Monday, September 19, 2011

Each is an island.

I was watching melodramatic 90s teen show called My So-Called Life, and in the pilot the main character says:

"It just seems like, you agree to have a certain personality or something. For no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it's even you? And, I mean, this whole thing with yearbook -- it's like, everybody's in this big hurry to make this book, to supposedly remember what happened. Because if you made a book of what really happened, it'd be a really upsetting book."

This show is too dramatic for me to get into, and the teen angst is sometimes overbearing, but it often hits these existential notes that make me think. How much of who we are is determined by others' expectations of us, or our expectations of ourselves? I think people are really too complicated to express the confusion in their own minds, so they make choices every day about how they want to express themselves to the world. From the clothes they wear to the things they say, their Facebook statuses, their friends, the things they keep secret and the things they broadcast, and the lies they tell to mold their public selves into something they're not.

I guess I've talked about this before, about the concept of normality and this human desire to fit in a stereotype while at the same time rejecting the idea of labels. This made me think about something different. Are we really independent and unique, or do we simply mold our interests, likes and dislikes, behaviors, and preferences just to make it easier, just so everything makes sense? Quoting The Breakfast Club, "in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions?"

Everyone has these thoughts, whether they be happy, sad, irrational, strange, embarrassing, whatever. They don't share them with others because they don't fit this image they choose to project, or people won't react well to them. Maybe they can't quite explain why they feel that way, and they could never make anyone understand.

Maybe someone has irrational thoughts that they know they can't justify, and logically they know they shouldn't feel that way, but those thoughts stick like a leech and drain them of happiness. Maybe they have dreams of traveling and exploring a far away place, and this makes them happy, but other people just don't understand why they want to do it. Maybe they have feelings for someone that they can't explain, and they know there isn't an English word to correctly pinpoint the emotion, so they pick one that is misleading but simple.

All these things make someone who they are, but no one else can really understand. Instead, they create this outward persona because it makes it easier for everyone else. They make their feelings fit into a category, assign inadequate words to complex feelings and give people a false image of themselves.

Here's an example. I don't want a boyfriend. I know I don't, but people ask me why I like to be so close to guys. I really don't know. They think that getting cuddly with a friend means I actually like them and won't admit it. That's not true. There's something about it that I really like, even though I don't know what it is. Instead, I label myself as a touchy person who just isn't ready to be in a relationship. It's true, but not completely, and know one knows the half of it. The whole situation is so complicated in my mind that there is no way I can make anyone understand, so I just don't try. No one knows how I feel because I can't make them understand.

There's a quote from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad that I really like, and I just realized it describes this perfectly.

"It is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone."

No one knows what it's like to be you, but what I think is interesting is that everyone has more in common than they know. Our experiences are different, but we feel the same. We're all alone in that no one can ever totally understand us, but humans naturally have the same fears, desires, feelings of pain, and the same intrinsic feeling of loneliness that inevitably washes over them when they realize they can't let someone into their mind the way they wish they could.


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