I could not bear to know what I knew about me, so I became someone else.

“I could not bear to know what I knew about me, so I became someone else.”

That’s a line from a short story I once wrote…well, a short story I began to write. Initially, I was particularly satisfied with the line, because it was mysterious.  It could be interpreted in at least two ways: 1) a deeply negative, condemnatory assessment of a miserable life; or 2) a highly positive, self-affirming statement about renewal and overcoming demons. But the more I thought about it, the less satisfied I became.  And I became less confident of its originality; I must have read it somewhere long ago, I surmised, and simply adopted it as my own.  But I return to it repeatedly when I’m in one of my introspective moods, which is increasingly frequent, trying to decide what I meant when first I wrote it.  And what I mean by it now.

The story never materialized, of course, like so many other nascent stories crowding one another for space in my brain. Instead, the piece found its way to what I sometimes call my cellar, a place I keep snippets of text that may one day belong in my “body of work.” In reality, that cellar is more like a word-coffin, a place to store incomplete thoughts and descriptions of budding emotions that “died aborning.”  There is no body; just dead words.

Writers write.  They don’t intend to write. They don’t plan to write.  They don’t think about writing.  They write. Even when they have nothing to say, they write.  They don’t let dullness of thought or emotional disaster stand in the way; what they write may not be pretty, and in fact may be ugly, ill-conceived, and an affront to humanity, but at least it’s written.  Good writers ultimately discard the garbage, saving and later putting to good use the shiny pieces that float amid the dull detritus.

That’s the difference between writers and me; I dare not discard the garbage, for fear of discovering nothing shiny to keep.  Well, that’s  one of the differences.  There’s the absence of creativity, of course, and the lack of skill.  And one mustn’t forget the desire. Good writers seem to want to write; they have passion about it.  I, on the other hand, share one…and only one…attribute with Dorothy Parker: I sometimes hate to write, but love having written.

That’s evidence I have an ego; it’s also evidence my ego is bigger than it has a right to be. And it’s evidence I can lie shamelessly;  in fact, I love to write.  When I’m in the right frame of mind and the topic about which I’m writing is something that captivates me, I can go on for hours…almost always putting far more words and far more ideas onto the page than the topic deserves.  The topic often gets consumed and forgotten as I chase other subjects down rabbit holes, only to lose them and return to find my original topic.  There it is, waiting impatiently under the watchful gaze of other mesmerizing and fleet-of-foot rabbits. And there I go again.

A few of my friends claim to have adult-onset attention deficit disorder, or ADD.  I have not been diagnosed with it, but I am reasonably sure I have it, too; some of those same friends would say I am, at least, a carrier.  I may have said this before in one of my long, rambling diatribes, but at the risk of repeating myself, I’ll say it again: my interests are painfully wide-ranging and dangerously shallow.  That is to say, I have short bursts of consuming interest in an amazing array of topics.  But once the fuel for my interest in a topic runs low, which happens quickly in many cases, I reach for the nearest lifeline and pull myself to another shore.

“I could not bear to know what I knew about me, so I became someone else.”

There’s so much truth in that statement. It speaks to almost everyone, though many won’t admit it and may not even know how vividly it describes our lives.  We measure ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, against unattainable benchmarks.  Rather than letting ourselves develop and grow organically, we start early to shape and mold who we are in an attempt to fit the expectations others have of us.  Once that process begins, I think it’s impossible to return to the core of who we once were.

It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to know just what the “core” was.  All of us, after all, are shaped by the people around us. From the earliest moments of budding consciousness in our cribs, we react to our environments.  We learn which of our behaviors please those around us and we perfect those behaviors, seeking their accompanying rewards.  So, at what point is the “real” me transformed into the “social” me?  I don’t have the answer.


Wouldn’t it be intriguing to know, really know, what our core personalities are…if, indeed we have core personalities?  On the other hand, maybe not.  Maybe the title of this stream-of-consciousness rambling tirade say it all.  And, with that, I will put this post to bed, as it were.  Maybe I can get some more sleep in the process.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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