Knowing Who You're Not
I often listen to writers and literary types interviewed on NPR. Once in a while, I think, "I should read that book, or I should write that way." Then, those years of experience in my skin gently pull me back into that skin, and I think, "I have come to terms with the reality that I am not a reader and that I write from who I am". In writing, people often talk about "finding your voice." For some people that voice grows out of discovering who one is. For me that voice has helped me find out who I am -- moreover, who I am not.
In the 60's and 70's the phrase "Been there, done that" was common. Part of those times for many of us was to go there and do that, as much as possible. It was the time of the Renaissance man and woman.
I have baked bread, made candles, developed my own photographs, given my own perms and grown my own food. But now, I know that I will never make a giant quilt; I have given away the fabric I'd been saving for years. I will not weave a blanket. I donated the boxes of yarn. I will not make a twig table from the birch tree trimmings. I'm giving the wood to a man who makes birdhouses. And I doubt if I will ever be a reader. Friends know better than to give me books or even recommend them.
When I was a youngster, people always used to tell kids, "Just be yourself." Now, when I do workshops for adolescence I ask them, "Do people still tell kids that?" They all nod their heads with expressions of annoyance and resignation. I understand their annoyance. It took me years to figure out why I hated to hear that advice. It was because, as a young person, it is the hardest advice to follow. "Be yourself? " "What self? This emerging blob of identity has a different self from hour to hour.
So when I talk to the students I say. "It's the hardest advice to follow while you're young. Ignore it with the same grace that you handle the equally false statement, 'This is the best time of your life' ". First step, figure out who you are, but don't be in a big rush. It's a worthy adventure and it takes time. Perhaps a lifetime."
After many years I have figured out, to a level of some comfort, who I am. An additional benefit is that I'm almost equally sure of who I'm not. I have given up many goals, with surprisingly little regret. When I do stress management workshops, I talk about the value of having a list of priorities, but the equal value of realizing that to accomplish numbers 1, 2 and 3, you may need to cross 8,9 and 10 off the list.
Now, when I see a neat little piece of furniture that requires refurbishing, I remember that furniture refinishing is in the "8,9, 10" category. I try to follow the advice of an antique dealer and friend. "When I was young I took on all kinds of projects and my basement filled up with unfinished projects. Now my motto is, "Don't buy work'". The work I no longer buy, is the work of being someone I am not. I'm pretty sure I've figured that one out. Haven't been there, haven't done that -- and that's just fine.