(This post was inspired by Week 9: Self Portrait, part of the photography challenge Project 52)
“Self Portrait: n. a portrait of oneself done by oneself.”
A picture of me. I try, then try again. It never looks like what I think I look like. It never looks like me. I stare at the camera screen in frustration. Is this me? No, I eventually concede. This isn’t me.
A self-portrait is an image and it can only ever be a shadow of the real person. It’s flat, 2D. But more than that, it’s only a representation of the physical appearance of the person. But I am more than my physical appearance. I am more than my face.
“[T]here comes a time when you stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself: this is my self? And why? Why did I want to identify with this? What do I care about this face? And at that moment everything starts to crumble. Everything starts to crumble.” (Milan Kundera, Immortality)
This face is not me: it’s changing all the time, as is my body. But then, so are my ideas, thoughts, hopes, dreams, circumstances, goals, relationships, feelings, and anything else that might make me “me”. Is there really any “I” under all this flux? I search for the constants, the things that have stayed relatively stable through time and space.
So let me try again. A self-portrait of my self, not of my face.
I am a writer. A lover of words. I write in my head all the time: narratives of what’s happening in the present moment, stories about my past, essays, blog posts. When something clicks I feel an overpowering desire to write it down. I simply have to write. I have no choice.
I am a reader. I’m always in the middle of a book. Books teach us so much: nonfiction can teach us about history, politics, science and more. Fiction can teach us about the human condition, about what it feels like to be someone else. Books can show us ourselves in a way we never would have imagined.
I am a bibliophile: a lover of books as objects. The sight of bookshelves full of books makes me happy. I love to thumb the pages of a book as I read it, to dog ear the pages I want to remember, to break the spine of a paperback, to leave a book thicker than it was when I opened it. I will be the last adopter of the e-reader. I will hold my books until the end.
I am a traveller. An adventurer. Airports excite me: they portend new places, possibility and growth. I like to go somewhere I’ve never been. I like to push myself, to find my limits and exceed them. I want to go to every continent. I want to consume the world and let it fill me with life. I always say that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro changed my life. But in reality, every trip I’ve ever taken has changed my life. I will never stop traveling.
I am an introvert. I recharge by finding quiet within myself. Too much time out among people exhausts me. I enjoy sitting in a restaurant alone, and even traveling alone. But this doesn’t mean that I like to be lonely. I still crave relationships and companionship. I just need time to myself every day.
I am a photographer. Not a professional, maybe not even that good. But I am, quite clearly, one who takes photos. I deeply believe in the power of a photo to capture a moment. And I know in my heart that photos can touch us and move us and even change us.
I am an intellectual. I loved law school and I look forward to Saturday when the new Economist comes. I like ideas. I don’t hide the fact that I am an intelligent, capable woman. I struggle with small talk because I want to talk about the important things. I like drama and art and indie music. I will never be the kind of blogger or writer who has mass appeal. And I’m ok with that.
I am a wife. I met a man who understands me more than I ever thought possible, and I fell deeply in love with him. He respects me and cares for me and would never ask me to be anything other than who I am. We wrote our own vows and we try to live by them every day. I won’t say he completes me (because I think that’s just creepy) but I will say that I am more myself now than I was before we met.
I am a mother. And though my daughter is fifteen months old, I still struggle with this new aspect of my identity. I still don’t know what it means to be a mother. I still don’t know how to be who I am with this new layer. But I do know this: I love my daughter more every day, and every day I think it isn’t possible that I could love her any more. I write this blog to come to terms with this new identity: to create self-portraits of myself as a mother and, in so doing, to see that it is me.
I am these things, yes, but I am much more. The image I see in the mirror is not me. The image I capture with my camera is not me. Even the portrait I paint with my words is not me. I am more complicated, more undefinable, more… unclear.