Sunday, July 18, 2010

When were you most yourself?

RIGHT: Elizabeth I, about thirteen years old, c. 1546/7, via The Faces of Elizabeth I

"The first twenty years of your life don't really count," said a fellow guest at a dinner party last night.
"Basically, you don't start your life until you're twenty."

Wouldn't this come as a surprise to many people in history? Henry VIII, for instance, who was crowned at seventeen. (Or the Virgin Mary, who was a teenager when she and gGod had a child together--whether you believe that literally or not, for a couple thousand years people accepted that the Creator thought teenagers were people.)

I'd been maintaining a politic silence at the dinner table because I didn't know most of the other guests--all of whom were middle-aged like me--but at that, I lost it.

"I totally disagree!" I said.
"If anything, I think we're at our most authentic when we're about... nine, when we've come into awareness of our selves and the world, while the layers of social rules haven't yet accreted. And maybe we're not at our happiest, but when we're teenagers we often see things more clearly and passionately than we do later, when we can get kind of worn down."

This gambit worked about as well as chopping tomatoes with a dull knife, so I went back to quietly eating the truly excellent cucumbers in sweet vinegar.

Later in the evening, someone else brought up Mary I, one of the Tudors.

"Which one was she?" I asked.

"You know, Bloody Mary, Elizabeth's sister," the guest said.

"Oh, yeah, Catherine of Aragon's daughter," I said.

"How did you know that?" the guest asked.

And I explained that the BBC's The Six Wives of Henry VIII had totally riveted me the year I was nine.

This morning, bink and I went out for coffee. She'd watched the show in 1970 too, and we can both still name all the wives (and not just because three were C/Katherines), and their fates, though neither of us have studied the Tudors since then. (I usually dislike historical fiction, so I've avoided the many retellings.)

I love who I was at nine--I'd like to be more like that girl. (Maybe I am. She was not good at polite socializing either.) I don't understand people who think children don't have intense and complete feelings, interests, and ideas.
Are these people forgetting childhood, or did they not have those things themselves?

Anyway, I looked it up, and The Six Wives streams from Netflix, so I'm going to watch it tonight for the first time in forty years.


Margaret said...

you are my champion.

Manfred Allseasons said...

Fresca, you were quite right.

We had to learn a little rhyme at school to remind us of their several fates:

Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded Survived.

Not a good king, or a good man....but we got Elizabeth from him, so that was ok.

femminismo said...

You are totally, absolutely, 100 percent correct about the age of nine being the "real us." It was "bb" (before breasts) and I felt I was really authentic. Close to the earth, even eating it from time to time. The doctor told my mother it wouldn't hurt me. Walking in rain, snow, sunshine, freezing temps - not sealed inside a car or house or office nearly 95 percent of the time. Alive with possibilities! Oh, that was a joyous time (mostly). And, argh! On another topic, I pasted in another writing sample and got Stephanie Meyer. I am disheartened and will use more violent verbs or something to be more "transgressive."

Clowncar said...

I'd argue with the notion there is an age of a "true us." They're all true, aren't they? We change, the world we react to changes. But it's all of a piece.

Fresca said...

MARGARET: Hm. You're not yet twenty. I'm not sure your opinion counts.
[In fact, I thought of you at the dinner table--like, did this woman really MEAN to wipe away the selfhood of everyone not yet twenty? I can't believe she really did, but I don't know for sure because she didn't/couldn't really explain herself even after I challenged her.
This is a problem with not having good conversational or thinking skills.]

MANFRED: I had a vague memory that there was a mnemonic for the wives, but I couldn't remember it!
You can imagine, perhaps, the Tudors are an optional hobby in my country, not living history.

FISMO: "Alive with possibilities!" yes!
What a WONDERFUL state that is. I feel flickers of it now and again, but nothing like the the way I swam in it at nine.

Fresca said...

CLOWN: Good question.

I agree, there's no set age when we feel most "truly" ourselves, or, to use the word I used, most authentically (from the Greek "autos" for "self, or self-directed"). It could happen anytime, and certainly more than once!

I felt incredibly well-centered in the sweet spot of self the year I was nine. That's why I vehemently disagreed with the dinner guest who said one doesn't become authentically oneself until 20.

But I don't think everybody always feels they are truly themselves, "all of a piece" in their selves.
Some things/experiences break apart the pieces of our selves (by which I mean our personalities or souls).
Schizophrenia, sexual violence, political oppression, addiction and lies, etc.--people who suffer these often talk about feeling broken up or losing part of themselves.
We even have common phrases, like nervous breakdown or to break someone's spirit or "something in me died".

It's a rare person, like Nelson Mandela, who survives extreme brutality, either physical or emotional, with their self fully intact.

Less dramatically, little everyday brutalities can also introduce cracks that can feel like they separate us from our selves.
Or so I have experienced.

Fresca said...

P.S. CLOWN: Mayeb I misunderstood you? Can you say more about what you meant?

Clowncar said...

Just that there's alotta "self" to go around. I know I felt truly vibrant and alive in my 20s doing the starving artist thing in NYC. But the nurturing part of my personality was in many ways unexpressed, as I was a pretty selfish guy back then. As opposed to my current life, where that bit has been allowed to flower, and my creativity survives intact. Different aspects of ourselves express in different ways, at different times. It's all still us. Even when we're rocked by trauma, how we react isn't any less authentic an expression. On the contrary, my own behavior when grieving a lost family member seems a very pure expression of myself.

But I get your point about more or less authentic. Addiction, as you point out, strips you down to a husk that has very little to do with an authentic self. And I can point to my corporate days, when I was neither creative or nurturing, as a less extreme example of a time when I was not authentic to my true self. But some aspects of myself - albeit boring ones - manifested. Organizational ability, skill under pressure, etc.

Slippery, this concept of self. A greased pig. Fun to wrestle with.

p.s. - I am similarly unable to express myself well at dinner party type situations. Everything gets lost in translation.

Clowncar said...

p.p.s. - that mnemonic for H8's wives is awesome.

Lill said...

I don't blame you for outright disagreeing with the other guest. Not much of a thinker, that one, or she's used to expounding without opposition.

May I suggest questions, that is, the Socratic method, as an alternative? As: Why do you think so? (she says blah, blah) What makes you think that? (she says blah, blah)and so on. At some early point she works herself into a corner, or someone else changes the subject.

Unless the speaker has denied the Holocaust or some such -- then attack without mercy.

I feel the most myself right now. After more than half a century in this earthly plane I'm getting to do many of the things my child self longed to do. Sing for others, make photos many others see, advocate effectively against wrongs in my personal and the public sphere, enjoy my family, read your blog and write a comment, and lots more. I am blessed at this very moment in my life journey.

I do wish I felt the sheer exhilaration of being alive as I did as a child. Now that must be cultivated. But my nine-year-old self is really happy my middle aged self is alive!

The Crow said...

I have no idea when I was the most authentic self. I'm still looking, I think.

Fresca said...

The best is yet to come, one hopes!

Jenny Matteson said...

I agree with your standing up for the young. I am always offended when someone discounts my kids' thoughts or feelings, like they aren't even there or don't deserve to have a voice yet.

I have two "old souls" who have an insight and perspective that is very fresh and relevant. The people who don't listen because of age bias do not have their eyes or ears open.

Life is a process of figuring out who you are. I feel sorry for the person who thinks their first 20 years were throw away years. But she shouldn't expect that to be the case for everyone. ;)