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Do you ever imagine yourself as someone totally different, not necessarily a better or worse person but just someone who doesn’t always do exactly what you do?
What if I were a single man, one of those old, sloppy men who seem to live on the bus? Maybe I’d really like comic books and I’d be retired from a career in hot glue. Would I think of myself as sloppy? Would I have more sympathy for other, similarly sweat shirted men?
What if I were a rich person, man or woman, who didn’t know who rode the bus, who had never bid on a repo car, who had never even opened a can of tuna? Would I still dance? What would dancing as such a person be like?
These kinds of questions aren’t extremely useful to think about – knowing who you’re not doesn’t much narrow down who you are – but this doesn’t stop me. What if I were handy, the kind of person who intuitively understands faucets and towel racks? What if I were brought up by a single mother, a vegan psychiatrist who chased squirrels out of the yard with a push-broom?
What if I were the kind of person who only asked useful questions? Would I be more successful? Would “6 Monkeys” attract any of its current readership?
Maybe a more practical question than “Do you ever imagine yourself as someone totally different?” is “Do you ever imagine yourself as yourself?” It sounds a little asinine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth thinking about.
If I were part of the world outside of myself, how would I appear? Probably energetic. I take a lot of dance classes, I volunteer in the community, I work two jobs, I walk two dogs – and I’m pregnant to boot.
The world probably doesn’t realize how lazy I am: how it feels like an accomplishment if I water the plants, how it takes me six or more months to fill photograph frames, how I’m addicted to Netflix and how I waste way too much time repeating the same un-profound thoughts in my head – what kind of car seat, is the stroller we bought too big, we should really do something about a nursery.
After teaching in the mornings and before ballet in the evenings, I spend entire afternoons acting much like a spring snow drift, just taking in the sunshine. Every couple of hours, I’ll get completely motivated and eat a Mediterranean pizza. Then I return to melting. Perhaps in the summer I’ll be more animated, like a shaking aspen tree.
Perhaps in the summer I’ll have to be. After all, by then I’ll have a baby, whether or not the stroller’s too big or we ever finish, or get started, on the nursery. However, mostly I imagine myself lying around with my baby, sleeping, adorable, cuddly, warm.
The world probably also sees me as predominantly capable. I manage to lead a varied and interesting life, despite my surreptitious loafing. But I don’t know – maybe I’m not so much capable as unambitious. The few things I do, I do full-out. I enjoy them. But once I extend my small portion of effort, I lie down. I sometimes imagine myself driven by an all-consuming passion, writing always, never resting, never knowing how much time has passed, never checking my word count or taking an animal-cracker-break. But as much as I love everything I do, I rarely love it quite enough to lose myself.
When I imagine myself curled up with my baby or staying up all night in front of my little computer screen, typing a post-modern novel at 100 words per minute, am I imagining myself as myself or as someone else?
Maybe the two big questions I asked earlier in this column aren’t so far apart, so obviously distinct. I mean, clearly, my future good-mother self and my future obsessed-author cannot be the same person. Yet I imagine them both as me, as clearly as I imagine my present self as a snoozy snow-pile, or as a tutu-wearer, an essay-grader, a bookshelf-stocker.
It’s possible all this question-asking leads nowhere – that people either know who they are or they don’t. And maybe those who don’t aren’t even trying to figure it out; we just like to daydream. We can’t see ourselves clearly, so we come up with all sorts of fantasy selves, each one with her own little cluster chart of characteristics. In moments of inspiration, we think in Venn diagrams, with lots of overlapping clusters within one large woman.
That’s where the search for self leads me: Venn diagrams. Math textbooks. Did my mother go through this? Does she still? How do we go about preparing to be a mother only knowing who we were, a little bit about who we are and nothing about who we will be?