(I wrote this for a writing class that I decided today to drop)
A few classes ago we were asked to draw our inner critic. For most of my classmates that inner critic was a mother, or some other family member. For others it was just a faceless demon: insecurity, fear, regret.
My inner critic is me, one of those selves we were supposed to explore in this week’s assignment. My inner critic is not my enemy, and I’ve been aware of her for as long as I’ve been writing. Yet, she is just one of dozens of different versions of myself.
There are selves defined by relationships to other people: the daughter, the sister, the niece, the cousin, the friend, the colleague.
The professional selves: the librarian, the writer.
The personal versions: the emotional, the potential, the creative, the ideal, the critical.
The selves I haven’t met yet (and may never): the lover, the wife, the mother, the orphan, the widow.
The selves I fear: the criminal, the deviant, the victim, the jaded bitter lonely nightmare.
How can I tell for sure who I am when I change so easily depending on my surroundings, my circumstances, my audience, my mood, my sobriety? I get really confused and sometimes I can only tell what I am not, can only define myself by considering the opposites. I made a joke to a friend that I was making my way through life by process of elimination. But I can’t even rely on what I don’t want, because that changes day to day, minute by minute.
The parts of myself that I disapprove of often feel like my dominant traits. I cannot make them go away, or erase or deny them: the lazy slacker, the avoider, the procrastinator, the insecure, the inert.
Sometimes the only guide I have in making the right choice is a desire to preserve a personal or professional relationship, to maintain a specific image even when I resent its constraints. I seem to have no ability or willpower to stop myself from making self-destructive choices – when no one is looking. But as soon as I can see myself, or my behavior, through someone else’s eyes, I check myself. I think, I don’t want anyone to think this is the kind of person I am. I have a friend who would tell me that I worry too much about what other people think. But what I really worry about is what kind of person I would be if I didn’t care.
I do know that I don’t want to be mean or hurt someone’s feelings. I have a sense of justice, a preference for mercy, forgiveness, and letting go of resentment. I have my own version of morality, but I will lie before I hurt someone’s feelings, even if the discovery of the lie may ultimately be worse. I have an extreme aversion to conflict that in my professional life is often praised as tact, and political awareness, but in my personal life is sometimes criticized as passive and weak.
Some people bring out the best selves, some bring out the worst, and I don’t even know how I measure that.. by what value system am I defining my best or worst?
I don’t know who I really am. I don’t know if I ever will. I do know that my actions and personality are usually directly related to my audience. I have some friends and colleagues that bring out a strong, respectable side of myself. But my favorite people are the ones I can play with, show off the “worst” versions to make them laugh or gasp in shock, and … I think they are only okay with this version because they tell themselves it’s NOT who I am. Except that it is.
We contain all these versions inside ourselves, we encourage some, deny others. The zealot, the fanatic, the liar, the oracle… so many pieces, when I let my mind wander the pieces seem disparate, contradictory, but irrefutable. Still, this awareness has never stopped me from hoping there might be a single, dominant, real self buried in there somewhere.
Back to the inner critic. I rely on her voice to step outside whatever emotional self-indulgent spiral I slip into. She argues with me, encourages me. She is a voice of reason, a conscience, and provokes me into action and improvement. She calls me on my shit.
She wrote this essay.