“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Or so said Oscar Wilde.
But what does it mean to be myself? Who is this “I” that I must become? And should it even be remotely funny or acceptable or disdainful that a woman my age is stumped when asked those questions? Should I not, after 36 years on this planet, know the answers already? I don’t know about the shoulds but here’s the thing for me.
“Be yourself” bewilders, confounds, petrifies, and paralyzes me.
Which self do you mean? The one who is a mother or a wife? Do you mean the teacher or the student? The daughter or the sister? The friend or the lover? The poet or the dancer? The musician-wanna-be or the writer?
Do you mean the woman who has coffee running through her veins and milk flowing through her breasts? Do you mean she who, in the same breath, adores her children yet yearns for time away from them? Do you mean she who shuns beauty when it appears in all forms pretentious, pompous, or superficial yet perpetually seeks it in the most unusual things and places, in the most unexpected people? Do you mean she who sometimes wants nothing more than to bury her nose in a good book (both for sniffing and reading) or she who can’t wait to see the world? Do you mean she who would wear the old clothes but would buy the new book?
When you say “Be yourself”, which self do you mean? Or is it more correct to say, “Be your selves”?
Isn’t it better to try to be the many yous that live inside you, to recognize each one, to celebrate each one of them, and to let them have their day or two in the sun?
They say you only have one life to live. But maybe cats have gotten it right with nine. There may even be more. And there’s no limit to how many lives we can have. For the self is not one, but many. And in the great play of life, each person has not one part to play, but many. For we mean different things to different people. And when we look in the mirror every day, it’s always a different person that stares back at us. Not the one we saw last night. Not the one we will be at the end of the day.
So be your selves.
Better yet, just be.
Suddenly I’m missing my trusty old typewriter where I typed my college application essay, the predecessors of these blogs, and my first collection of poems.
I miss the cool, black surface I often wiped with a piece of cloth until it shone. I miss the smooth keys that sometimes stick together when I accidentally press them two at a time and they fail to etch a letter on paper. I have to pry them apart and try again. I miss the rusty, somewhat loose cartridge, the ribbon that smudges and stains my fingers when I reposition it, the sounds made of 100 words per minutes—the clickety-clack of the keys, followed by a whirr at the end of the row, and then a ding. I miss the smooth typewriting paper. I miss the correction tape (not so much the messy correction fluid)—instant redemption for my every mistake. I miss how shift literally shifts the mechanism so that the upper symbols are printed instead of the ones at the bottom. I miss how you set the margins physically, but you have to gauge the bottom one or draw a thin horizontal line with a pencil to mark where your last line should be. I miss how I would spend hours sitting in front of that dependable machine, typing away while sipping coffee that goes from hot to cold too quickly.
If I had my typewriter now, I would type your name on it. I would do it letter by letter, uncharacteristically slowly, as if undressing in front of a lover. I would watch each key rise as I press it. Then, I will wait for the moment when the key and the ribbon meet, like lips pressed together for a kiss. I will watch each key wound the immaculate paper and leave each letter on it like a scar. And when all the letters are in place, I will roll out the paper and trace the indentations each key has made. Your name typed on paper, an anachronism, if there ever was one. Then I will read it out loud and pretend that I had known you back then. Back when there was plenty of time to write silly love poems and no one to read them. Back when there were lots of mixed tapes to make but not a lot of TV channels. Back when there was no email but there were love letters to write (and sometimes type) on cute stationery that sometimes smelled of strawberries. Back when I could have typed more than your name on paper.
The only imprints you will leave now are the ones carved deeply into my skin and inked with our own blood and tears—chronicles of the most atypical of kinships, defying time and other ties.