The ego has many layers and interpretations. It can signify a sense of self, the definition of “I”, and/or the determination of esteem or importance. A psychoanalytical description fans this into, “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.” The perspective I am referring to, however, and that most resonates with me, offers a slant of belonging (or not belonging):
“The part of you that defines itself as a personality, separates itself from the outside world, and considers itself (read: you) a separate entity from the rest of nature and the cosmos. Perhaps necessary for survival in some evolutionary bygone, in modern times it leads only to (albeit often disguised) misanthropic beliefs and delusion.”
The moment I first felt the need to wall myself off happened in the 6th grade. I had a huge crush on a boy named Ryan O’ Leary. He wore ribbed turtlenecks and smelled like you wished your dad did. Not only handsome, he had an exquisite mind. When asked to contribute to a collaborative poem, he casually spouted:
“A tranquil sanctum
Of quiet and rest,
Rare in its comfort,
Like a bald eagle’s nest.”
I will never know or care what came before or after this line. Twenty five years later, it is still seared in my brain. He was beyond impressive. He was dazzling.
When yearbook signing came around, all I wanted was for him to write more than the dismissive, “Have a great summer.” What I got was an equally disregarding, “See you next year.” As I flipped through the book to make there wasn’t a hidden message tucked away somewhere, I noticed some tiny, angled words written around the corners of random pictures. There were quite a lot of them, intricately placed on almost every other page. Examining them closer, I realized they had a running theme: “piggy’, “cow”, “oink”.
This person I thought so highly of called me fat in twenty different ways, and made me work to discover the depths of his meanness. Crushed, all I could think about was why someone would use so much effort to be cruel when it could just as easily been used for kindness. Ugly had so many forms. Human nature could be hideous.
I realized I needed to be more specific with my wishes. Or, I simply needed to stop wishing at all.
Wired on action instead of lament, I began to lay my bricks. I would go my own way and do as I please, showing and asking no one for approval. Fully content in my blacked out biodome of self, I learned what it took and meant to want to improve without comparison. I was the judge and master of me, and I could be as spectacular as I imagined.
My heart gone, I focused on my body.
First, I would make damn sure nobody could ever call me fat again.
Second, I would use sport to prove my current methods were sound. If I was successful against the opposition, I knew I was on the right track. If I wasn’t, I had to rethink things. Effort was a constant that never needed examination. When you can control things, the work is a reflection of your ambition.
Sport was my measuring stick towards personal progress. It kept me motivated and moving. It kept my weight down. My accomplishments meant nothing to me, because what I did yesterday had no bearing on today, but it brought people into my orbit without me asking them to. I had discovered a space where I could be me without fear of rejection.
Then I blew my knee out. Devastation returns.
That thing I had loved the most and invested everything into, had once again let me down. Liking something does not mean it will like you back.
My body gone, I focused on my mind.
Perhaps my value lied not in what I could do, but what I knew. Ideas could be distributed and separated from me. They could plot where I was and what I was thinking, but leave no trace of where I am now. I could contribute and still be safe. My brain was jerk-proof. It could not be hurt, only disagreed with.
I started to replace some bricks with plexiglass. Anyone who wanted to could look in, and I could choose how often I looked outside. Semi-protected, I could reveal the things I found interesting, unattached to the confines of a particular identity.
Identity isolates. It narrows our perceived options and funnels our possibilities and opportunities. It disconnects us from ourselves.
The consideration of contradiction is what makes an ego fluid. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all wrong. Maybe there’s another way..
The wisdom I took away in morphing from not-fat to athlete to has-been to figure-outer is that they were all evolutions of my heart being seen. I was just terrified of putting it in the window. Instead, I dressed it up in different hats and shirts and waited to see if it drew anyone near. What I had difficulty admitting was that I wanted them to come, if only to say hello and wonder what I was doing in there.
The state of my box has very little stone left. It resembles a display case. It keeps me in as much as it keeps others out. I’m contemplating removing the glass so each side is compelled to touch and interact, but I have come to enjoy the reassurance that an enclosure gives.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all wrong. Maybe there’s another way..