Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

“Being Yourself”—Some Thoughts

Originally posted on September 27, 2012

A contemplation on two poems from the early-mid 20th century poet, e. e. cummings:

"may I be I is the only prayer—
not may I be great or good
or beautiful or wise or strong."
– –
"to be nobody-but-yourself—in a world
which is doing its best, night and day,
to make you everybody else—means
to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight;
and never stop fighting.
~e. e. cummings

I agree with these sentiments, but would add a few points. First, the way the world tries to make you different has changed. It’s no longer small town pressures, but rather an urban, postmodern condition alluded to by Kenneth Gergen he calls “saturation.” That is, instead of the problem being church, school, neighbors and the like subtly oppressing you, asking you to conform, what I think is going on instead is more distracting, diverting, diluting: There are through the mass media now  innumerable subtle messages from all sides—especially advertisements and media—that include:

(1) Whatever you do, it certainly isn’t enough. There are myriad causes that you’re not doing enough to support, for sure. Heavy but subtle pressure on un-named sins of omission. Not only have there been many new technologies, but there’s also a general rise in expectations of ourselves and others.

( 2) Whatever you are, it isn’t enough. Are you fit enough, safe enough, are your breasts large enough, your belly flat enough? Are you popular enough? Are you (heaven forfend) “missing out”?? (the Fear of Missing Out—FOMO—has become an acronym worthy of note lately!) We thus live in a world of unending expectations for health, spiritual attainment, knowledge, etc.

(3) And have you given adequate support to your spouse or kids? What is enough? Lessons? College coaching? Remedial work? Rides to and from? And it’s a subtle matter of what is your peer group doing? There’s a keep-up-with-the-Joneses that isn’t status symbol but rather are you being a good enough parent!

     With your spouse there’s an unending demand—if not from the spouse, in an unspoken way by the near-pornographic media for active sexual “gratification”—are you “man enough,” or “woman enough”—and that is aside from are you helping enough around your home—well, look at it! It’s cluttered a lot more than the homes in the situation comedies on television.

(4) So what about you being you? Have you made greatest use of your talents and potentials?? I don’t think so!  Is it possible to be you and not make the greatest use, just some use, or a little use? What if your limitedness and need to take it easy in life is also a potential?

So to “be yourself” is not easy, because it isn’t enough to “be”—there are un-ending lists of things yet to do to even break even with being okay. What if we then translate cummings’ poems into something like do enough. And add to that “according to your priorities rather than the ‘oughts’ suggested by others.” These can sneak up on you so that you come to believe you really want to fulfill those expectations, that these are your true self wants. So reviewing these priorities, how much, which parts, discerning, pushing against well-meaning friends or relatives, all are part of what makes the aforementioned battle so hard.

Another problem here is the battle to question the more general cultural injunction to better yourself. It’s tough; I’m not suggesting that you give in to doing nothing; but how to find the battle that is you being you and not someone else? Thus, I am here questioning the cultural injunctions to better yourself. Indeed, there are innumerable ways to do this—A. J. Jacobs recently wrote a book just about how to ideally “keep fit.” We should be suspicious of seemingly noble goals as unqualified virtues. There is such a thing also I call “enough already.” Fighting the overload of role demand at work, play, and in life is part of the postmodern adaptation.

2 Responses to ““Being Yourself”—Some Thoughts”

  • terry teaters says:

    Thanks for the Cummings poem, it helped me re-frame my day. I have to remind myself of the “enough already” response to the conundrum of how to simply live my life vs. the demands for productivity.

  • I love reading your blog posts.

    In the world of making art, “enough already” is at the heart of the process. Each artist must find that point when the work is “finished” and not overworked or moving in some other direction.

    Be your own little painting!

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