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
This is one of my favorite quotes from Palahniuk, because he’s right isn’t he? We’re all just playing with ourselves.
On a cop show I saw once, there was a detective who was in a therapy session having the following conversation:
Detective: “There is a school of thought that says self-awareness leads to transformation. I don’t believe that.”
Therapist: “So where does self-awareness lead?”
Detective: “To self-justification.”
This seems right to me. People don’t really change. I don’t know a lot about childhood development, but at some point, maybe around puberty, we just become who we are going to be. I was negative, skittish, introspective and liked to push the limits of authority when I was on the brink of adulthood. And what do you know? Nothing changes. Though it is becoming more difficult for me to get along in the world as an adult.
I think maybe I’ve always been somewhat self-aware, maybe hyper-aware is more like it. But this does not mean I have enough self-knowledge to not try to justify some of the choices I make or to not make excuses for myself. I’m not even remotely close to having self-knowledge. I like to think that we all have some idea of who we want to be, but it’s a lot easier to make excuses than to actually try to change.