I'm teaching my students about Onaat Devarim, hurtful language. Part of this topic includes a discussion on bullying and cyberbullying, which, of course, brought back a lot of memories for me.
I've been talking to some wise people, and they had some interesting insights that I've been pondering. Back when I was a kid, all I really wanted was to have the ability to openly like to read, to openly get to use my high vocabulary and to have friends (or at least a friend) with whom I could be completely myself. I wanted someone who would see my sensitivity as an asset, or at least not a flaw, someone who would understand that my penchant to cry came along with my ability to be moved. The word I used to categorize these wants was 'understanding.' "I just want to be completely understood," is what I would say. Aside from being understood, I wanted to be liked, and I desperately wanted to fit in.
At some point, I gave up on being completely understood. I recreated myself into a fun, enthusiastic, entertaining, somewhat wild person. I decided that if I were going to be called "weird" then I would own that word, and would proudly proclaim that I was weird. I did this, and it caused my mother to cringe. I don't think it really fixed the situation I found myself in.
Luckily for me, a new person arrived at my school in 8th grade. "She doesn't know me," I thought, "and doesn't know about my outcast status." Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say 'loser,' but that was never a word I applied to myself. The way I saw it, outcasts were still very valuable members of society. In fact, it's generally the outcasts, the different ones, who were and are the heroes of the books that I read. Anyway, I figured that I would recreate myself as a more fun, exciting, participatory version of myself.
And on some level, that decision worked for me. I had friends. Even when I switched schools, I was able to find myself a group of girls to socialize with. And even if I wasn't participating in that school, I was admiring from the sidelines. I loved Kit & Mullery's antics. I found Rooney hilarious. A lot of what I saw was new and shiny to me, wrapped in tinsel. I was respected (especially in AP English class), even if I wasn't invited to the parties.
When I got to college, I felt like I was finally able to be more myself. In this forum, my love of books was respected and admired, as was my vocabulary. I fit in a lot better, but just in case I didn't, I worked hard to be very others-focused. I tried to be available to others in person, online or on chat. I tried to get others to tell me their stories, issues or woes so that I could either simply listen to them or actually aid them in resolving them. If anyone criticized me, I took it to heart and did my best to surgically remove the offending character trait or attribute. I created myself in my brother's image, and indeed, my brother was my keeper.
But now I have been let loose. And while I like who I am, I feel like pieces of me got lost along the way. I became so incredibly sensitive to social feedback and to carefully cutting, pasting and excising the (visible) pieces of me that might place me in danger of not being liked. I watch other people and their flamboyant presentation of self, and I am amazed. I'm shocked, because the thought that comes to mind is that what they are doing is not freeing, but dangerous. I would not dare to risk myself in such a way.
Maybe it's time, however, to search out what I originally wanted, and see how much of it I am better able to risk today. Maybe now's the time to wear my soul on my sleeve, to be the person who speaks her words instead of shuttering her thoughts. Maybe it's time to take the way I relate to the world in writing and shift it so that it is also the way I relate to others in person. To be the version of myself in public that I am in private.
I have to say, though, that even contemplating the possibility feels very dangerous.