Wednesday, February 18, 2009

22 Essential Things

I am trying to be a good modern networker and get into this Facebook thing. Frankly, while I love interpersonal conversation and even public speaking, I'm having trouble with the "public chatting" aspect. The only thing I've liked about it so far is reading my friends' lists of 25 Random Things. I find the randomness amusing and the vicarious experience thrilling and I love to try to locate the unexpressed thread that ties this person's life together. Even the mode of expression tells a lot: I've seen lists peter out in the teens and run past 25; single-word entries and little stories; right-brained entries numbered haphazardly and left-brained entries cross-referenced. Each feels like a gift of self.

Not everyone accepts gifts as graciously. A friend just forwarded me an e-mail from a "humorist" who has 25 reasons not to read them, and finds such lists to be a flagrant form of self-aggrandizement. This person is clearly not a student of the human condition. Perhaps this person's willful personality was indulged in childhood, and now has little empathy for those a little more broken who enjoy the game of grasping for self. In addition I'd guess this person has worked in the same job for a couple of decades and has never suffered the type of identity-rattling trauma that leaves you desperate to cry out: See me. I am here.

Near the end of my first marriage, when my husband would not seek help for either his alcohol problem or our ailing relationship, I sought out therapy on my own. The second week I came home with the assignment answer to the question: "What defines who you are?" 

I hardly knew how to begin. For so long I had wrapped myself around my children's and husband's needs. Yet a self had been starting to emerge; it was the cracking of my outgrown facade that had led me to therapy to begin with. Once I started writing I had trouble stopping: I came up with 22 essential aspects of self. Take any one away, I determined, and I would not be the same person. I was surprised by this evidence of my maturing dimensionality. Reading the list made me own these aspects and grow in personal power.

I soon realized, sadly, that of these 22 essential attributes, Ron either failed to support, ignored, or actively abused 15 of them. This is the power of listing: it led quickly to my decision to divorce, to Ron's first suicide threat and hospitalization, and to his death six weeks later. Yet it also gave me the will to survive the guilt traps Ron's actions had laid. For someone with an artistic bent, self is not something that can be denied forever. 

Listing can be powerful medicine; it's the most healing writing I've done in my life. It can pierce through the way we think things are to reach the way things are. Such a weapon should not be wielded by the weak of heart. Perhaps the humorist was right to step aside.

Now that I know who I am and have adjusted my life's activities accordingly, I enjoy a purposeful, happy, and confident life. Some people misread this confidence as egocentrism. I'm pretty sure that humorist would. Like the Facebook lists, the humorist probably wouldn't have much use for me. And get this for self-aggrandizement: I blog AND I'm writing a memoir.

Others like me who want to keep growing and adapting and reinventing ourselves enjoy re-interviewing for the job of self every few years. Want to try? Write a new resume, write the story of your life, re-connect with old friends, or touch back with your therapist. Or make it easy, and share a list of 25 random things with your friends to see where your thoughts take you.

I'll gladly read your lists, and celebrate the person you continue to become.

Because I am here. And I see you.


Amy Kirk said...

You are the least "egocentric" person I know. I learned so much from this entry. :)

prutsels said...

We almost crossed paths a couple times, and I am so glad I followed your review link, and ended up finding your blog.
Have you ever considered turning your blog into a book?
It is being done and yours is one of the best examples why.
You are real and inspiring and funny, and just what I needed.

Kathryn Craft said...

Prutsels: The fact that you came to this post more than a year and a half after it was written is a wonderful motivation for me to keep writing. Thanks for your kind words. I am writing a book-length memoir at present--my work had been set aside for a year but now I am back at work, harder than ever. I mean to see it to completion! My post tomorrow will explain why. If and when our paths do cross, please reveal yourself!