Saturday, February 23, 2013
Yesterday I was going through an old box of memories. It was late and I couldn't sleep. There was no distraction blinking or bright enough to hypnotize my mind and trick it into sleep. I remembered the box with the books in it. It didn't take long to find the familiar, faded green fabric cover of the book that I used all through college to write down pieces of brilliance that I would come across. I found them in plays I was reading for theatre work, in books I was reading for my literature classes, in the Bible, things my friends would say that were particularly shiny.
I thumbed through it, inhaling the smell of age that lands on pages after years of sitting next to other pages in books that sit cover to cover in boxes that wait to be reopened and resuscitated after years of well-deserved rest. I landed on a page that I supposed I needed to see. A quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet, an homage to the professor who taught me how to love the language that seems so far above me with its misplaced adverbs and adjectives and antique formality, had been scribbled at the bottom of a page filled haphazardly with U2 lyrics. "To thine own self be true..." spoken by Polonious to Laertes, I can see my professor's eyes light up, his hand rise up in point to the heavens as if he had just been inspired to teach us this ancient piece of literature, as excited as if it was his own. I remember the way that he looked at us. It wasn't a creed, it wasn't prose or poetry, it was a challenge. I abandoned my book and wandered back to bed, drifting off to sleep
It was the first thing I thought about this morning when I woke up. I looked in the mirror at the self that I owned and I realized something. I wasn't particularly interested in being true to myself. And if it wouldn't have been so weird I would have called my professor to let him know that twenty years give or take later, I get it. The impossible selfishness of being true to thine own self.
Shakespeare wrote it, so it must be brilliant... and the preponderance of the idea that being true to yourself is the way to make it through life looks great painted on barnwood and plastered on Pinterest. We YOLO and Carpe Diem ourselves into thinking that living and seizing the day is living full of truth. I don't know that I believe that anymore.
I want to hold myself to a higher standard than myself, quite frankly. Knowing what I am capable of, it would probably be a good idea. You're looking at a girl who has hot glued the hem of her pants out of laziness and has become so unphased by dirty laundry that she will give any piece of clothing in the house the "sniff" test. I no longer need a spoon to eat a pudding cup and the five-second rule has been extended due a back injury to the 10 to 15-second rule. Being true to myself, I am afraid, would be diving headfirst into the pool of mediocrity wearing lead panties. I want to be true to more.
I want to be true to the outdated ideas of manners and common courtesy. I want to be true to the things that my mother taught me were important, barring the whole "dusting the top of the refrigerator every other day" idea... I want to be true to the expectations of my profession, notice I did not say "my job." I believe that the profession of teaching is steeped in dignity and respect, in knowledge and in curiosity; I believe that the "job" of teaching has become political and frightening. But in that same vein, I want to be true to the expectations that my students and their parents have for me. I want to be wise, I want to be seasoned, I want to be without error. Unfortunately, I am precluded from being all of those things because I am human. I was born of missteps and miscalculations, I came from another human being. But still, I owe it to myself to be true to more than myself.
Being true to thine own self makes for a selfish nature. It makes you believe that you are free from error, not responsible for the way you make others feel, not responsible for your own actions, not responsible period. Being true to thine own self means making excuses for your selfishness and worse than that, believing your own excuses, buying into them, and allowing them to make you reckless. Don't get me wrong. I believe in a certain amount of reckless and wild; but being reckless and extravagant with other people's hearts and feelings under the guise of "exploring" or "learning" is selfish, it's cruel, it's happened to me and I'm sure it has happened to you. And when it happens, when you are on the other end of the YOLO-yelling free spirit who holds your heart in their caution-free hands, when you are the one that gets thrown to the end, you realize that being true to your own self means disregard for others.
So, Shakespeare, I'm calling you out. I say that you have influenced generation after generation to be true themselves without bothering to know who they really are. I say that while your words were beautiful and while your talent goes without saying, you were, at the base of your very self, a selfish person who was true to your self at the cost of the hearts of others. I say that I want to be better than Shakespeare; true to more than myself. I want to be true.