ripley would say, in the basement. We do all have our basement; I believe that, though perhaps I would hope that none are as heavy with luggage as Tom Ripley’s. Certainly, I have little to hide, but there are things about me that I absolutely do not want to discuss.
My trick was always to throw out a story that seemed personal or was personal but that didn’t matter much to me. It gave the illusion of a very personal and deep connection when really, all I was doing was handing out the same story to everyone and yes, the story may be true, but it was not one that had any deep emotional resonance anymore. It may have at one time, but now, now that I can speak it and say it, the depth of resonance has lessened. What this means, what we say when we say this or write this is that I can tell you this story because there is nothing here you can hurt me with anymore. It is a protective device and one that works well for all of us at various times. We may not all put up such a front, but let’s not kid ourselves — we all put up a front or façade, and some are prettier or more elaborate than others.
Mine just happens to be, for the most part, pretty convincing and looks like a great old house by the beach that you might want to explore. I imagine my façade as an old Victorian, right on the waterfront and overlooking the twilight with many, many rooms and a little garret in which I sit overlooking everything. The truth, though, is that for this great big house with all of its rooms and all of its interesting features, what I reveal here is that it is only the one room I occupy – the garret. I see myself there, drinking tea and overlooking it all and wondering about my neighbors and which room they are in.
The truth is – we own the whole grounds. This earth is ours, this land is ours, the way we maintain our garden is telling of who we are and how we keep up our house is telling of who we are. As for this metaphorical house I speak of, even a dear friend recently noted that I was like “a mansion with many rooms” and I was honored and flattered and it got me to thinking what was in those rooms if they even existed. Yes, I decided. Those rooms do exist and there are many treasures and many light things too, but to be clear, there are rooms that are darker, that have things that I have yet to sift through and those rooms are locked solid for the time being.
Perhaps one day I will sort through. I will sort through and I will get rid of the junk and find the one jewel in the room – the crystal chandelier with the blue stones that glitters in the room. Maybe something wonderful like that, or my old, antique silver spoons with the handles that are engraved with the word “Happy.” Who knows. For now, I stand with this front, the paint slightly peeling, a grand old Victorian on the boardwalk.
I may not be much, but come inside and see that from any room, the view is like nowhere else, and it’s really the view you offer – the vantage points that can be seen from your land more than it is you yourself. I can tell you, from where I stand, the view is changeable, beautiful, forever twilight.