If my younger self could see me now, she would certainly have a reaction.

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To live in a city like this one—so full of broken bottles from dangerous, alive nights; empty iced coffee cups from lonely, aching mornings; young writers desperate for a book contract (each one sure they deserve it most, though I actually do)is to free oneself of the burden of identity. It is also, and remarkably, to have that identity harden into that of a woman who is distinctly her own, independent of others’ choices and desires. Some days I feel that I am no one, others that I am two women. The city fuels me as much as it drains me. Time goes on, yet it is also flat, solid, and completely still—like a rock, or any piece of furniture.

It’s hard to believe that I’m almost the age that I am. I am so old compared to how young I used to be, yet so young compared to how old I will one day become. And also, when one ponders the tormenting concept of special relativity, I am in many ways ageless. (A tired astronomy professor explained this concept—that the faster one travels the slower time passes—to me when I was a sophomore in college. Minutes later we became intimate. I forget his name.) Perhaps that age—my true age—comes from my relationship with the people I love.

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Recently, I took one such person home to my sparsely-decorated loft, to ravish in the dim light of many glowing candles set carefully before a backlit portrait of my own naked body. We can only whisper in my house, a gesture of respect that underscores that we are in a museum—each object collected over the years a piece of my identity too, worth defending and dwelling on at length. The signed copy of Sartre’s No Exit that I stole from an enemy? It represents more than that, like my love for France. That wide-mouthed vase? My maternal instincts.

As he enters me so gently I don’t even know he’s there, I whisper into his delicate, emotional ear, “You are going to be the subject of a highly personal essay, and I won’t change your name.”

A photo of me, as a serious child.

And then he left. “Zaddy,” I whispered. I looked in the mirror and asked myself, why have the she-gods cursed me with such a pointed gift for self-observation and self-reflection—but the inability to be intimate in a true and lasting way? At times I wonder if it is the human condition to feel such a lack of self-awareness, an inability to know myself, yet to have, at the same time, a gift for knowing others—or at least, knowing what I suspect they think of me.

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There is an ancient saying that goes, “If you have an idea, put it in a personal essay about yourself.” I think it’s from the Bible, or maybe I made it up. Either way—and I can only speak from my own ponderous, fecund experience—it rings true.

Some might say that living is hard when everything you do is so worthy of being memorialized via text. To that, I would respond: so be it. I am trapped in a prison of my own internal contradictions; I am doubtlessly beautiful, but entranced by the deep interior ugliness that I can access only via words. I am as narcissistic as I am passionate; I must recognize my own importance, and let it devastate me. What can I do but go on?


Image via Jan Faukner/Shutterstock.