I always had this urge when I was living in Whitley County to go to the exposed fault line below the Tennessee line and sit with my back pressed to the puckered ridge of the giant seam of rock and look up at the stars on a clear night, taking comfort in the sheer size of the universe and the small fact that I was, at that moment, here to enjoy it.
I sometimes feel like I’m not any true, whole person but rather a series of masks and personas meant for different audiences. My Youth Services Librarian has commented that two-thirds of our job as youth librarians is actually performance - getting your bluff in with the kids and putting on a show to entertain them and educate them all at once. This is true - “Miss Beth” taps into my nerdiness and my teaching and writing and creative skills but is not my true personality. I have to be responsible and calm when I work with them, and I love doing it, but there are times that if I was being completely honest, I would say something disastrous like “Fuck that bullshit. What you do with your future is your decision and no one else’s.”
It’s like when I talk to my grandparents, I also can’t use the f-word, and, since they come from the more reserved World War II nuclear-family era, they would be utterly shocked to think of me say, reading sexy fanfiction or swearing about my college loan worries or reading something other than Charles Dickens (whom I loathe). So, I play the peppy and good-natured and wholesome granddaughter on the phone. There are things about me that are very real and true when I talk to them - I am fantastically interested in our family history and my grandparents’ stories, and I think they respond the best to those conversation topics because they somehow sense that genuineness.
I feel like I perform slightly differently for every person I meet: my coworkers, my childhood best friend, my roommates, my parents, my comic shop guy. I sometimes worry I’m all performance and no me. However, this flexibility of personality is sort of wired into our brains. I posted a quote from a Wired article a few months back about how our memories actually change every time we remember them - if they remain static they disappear. Our consciousness is constantly having to reinvent itself to stay stable.
So that patchwork of identities and performances - maybe it doesn’t shield a core personality like a myriad of half-assed fake IDs, but rather it IS the personality. They messily mesh together and create something complicated and strange and utterly unique. Do you think the same Obama watched bin Laden get taken down is the Obama that hugs his kids at night? No, but they’re used by the same man.
When I was a teenager, I used to feel like everyone else knew me better than I knew myself. Their vision of me seemed so much simpler than my own. Now I think, of course it does. They only see the facet I want them to see. It IS simpler than the patchwork girl that’s really in there.
I’m moving to Lexington after Summer Reading this year, and I think the hour-long commute will be well worth it because I’ll get to meet more people, do more things, go more places, and maybe take a few more versions of me for a spin, let the patchwork girl grow and get a lot bigger on the inside, like the TARDIS said in that one Neil Gaiman episode of Doctor Who.