Variations on a Theme

Moving to a new city offers plenty of opportunities, but perhaps the most fulfilling is simply the ability to reintroduce yourself.

Every year, when I come to a new city, I meet new people, whether they be roommates, coworkers or just acquaintances in bars, and each one of those meetings is a chance to represent myself as something new or different. Of course, this is nothing new, as we all know full and well how we can change depending on where and with whom we are. This is never more obvious than when you become friends with your coworkers and go out drinking with them. The shy girl behind the counter is sometimes the one making salacious eyes at every halfcocked male in the bar.

But the cliché is not true: We are not two different people. We are merely variations on a theme.

In each city, I get a chance to tweak that tune, refine certain notes, obscure tones, generally polish the music. It is not a complete reinvention, a creation of some false persona, but rather a revision of my character.

Writer, comedian, alcoholic, atheist, asshole, skeptic, romantic, sex addict, music obsessive, bisexual, philosopher, scientist, nerd, storyteller, liar, traveler, sage, immature narcissist, old soul, loner, friend, partier, recluse, vulgar philistine, art snob, activist, apathetic, enabler, abuser…

I am all of these things in some manner or another, never in perfect balance, often deeply submerged into a persona made up of many of these, all augmenting and complimenting each other like the instruments in an orchestra. To any given person I could be any number of these things, and more. Certainly my perception of myself is itself just another fragment of the whole story. Though, I would argue that with greater self-awareness comes a firmer control of personal presentation. I cannot possibly know what every individual person who meets me thinks of me, but with time, I can learn to narrow the options.

I know that in each city I have lived in so far, in each new job and new friendship, I have presented myself as a slightly altered version of the one before. Even in the same city, when I worked simultaneously at two different jobs while living in Charlotte, the person I was at those two different jobs wasn’t the same. My coworkers at each job knew me as something distinct, perhaps a bit of an enigma, but with a definite character.

I have friends across this country, those I’ve known for most of my life, those I’ve known only a few years, those I’ve spent day after day with, others I’ve spent mere hours with, and they all have a perception of who I am, a perception that I by some method or another helped form. In the not so rare occasion where alcohol has undermined my particular attempts at a reserved, earnest persona, a new persona has emerged, something as malleable and believable as anything else I present.

Some would say this sort of inward focus is pure narcissism, and to that I say, precisely.

“Don’t take yourself so seriously,” morons say while they claim indifference to how they are perceived. This is, without question, bullshit. How we are perceived is fundamental to how we interact and survive in the world, and to pretend otherwise is a lie. When super attractive, confirmed ‘cool’ people make statements to the effect of “I don’t care what people think of me”, what they really mean is, “I’m hot and admired, I don’t need to stress it.” Of course, they are buoyed by the public perception of them, and as so many celebrities/politicians/public figures can attest, perception can change within seconds.

I say, take yourself deathly seriously. It’s the only thing you should take seriously, because it’s the only thing you can completely control. While you can’t always control how people will perceive you, you can pick the variations from which they can choose to perceive you. You (or rather “You” the persona) is nothing more than an amalgamation of the various views and ideas that exist in the minds of those who encounter the physical you. Your girlfriend or coworker’s perception of you may be more cogent than the hippie chick on the bus, but they are all equally real, in so much as when you leave (whether that be the bus, the job or this world), you are nothing more than a memory, filtered through all the usual distortions that color all human perception.

The ‘real’ you, as far as human existence is concerned (putting aside the scientific question of genetics and molecules) is a myth that you can control. It travels from person to person like an ongoing game of telephone, but in this game, you not only make the first impression, you get to step in from time to time to reassert your original message. It’s a game you’d be wise to pay attention to.

A touch of narcissism can be a godsend.

And this is where the chance to hit the reset button once a year can be so exhilarating. In a few weeks, I will be in a new city, applying for new work, meeting new people. My ties to the past are never completely severed, but my place in the present is mine to shape, mine to guide. Of those many adjectives that could be used to describe me, I get to cherry pick the ones that I want to emphasize this time around. The person I was in Charlotte was a genetic twin of the person I was in Philadelphia, but they each had their own personality. The same could be said of the person I was in SoCal, and the person I have been here in San Francisco.

You don’t have to move to a new city to see this sort of change. In fact, it is inevitable. You will change over time, no matter what. But a new city provides me freedom. The people in your life, the people who have known you for years (family, friends, lovers), they will resist your change, because humans find it hard to adapt a thought once it has set in. We think in shortcuts, and it is much easier to create a version of a person in our minds and then force that person to stay in it.

And, in many ways, those people in your life can force you to stay the same. You may change, or at least make the attempt, but if the people in your life treat you as if you are the same person, never acknowledging the strides you have made to evolve, those changes will likely fall aside. It’s analogous to natural selection: If a new trait comes into a species by mutation, but it serves no inherent purpose and fails to benefit the continuation of the species, it is likely that trait will simply fail to reproduce itself and thus not survive more than one or two generations.

It will sound to many that I am continually advocating the same thing: Moving. But that is not my point. My point here, and elsewhere, is always that you must take control of your life. Take control of your actions, take responsibility for your choices and most of all, be self-aware.

Frankly, I’m excited to meet myself in Chicago.

Tattoo MYth