Dispatch #004: Who I Am vs. Who I Want to Be

I heard myself telling someone last week that at the most basic level, Man Repeller asks, “What if you just tried to live for yourself for once?” I specifically note that I heard myself telling this to someone because I’m not exactly sure if it is true or if I simply want it to be true. And this tension—between what actually is and what I want to be, has been on my mind a lot.

If two weeks ago, the energy that was pumping through my veins and shooting out of my fingertips was so chaotic I could have combusted and come back as the emoji with an exploding head only to combust again, and last week was, as a direct reaction to the previous week, the precise opposite: deliberately psychologically slower, then this week, I think I am settling, or have settled, into an adjusted state of reality that defines my right now.

And it’s got me feeling contemplative.

Is this what happens when you give yourself space to think and permission to let your mind run as it will into the uncharted corners of your thoughts where truths and fallacies loiter, waiting for both exposure and destruction?

I called my dad last Tuesday night and told him I was anxious. He reminded me of what he said when I was ten years old and off from school for two weeks and complaining that I was bored. “There is no such thing as boredom, only lazy minds,” but also, that any changing of scenery requires adjustment. What I was feeling wasn’t boredom, it was the lull that bridges a packed school schedule and the benign emptiness of two unplanned weeks. He was right. Within days, the mass of formless time started to feel like it was disappearing and before I could savor the quiet, I was back at school. As we get older, he told me, the bridging lulls stop looking like boredom and start to feel more intense. Like panic. Whether he’s right or wrong, it made me think that maybe I’m not anxious, so I stopped saying I am anxious and now I’m not. I don’t think. 

But back to that tension—last week was a tough one. I was confronted rather directly by my integrity as it told me I’m not living up to it. And it wasn’t The Negative Voices. It was right. For the thing I say I value most: to make people feel less alone and more understood, completely free to be, I’m not living up to the principle. I see how in a number of ways, the easiest to share being: when my husband hesitates to tell me that I’ve done something incorrectly (it can be as trivial as how I hook the toilet paper roll into the holder) because he’s not sure how I will respond. Or when my older brother calls my mom to criticize me because it’s easier than delivering the feedback directly. Per this brother, once my dad told me that sometimes I bite so hard in my evaluation of family members that even though he knows the intentions are pure, I make it impossible for anyone to hear me. I’d like to work on that.

My kids have lately been flocking to Abie like pigeons finding seeds during especially frantic bouts of the weekday morning hours, where I’m still trying to adjust to working from home, but not Being Home. What kind of two-year-olds so routinely exclaim, “No mommy, only daddy”? The kind, I guess, who find more comfort with the latter.

Less alone and more understood? Doesn’t seem like it.

I don’t feel bad for myself, to be clear. I’ve been saying this a lot lately. I guess because it sounds to me like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. Or maybe I am but don’t want to be—the point is, I don’t feel bad for myself. I would if I couldn’t see the disparity between me and what I call my integrity. If I kept on—floating above my body detached, too scared to look in the mirror and thus continually self-distracting but this, I think, is precisely what a slower pace brings. It’s Sunday right now. The 29th of March. I’m sitting on a white cushion speckled with black dots making up a constellation of stripes on a bench directly next to three panels of large windows that look out onto Centre Street between Grand and Howard Streets. There’s not a soul out there. I’m wearing beige sweatpants and black socks and a navy blue half zip. My hair is pulled back and there are exactly 7 rings on my fingers. Only one bracelet though.

A car just drove by, it was moving rather slowly. I wonder if its driver is adjusting to a new pace too. If she is evaluating this period as a silver lining opportunity to examine the features she’s either taken for granted or never cared to lift the lid on because she’s internalized these features as Things That Are True (or frankly, Not True). That’s what I’m doing. And it is worth mentioning that if we can assess this time as a silver lining opportunity, we are very, very lucky. Imagine the frontline heroes, those begging for their lives, or the lives of their loved ones. What a privilege to be able to think: am I proud of who I am?

One time I listened to someone say that to be an icon, you have to actually do the thing that makes you iconic. It seems this is true for whoever, whatever, however you say you are.

Except, I guess, for being human. We are all that. We might be far from ourselves, but deep deep deep deep (and in some cases, even deeper) inside every last one of us, there is a human either suffering as it attempts to break free, deteriorating or accelerating at the helm of this will, or flourishing because it already has. Today, I guess I’m asking, Who do you want to be?

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Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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