Over the last few days, I’ve had the disorienting experience of encountering mentions of myself on the blogs of two writer friends. No names were actually dropped, but I’m demonstrably certain they were talking about me—if only because they recounted situations that I distinctly remember having occurred.
In other respects, however, there were moments when I almost believed they were talking about someone else. We don’t see or remember ourselves the way other people do, and although this insight has been banalized to the point of cliché, we’re too immersed in our perceptions of ourselves to actually remember that alternative (possibly conflicting) views do exist. This is why overhearing gossip about ourselves is an often traumatizing experience: it’s not so much the fact that other people see us in an unpleasant light that jars us—it’s the fact that they see us in a different light altogether. There’s a moment of panic brought on by a sudden rush of unrecognition—a sensation articulated by that most instantaneous of responses: are they talking about me?
Encountering alternate visions of yourself on paper (even if it’s electronic) is even more unsettling because the written word, as opposed to the spoken, leaves more enduring traces. It’s solid—in ways that not even our selves are solid. (Literary characters last far longer than real-life personalities for precisely this reason—they possess an eerie coherence denied to the living and breathing.)
So while I’ve felt a certain amount of flattery in reading written accounts of myself from years past, the flattery has been mitigated by a sobering dose of doubt. After all, admiration (and even insult) only lands when we feel there’s some veracity to its claim (which is why only the truth frees and only the truth hurts). But in a postmodern age where truth is measured by the validity of an experience and no longer by a consonance with the real, then we can be admired at the same time that we’re insulted and we can never be completely clear which is which at any given time.
Which is why it’s fortunate that this same postmodern age affords a bewildering degree of choice: in the absence of any certainty, I can choose flattery over insult.
And I choose flattery every single time.