I remember, when I quit drinking, I was so worried about losing who I was. I thought I had a pretty good sense of myself. I was witty and slightly out of control and sometimes mean. I provided value by being interesting and extracted value by being obnoxious. (I mean, who knows how true any of this stuff was, but it was certainly my sense of myself.) I wasn’t going to restrain my opinions and I wasn’t going to be all bourgeois. I guess I considered myself a little bit counterculture (just a little bit, but amongst the people that I ran with, a little bit was more than enough). I wasn’t going to live in a commune or anything, but I did have one ironic tattoo and plans for several more. I was, in some weird way that I wasn’t altogether able to map out, going to be live life on the edge, like my literary peeps: F. Scott Fitzgerald and all the rest. I had a sense of myself as somehow set apart from everyone else.
And I swore to myself that even if I quit drinking, I was going to keep being who I was. I was going to keep being living on the edge.
But that didn’t happen. My relationship to the world is totally different now. When I meet people, I am happy to make small talk with them. During our conversations, I often I try to remember peoples’ names and interests so I have something to say to them the next time we meet. I do my best (not always successfully) to corral my contrarianism. I don’t remember the last time I got into serious argument with someone or had a really negatively-charged interaction. I try not to even argue with people on the internet. Obviously, interacting with me is not all sunshine and roses. I still love to hear myself talk. But, believe me, I am so much nicer to people than I used to be. In fact, it’s difficult to believe that I ever got away with acting the way that I did.
Culturally, I’ve become extremely bourgeois. I wake up at 7 AM (even on weekends). I don’t smoke or drink coffee or eat junk food. I exercise (a little bit). I go to coffee shops and pop-up cafes. I talk to newly-met acquaintancs about their jobs, children and/or dogs. I go on vacations. My last tattoo was not at all ironic. Sometimes I send people thank-you notes. I buy groceries. I do my laundry at least once a month. My living room was looking a bit sterile, so I purchased posters and then I framed them and hung them. I own a hammer and a tape measure and several screwdrivers. I buy my soap in bulk instead of one at a time. My wallet is full of loyalty cards for various stores. I shave every day. I floss. I get my hair cut oftener than once every three months. I go to the dentist. I often begin work on an assignment a week or more before it is due. Every six months, I take my car in for preventative maintenance.
There is nothing edgy or countercultural about me. In many ways, I’m pretty similar to all the people around me.
But, weirdly, I feel more like myself than ever. Like, I’m not even saying, “This is the new me and the new me is great.” This doesn’t even feel like a new me. I have exactly the same sense of myself and my character as I did back when I was drinking to excess and borderline non-functional.
Maybe it’s something to do with being a writer? I don’t know—I mean, my individuality does come out every day in my writing and my blogging. But, I’m not sure that’s it. I wonder if maybe our model of individuality is a little bit flawed. We try to become individuals by adopting cultural markers that scream “individuality” and by asserting our own importance when we’re in social situations. But I wonder if maybe individuality is a bit more complicated than that.
You know, when you’re a writer, you eventually find that—at least to a certain extent—you can’t imitate other writers. You might try to imitate someone, but it always ends up looking more like an interpretation. Your worldview, your mode, is all over it. And the more you write and the more you study and the more techniques you learn, the more your individual voice comes through.
Similarly, in life, I wonder if individuality is something that deepens in you when you start to live purposefully.