Monday, April 11, 2011

How Did I Get Here?

I keep a journal. I always have. It's not that I think that my life is all that remarkable, and it's not that I think I should create a record of my existence for posterity. It's just something I've always done.

When I was younger, I rationalized my journal-keeping as practice. Writing in my diary helped me develop some chops as a writer. Later, I realized that my journal was also a coping mechanism, a way to organize my thoughts, memories, and reactions into some sort of recognizable shape.

Given my family history and my own emotional tendencies, I honestly think that my journal has, over the years, kept me sane.

Only recently have I started going back through my journals. See, I've hit middle-age, and I've realized that I have no idea who I am.

Well, that's not entirely true. I know who I am, and I think I have a fairly accurate idea of my place in the world. It's just that I don't really have any idea how I got here.

Like anyone, I can draw, in broad strokes, the major chapters of my life -- where I grew up, where I was educated, where I worked, and who was around me during the first 4 decades of my life.

What I'm missing is any sense of the process by which I became, cell by cell and memory by memory, the man I am today. I know I'm not alone in getting that startled feeling every time I look in the mirror, because my own sense of myself doesn't match up with what I see. I still feel like the confused kid I was on the first day of class at a new school, not knowing anyone and bewildered about my place in this new milieu.

This is why "Once In A Lifetime" by The Talking Heads is a kind of personal theme song of mine:

In my most recent foray into my own diary, I've made some mildly interesting revelations about myself.

Here are a few:

1. I have never successfully seduced a woman. Not even once. Having said that, I've still had my fair share of romantic & sexual entanglements. It's just that every single one of them has occurred because a female (with decidedly questionable taste in men) has seduced me, usually right after I got shot down by someone else. Find an ex-girlfriend of mine and you'll find it's true: they made the first move, and I, stung by a recent rejection, was all-too-willing to make the best of my own dumb luck.

2. When I was a teenager, I was something of a scrapper. But I never won a fight. At best, I dodged and clenched my way to a draw. Given my lack of size and strength, I have to wonder why I felt compelled to put myself into so many confrontational situations, usually against some jock whose girlfriend I had unwisely approached. (Apparently, my unbroken record of failure didn't make a dent in my confidence when it came to the fairer sex.) Luckily, by the time I was seventeen, this inexplicable compulsion to scrap had left me, though I still bear a couple of scars from that period of my life.

3. People have been telling me that I'm smart for as long as I can remember, which has always confused me, because I have given them precious little evidence of any kind of real intelligence. I figure I get the compliments because I read a lot and like to talk. But people with lesser educations and worse vocabularies have consistently outperformed me on the important stuff, like building a career and achieving things. But, hey, I've got my health and the love of a good woman, so I really have nothing to complain about.

So, I'm a middle-aged man who is just now starting to figure himself out. I'm just now starting to develop the kind of honest & forthright self-awareness that most people have by the time they exit their twenties, which makes me about a decade behind in terms of emotional development.

It's either that, or I'm in the midst of the same existential crisis that just about every person who hits middle-age finds themselves in. I can't imagine a more trite turn of events, and I have to apologize to anyone who has read this far into this post.

Honesty may be a virtue, but I think I've just proved that it's not necessarily an interesting one. Perhaps the next time I dive into my old diaries, I'll just share the dirty bits.

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