Vonnegut penned that line in Mother Night (1961), a postmodern spy romance on the ambiguity of true identity in a post-Auschwitz world. It has been taken to mean at least a few things; either we as individuals are truer than our purported social roles or that the artist must protect their soul in the face of our actions or that we can will ourselves into any identity since “identity” is a modern falsehood. In any variance, it is powerful and tumblrized into a well circulated inspirational quote.
But thinking about it, isn’t it true that we can consciously re-create ourselves into a vision of our values, dreams, and hopes? I believe we have that power. I’ve been thinking about this blog, which seems to have supplanted my old one (on self-help, productivity tips, motivation) and wondering how I ended up merging my goals of self-transformation with the dreamy nostalgia of my old favorite heroines. And it came to me very clearly this morning — namely, that my joking about becoming a magical-girl-super-hero has turned into a more self conscious project on remaking my life to be more…
More fun? More colorful?
More beautiful? More empowered? More self aware?
More ambitious? Stronger? More goal oriented? More sophisticated, worldly?
This stands in direct contrast to most self-help mantras asking you to find your “true self.” Sure, hiding your personality, tastes, sexual preferences, even your body to fit with social convention is awful. But the more general Oprah-school “true self” kind of philosophizing makes no sense to me. People are always changing so your true self also shifts and transforms day to day. And, I don’t know how to identify my true capabilities, my true strengths until I am put to the test in the larger world. When I stuck too long to the empty feel good “true self” line, I found myself holding onto an outdated “truth” of myself and wasn’t challenged to go outside my comfort zone. It became, “I never did that so I won’t try. I like ____ but it doesn’t fit ‘who I am’ so I won’t get it/ try it/ wear it.”
No more. I don’t romanticize my past self as the true self. I believe in the current me and my future self.
My favorite blog is Sparkles and Crumbs and she writes about just this: how people can will themselves into becoming the people they want to be. That we can recreate, reimagine ourselves into the image of what we value most. It is a constant theme in her writing, over and over and over.
On the suave American movie star Cary Grant, she quotes:
“[Cary Grant] wasn’t born a suave and bedazzling movie star. He wasn’t even born Cary Grant. He was a lonely kid whose depressed mother was sent to a madhouse without his knowledge when he was nine or ten. His father told him she’d gone on an extended vacation. He didn’t know what became of her until he was well into his thirties, when he discovered her still institutionalized, but alive. He was kicked out of school in England at 14 and by 16 he was traveling across the United States, performing as a stilt-walker and acrobat and mime. Eventually he found his calling as an actor and changed his name to the one we know him by – the name… synonymous with male charisma and charm and fabulousness, but he was always still that boy inside. Of himself Grant said, ‘I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point.’
I’m not saying that I’m going to do some freaky deaky full time cosplay and make believe I’m a 14 year old animated cartoon. But I want to think more about why certain heroines have taken hold of my imagination so powerfully, so much that their imprint lingers years and years later. And I want to think about what values I ascribe to them and how they can inspire me to live the life I idealized back when I felt powerless, naive, and weak.