Identity and the tyranny of self doubt

One of my brothers alerted me to several relatives in Holland who have made contact with him through Facebook. Presumably they knew to make contact with him because of their shared second name.

Once again, I was saddened by my concealed identity, hidden by my married name.

More and more as I grow older, I resent the loss of my maiden name. Not just my maiden name, but the name of so many other women from my past who married and then seemingly disappeared from the world of possible connections.

Every time I try to befriend someone on Facebook who travels under my father’s family name, my so-called maiden name, I need to identify myself as a Schooneveldt and not some random stranger who’s approaching them for friendship, as if an unwanted spammer.

A number of people have asked me why I don’t assume a false identity online so as not to create problems associated with my other roles in life, as a writer, as a therapist, and given my familial ties with some people preferring that all things family stay offline and some friends likewise.

But if I assumed a false persona wouldn’t I have to give all the ‘real’ people in my life a false identity too, not that I identify people online unless they’re in the public domain. Still after a while it all gets too hard.

I prefer to start from the point of myself as a real person, however many identities I might assume under that guise.

And maybe it’s just a rationalisation, but as Margaret Atwood writes ‘All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you have just read.’

Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication. She’s talking here about published books and their authors but maybe the same could be said of blogs and so much writing that appears online.

In the immediacy of a chat room or on Twitter or Facebook, maybe it’s safe to assume the words and the person who typed them are one and the same, but the very fact of writing them changes things.

Nothing stands still even as words on a page can appear fixed. Once read by another person those written words can shift around. They’re open to different interpretations and perspectives even after they’re published.

We all imagine the words differently.

Identity is like this, too. It’s fluid. It shifts and sways and refuses to stay put.

I hesitated to post these meandering thoughts until I read Adam Phillips “Against Self-Criticism” from his book Unforbidden Pleasures. (Thanks Christine Brett Vickers for putting me onto this.

If you’re anything like me, these words might give you the courage you need to go on in defiance of that ‘obscene superego’, and the internal voice that tells you to shut up.

Phillips writes:

“We are never as good as we should be; and neither, it seems, are other people. A life without a so-called critical faculty would seem an idiocy: what are we, after all, but our powers of discrimination, our taste, the violence of our preferences?

Self-criticism, and the self as critical, are essential to our sense, our picture, of our so-called selves.

Nothing makes us more critical – more suspicious or appalled or even mildly amused – than the suggestion that we should drop all this relentless criticism, that we should be less impressed by it and start really loving ourselves.

But the self-critical part of ourselves, the part that Freud calls the super-ego, has some striking deficiencies: it is remarkably narrow-minded; it has an unusually impoverished vocabulary; and it is, like all propagandists, relentlessly repetitive.

It is cruelly intimidating – Lacan writes of ‘the obscene super-ego’ – and it never brings us any news about ourselves.

There are only ever two or three things we endlessly accuse ourselves of, and they are all too familiar; a stuck record, as we say, but in both senses – the super-ego is reiterative.

It is the stuck record of the past (‘something there badly not wrong’, Beckett’s line from Worstward Ho, is exactly what it must not say) and it insists on diminishing us. It is, in short, unimaginative; both about morality, and about ourselves.

Were we to meet this figure socially, this accusatory character, this internal critic, this unrelenting fault-finder, we would think there was something wrong with him. He would just be boring and cruel.

We might think that something terrible had happened to him, that he was living in the aftermath, in the fallout, of some catastrophe. And we would be right.”

I’d rather not

I nearly didn’t tell you.  I’ve had the strange pleasure of winning a
literary award last week.  And ever since
I’ve had this impulse to play it down, while at the same time I want to shout
it to the world.
I won.
At last someone recognises something
in my writing that’s worth, not only a trophy and a certificate, but also a
$2000.00 cheque.  On top of which the
organisers of the first ever Lane Cove literary awards flew me to Sydney and
provided accommodation over night at the Stamford hotel near the airport so I
could make an early get away the next morning. 
There were four other awards, besides
mine for memoir, two for local writers, one for short story and another for poetry. 
It is the first time I have arrived
at an airport alone to be greeted, not by family or friends, but by a man
holding up a cardboard sign with my name on it. 
The man who held up the sign was
one of the librarians who had been given the task of collecting me from the
airport because the other librarians were busy organising the event.  We travelled through busy Sydney streets to
the Lane Cove library and all the way I wondered whether it was really
happening. 
Was this me?  A prize winner or a fraud? 
They must have it wrong. 
All the while as the two judges read
out the names of the short listed, first in the short story category and then
in memoir, I wondered whether they might end up calling out another name,
not mine.
The evening flutters by, drowned
out of my memory by my tiredness the next day. 
I needed to wake at 4.30 am in order to be ready for my 6 o’clock flight
back to Melbourne. 
I discovered then something I had not
realised before on the plane to Sydney in a book about compulsions and eating disorders.  
I discovered that one of the reasons that people
might choose to starve themselves to death is, not only to do with trying to get
some control over their lives and suppress their desires, but also to do with competition, and with their refusal
to compete.
The idea is that the person who tries
to take control over her life by getting control of her eating, does so by
working hard to convince herself that she has no such desire for food, or
nourishment, or even for love. 
It gets tangled up in sexuality as
well.  The two great life forces, food
and sex, bound together as we know biologically, determinants for personal
survival but also survival of our species. 
They’re also bound up in pleasure.
Adam Phillips re-tells the story of
a man named Bartleby, Bartleby a scrivener in Wall Street in the 1800s, who for some unfathomable reason
when his boss asks him to undertake the work for which he is employed, says
‘I would prefer not to.’
Herman Melville wrote the story in 1853 and
for years people have struggled to understand what it’s about. 
Bartleby takes up the position of one
who goes on strike.  
I refuse to
participate.  
I will not be drawn in to whatever
it is you have arranged for me. 
I will assert myself by my refusal, even if it
kills me. 
These ideas stay with me.  I’m trying them out, rolling them around
inside my mouth as if savouring a new flavour, a new texture, a new sensation
and it pleases me to see things from this angle. 
There is a reason behind starving
oneself to death.  
There is a reason
behind someone’s refusal to participate and compete.  
There is a reason behind what on the surface
seems like the maddest of behaviours. 
And I am getting one step closer to
understanding it. 
How then can I link the competition
of awards night with my own competitive impulses and my contradictory desires
to water them down? 
So many times I have gone to say about
this award:
It’s no big deal. 
How many times have I told myself
it’s not one of the big awards?  It’s
more a beginner’s award. 
How many times do I compete with my
own success as if I cannot bear to allow it? 
Is this what women do, and more so
than men?
I’ve a sneaking feeling that’s
true. 
Women are used to hiding in the
curtains. 
To be on centre stage for more than
a few minutes can be overwhelming. 
It’s easier to be like Bartleby and
rejoice in resistance.
I’d rather not.