Already I am in conflict. The book’s title is ‘what it feels like to be me’, while the call for submissions states the following:
This is an opportunity for everyone. It is an opportunity to write, to express yourself and put down in words who you really are. I would like to know what it feels like to be YOU.
The phrases ‘who you really are’ and ‘what it feels like to be me’ are in conflict. The chances of any of us being what we feel we are strike me as being miniscule. This age, perhaps more than any other age, presents us with the opportunity to remake and remodel ourselves relentlessly. ‘I am not what I am’, as Othello’s tormentor states. But this is not going to be another tedious essay about twitter and facebook and speed dating and all the rest. This is going to be brutal. I know this, because I know exactly what has happened. I know every little thing that I’m going to leave out, every little detail which might aid identification of the individuals involved. The fact is, there is no ‘me’. There are a series of mes, serial, sometimes simultaneous mes. And I’m not convinced I like them very much.
But this is no sob story. I invite not your sympathy, nor your opprobrium.
Not so long ago, I received news which changed me quite radically. I was diagnosed … well, now here’s the rub. Without letting you in on certain facts, I cannot explain. Yet those same facts will allow the identification of others, if only through circumstantial evidence. That is, someone reading this piece might think to themselves, ‘hello, isn’t that what happened to X? What a coincidence … just a minute … now hang on, it is X! Wait until I tell …’ You see my problem? To quote a song I once heard (and I can’t tell you where I heard it, either), ‘You are the sum of everything you ever loved.’
So, the challenge is on to communicate the essence of me without those oh-so-tedious details, those facts on which we all rely. To ourselves even more than others, we are defined by things other than ourselves, by one or more dominant circumstantial characteristics which may or may not be something which has been with us all our lives. This is not the trite ‘what are you’ or ‘when you grow up, what do you want to be’ sort of thing. No, no, no. This is something more fundamental, but quite possibly far less defining than many other ‘things’ which float around your life. Ultimately, these defining tropes rely less on their actual and more on their percieved affect. Accordingly, what appears defining to the outside world is often trite and meaningless to the defined, and what feels definitive is often overlooked by those outside. We wrestle continually with this conundrum, this fundamental dichotomy in which our consciousness is drenched.
It is through this fog of definition that we stumble as we search for the us that we feel ourselves to be. And we’re more than likely stumbling by it right now. If only we’d veered slightly to the left, if only we, like Theseus, had thought to seek the assistance of a ball of twine. And yet, in this labyrinth without walls, the twine would serve less as a means of re-tracing our footsteps than as a safety line, a chain which chokes us as soon we stray too close to or destination, or maybe a static line which unleashes the parachute at the very moment that we glimpse free fall, free play; freedom.
But enough, no more. Etc. You know the lines full well. The irony of this situation is that of all the definers that my life is and has been prey to – musician, intellectual, writer, lover, husband, father, son – the greatest has come not from my inner core, nor from my work, my desires, my dreams, but from the random and as yet inexplicable failure of some cells in my head to keep on doing what they’re there to do. They have failed in their one job. Their definition, to put it mildly, has reversed itself. Defined by their output of chemicals, their refusal to do so adequately moves them into the the defined not by success, but by failure. And their failure leaves me … failing to be me.
It is slow, but it is inexorable. As has become more and more apparent over the past few months, people such as me are (eventually) defined by their inadequacies. We become something else. Not ourselves, but our condition. Our condition defines us. Now, this is the most delicious of ironies.
The pharmaceutical battery aimed at my disease – which, incidentally, provides only symptomatic relief, as the disease itself is progressive and incurable – has several side-effects. These, combined with the remaining symptoms, have conspired to deny me several aspects of my identity. I’m loathe to reveal them, because they will serve as clues to who I am (oh, the irony) as well as evidence for the prosecution (fret not, I mean this metaphorically), but let’s simply say that the drugs altered my behaviour to the point where I lost control of myself, obsessively seeking out thrills of a specific sort, while the disease has robbed me of my ability to do one of the things those who know me know me best for, and many who know me only for that one me – for them, the me they know is no longer.
All this beating around the bush. The more I write, the less I feel I can reveal. Now. This truly is not like me at all.