I have been thinking a lot lately about Uemura Naomi.
Uemura is considered the first person to reach the North Pole by himself, to raft down the Amazon by himself, and to climb Denali by himself.
He was part of a community of adventurers, of climbers, but he did many of his excursions alone. He wrote, in what’s become his most famous quote: “In all the splendor of solitude… it is a test of myself, and one thing I loathe is to have to test myself in front of other people.”
Uemura disappeared in 1984 while climbing Denali in the winter. We know he reached the summit, but his radio signal was lost on the descent. Normally a search party would have been sent sooner, but the community of climbers who knew him felt it would be disrespectful to do so. His body has never been found.
I had a friend in college who told me that statistically I didn’t exist. And maybe I don’t.
He said it because as an American I’m a bit of an anomaly. But the truth of his off-hand comment has lingered with me for years. Beyond the demographic categories I can’t escape, I’ve tried identities on for size—with varying degrees of accuracy.
But let me go back.
My childhood doesn’t fit me. The child I was is incongruent with how I see myself now. I know I lived through grade school, through college, through job after job after job. Through labels—grounds crew, barista, teaching assistant, cashier, first grader, freshman, senior, summa cum laude, employee of the month, girlfriend, single.
But was I any of those things? Was I an archivist? A graduate student? A partner? A mentor? Continue reading
 I am both anti-social and introverted.
What I am not is shy, and I think this makes for an odd combination that other people find hard to understand. Sometimes I think I’m probably a high-functioning sociopath. I have very little brain-to-mouth filter in social situations, and although I can be charming when I have to be, I’m usually the first one to make a lewd joke or to say something completely off-the-wall.
It’s not disingenuous. I’m not faking a persona. I take very few things seriously, and irreverence makes life interesting sometimes. It’s just that if you want superficial, I’ll give you superficial.
One of the reasons why I have a hard time with social interaction is because I very rarely experience it as genuine. People are rarely interested in who you are.
You see people, you size them up, you judge them, you categorize them, you determine what you want from them and whether or not you think you can get it.
That’s just how people are. It’s what we do. It’s what I do. Most of the time we use people as means, and that’s okay. I’ve grown accustomed to my students staring blankly at me waiting for me to convey information. To cashiers trying to hurry me along and looking right through me. To being seen as nothing but a gender. To being leered at and objectified.
All of these interactions are the same.
It’s all a performance.
It’s all surface.