Written in 2 hours, unedited.
I spent a very intense week in the city, overheated and giddy with social interaction. It seemed like everywhere there were bodies and sweat and grime, but at night it felt renewed and vibrant and alive. I slept in a weird walkup with a shared bathroom and thin walls – on the weekends I heard people clattering up the stairs at all hours, the walls and floor and the whole building sagging, creaking, under the movement. I understand what people say about New York – how it's a gritty sort of glamorous – you are altered by it and by the energy running through it. Consciously or unconsciously, you turn yourself towards the stimuli you expose yourself to, and you begin to crave it.
I met a new friend for coffee and I told him, I'm not always like this, meaning I am usually quiet and antisocial and see more books than I do people. But last week I saw a version of myself that was very unburdened, unself-conscious. On a podcast, Lulu Miller mentioned this phrase and I cannot stop thinking about it: there's an alchemy to self delusion. She means to say that if you believe you are a certain type of person, you end up deluding yourself into pursuing the actions that sort of person would take and then you are that sort of person (even if it feels fraudulent to think that way). Reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
I agree that sometimes there needs to be a degree of self-distancing in order to regulate emotions, to spend less time socially overthinking. People already do this with alcohol – a friend tells me all the time that she thinks she is a ‘completely different, more fun, vibrant person’ with alcohol. I ask her what about alcohol makes her fun, and she tells me that maybe alcohol is just an excuse for confidence. I believe that deeply – that we find external ways to say what we truly mean, to expose the tenderness, to embody the persona. But what if that could be us whenever we want to? Why does the vibrant self have to be forced out with substance? If there's anything I learned from college, it's that the self is flexible and beautiful because of its mutability, not despite it.
I'm not new to the hyper-intentionality around personality and extraversion. I remember when I was a kid I spent summers in the library all the self-help books possible – to understand loneliness, to understand control. To understand how to pretend to be the person I wanted to be. Beyonce, in her interview with Oprah, says she uses a technique called the alter-ego, where she pretends to be an entirely different person named Sasha Fierce. In her words: “Sasha is a more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken side and more glamorous side that comes out when I'm working and when I‘m on the stage." Sometimes I think there are many distinct Nicole’s – not alter-egos per se, just the past, the present, all speaking their mind.
As Nathaniel Branden writes: consciousness/self-awareness is entirely volitional so the capacity of self-management is both our glory and our burden. Einstein: no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. As meta as it sounds, I think about consciousness all the time. What will I do with myself? What mechanisms will I use to get past these hard times, and in what ways will I create joyfulness too? I always ask my friends how they navigate everything in this language of the self. The inward language where everything is both discrete and blurry, and full of hope and laughter, but also of loss and ruin. This is far too much of a singular reflection on a singular week in my life, but then again, doesn't the way you live one week also reflect on the way you live entirely?
Back to Miller's saying, there's an alchemy to self delusion. Alchemy is a beautiful word because it implies a change from something ordinary into something great. More fundamentally, it means transformation. I'm just keeping my mind open to the ways I'm a different person in every different place. I am loyal to change. I carry myself lightly through the world. If this is a product of sweet delusion, so be it.