Monday, November 24, 2008


When I was the age of my freshman students, I felt like my life was about 90% interior and 10% exterior.  My thoughts and emotions seemed so huge that it was hard to believe my skin could contain them.  The world and everything in it felt like an appendix to the infinite landscape within.  And both the best and worst thing about that full-to-bursting self inside was that no one could see it.  No one could understand it.  There was so much of me that was invisible to the outside world, but nevertheless drove me in a way that no outside force ever could.

We discussed Michel Foucault today in class, and I was talking about his reduction of the self to a set of data points on a recording grid that completely defines the modern person.  And looking at those freshman faces and listening to their protests, I realized that one reason this did not hit home to them as powerfully as it does to me is that they have those huge interior lives.  They know viscerally that their selves are so much more than their grades and scores and demographic details.  They dwell within the larger-than-life self of thoughts and emotions every day -- within their cannot-be-denied identities that are far more real than any of the passing parade outside their skulls.

But I do not.  I can remember what it felt like to be that age, but it's a rare day when I feel an interior self at all.  (Mostly under the influence of literature and music.)  Now I am all surface.  My activity -- and the ways it's measured in productivity and evaluation -- completely exhaust what I am.  I no longer feel any dissonance between inside and outside, between how I feel and how I am seen.  I don't think big thoughts that no one knows about.  I don't feel tidal feelings that no one could possibly understand.  Instead, I throw myself fully into what I do.  I hold nothing back.  I focus all of myself into my actions.  It's no less a set of roles for all of that, of course, but they are roles that fit me perfectly, it seems, rather than the awkward, mismatched playacting that characterizes the teenaged years, and contributes to that feeling of vast, untapped depths of self unexpressed in public.

And although I don't miss that romantic, misunderstood, invisible teenage self, I know that many do.  That's why they have secret lives, affairs, conspiracies, neuroses.  It makes them feel alive.  More than that, it makes them feel like they are something more than the sum of their actions.  It makes them feel bigger inside than outside.

1 comment:

the secret knitter said...

I'd have to say that I'm still more interior than exterior, part of which may be a matter of circumstance and part of which may be how I'm wired.

That said, I think that the "anonymous" blogging has been a measure toward balancing the two. If I consider the other writing I do under my name, it serves (and has served) that purpose too, although I suspect I find it to be much more revealing than the casual reader.

A life that skews heavily toward the interior has its rewards, but it can be mighty exhausting too.