All the Versions of Yourself
The weather is out of control here right now. It’s been in the eighties the last few days, but tomorrow it will drop more than forty degrees, and everything feels off kilter, but I suppose I just need to accept that both things can be true: it can be eighty degrees one day, and forty degrees the next, even if I don’t like it, not one bit.
Still, we have to take advantage of the sunny days. I walked the dog early. I love to go out in the mornings on New Year’s Day and see who is still up from the night before, people in funny hats struggling through the streets, lurching and grinning. This morning someone blew their little party horn in my direction, and I waved back and wished them well, glad they were them, and I was me.
In fact, I used to be that person who stayed up all night. But last night I watched “House of Gucci” while giving my dog some extra pets for ignoring the fireworks on the street outside (although I think it’s just that he’s deaf now), and then I passed out by 11. I can be the person who went clubbing all night, and I can be the person who gets up at 5 AM now to write enthusiastically in my journal.
These changes have happened not just because I’ve gotten older (although that is part of it), but also because I got used to not going out much at all because of the pandemic, and also because I’ve learned after all these years that some of the best ways to manage my anxiety include getting a good night’s sleep and having a regular writing practice, and I choose, whenever possible, to live a non-anxious life. The happiest version of me is the one who manages her anxiety. That is a fact.
Still, while I was walking the dog I thought, “When will I be myself again?” I don’t think I was thinking necessarily about staying up late. It more had to do with a shift these past two years, inevitable because of the pandemic, but also because two whole years have passed now, and it would be weird if things hadn’t shifted. We must move forward, even if we wobble as we do so.
And then I thought, “You are already yourself, you always were, and you still are.” All the things I went through, I went through them as myself, and no one else. I showed myself the entire time. We all did.
Of course, we contain so many versions of ourselves. The person who writes, the person who doesn’t write. The person who used to stay out all night, and the person who goes to sleep early. The social person and the anti-social person. The worried person and the person who calms someone else down. The person who behaves terribly during trying times and the person who does something right for once in her goddamn life.
How many times have we struggled to make the right choices in life because there was no obvious answer in front of us? Which version of ourselves knew the right answer? Which version was the strongest, the bravest, the wisest? Or even just the least selfish?
I have realized lately that the strength I found this year, and last year, too, was in no single action I took myself, but in the moments where I connected with other people and we built something together. That current I felt in collaboration was like a lightning bolt to my soul. I was alive and healthy and productive and making better choices than I might have if I had been on my own.
I love the work that I do as a solo artist. I treasure it. I’ll never stop making my art. I will always need — and crave — the solitude that comes with my most creative and productive times. And during those moments, I will have to contend with all my dualities.
But lately, I am better at seeing outside my myopic artistic vision. The thing that I know now is that the tension between needing to be alone and the desire to build something bigger than just myself will probably drive me through the rest of my life.
I always have hope in my heart when I know what I want to create next. The most stunning realization is that I don’t always have to do it all alone.
Happy New Year.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to Backstreet Cultural Museum.