Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
– Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” with thanks to Lindsey for the reminder
For the past few weeks the idea of contradictions has been stuck in my head. I’ve been writing in my journal about the ways in which my beliefs and habits fail to mesh and have noticed that several of my writer friends have had the same theme on their minds.
Last week Lindsey reposted one of my favorite of her essays, in which she shares the ways in which she, like Whitman, contains multitudes. Rebecca wrote about “tripping over idiosyncrasy” in her marriage. Then, when Sarah and Jana suggested to me on Twitter that I am an “enigma,” I knew it was time to get some of these thoughts down on paper – or, rather, onscreen.
I love my kids more than anything in the world, but there are plenty of days when I don’t feel like spending all that much time with them.
I have always thought of myself as a words person. I love history and literature and didn’t take a single math class in college. But I’m also a closet Suze Orman, genuinely interested in personal finance. I gain a tremendous sense of satisfaction from budgeting and paying bills on time.
At the height of my yoga practice, I would cap off every Saturday morning class with an extra large iced coffee loaded with milk and sugar and a coffee cake muffin from the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street. (On a side note, why is there a Dunkin’ Donuts on every other block in New England, but none within two hours of my house here in the Midwest?)
I have three kids under four years old, am their primary caregiver, and am launching a new career, but I’m a terrible multi-tasker and find it very hard to focus on more than one thing at once.
Yesterday in the car driving the boys to a playdate, my iTunes shuffled from the Toy Story soundtrack to Jay-Z’s Black Album.
I think of myself as a lover of high culture: literature, music, art. But I spend a fair amount of time watching Bravo reality TV (this, I believe, is what earned me the “enigma” moniker from Sarah and Jana) and exhorting lazy power forwards to “Box Out!” while watching ESPN.
I’ve always been good at fitting in with lots of different kinds of people. I grew up comfortably, but with a thrifty, coupon-clipping mother who taught me a conservative approach to money. I think it might be that disconnect between growing up with plenty, but rarely living lavishly, that makes me very good at fitting in with different kinds of people. And this is a way in which my own contradictions have been a boon in my life.
I am at ease with the working class folks in my town and with the Mercedes-driving, Vineyard Vines-wearing prep school parents of my past. I can talk to anyone about anything and it’s not an act. This is a pretty unique quality, I think. It makes me good at seeing lots of different angles and not being too complacent. I’m generally not doctrinaire and can see other people’s points of views.
But I worry sometimes that I’m too adaptable – too quick to relate or to try to connect. Am I just a shape-shifter, the consummate people-pleaser, ready to become whatever anyone else wants me to be?
Is it a coincidence that, as I left the home of my conservative Republican parents and married a liberal Democrat, my political views changed too? Or that I often, sometimes awkwardly, speak to people in their own accents?
I wonder if my contradictions are more problematic than positive. And I think of the Tori Amos song, “Girl,” in which she sings:
She’s been everybody else’s girl. Maybe one day she’ll be her own.
I fear that that might describe me a little too closely.
We are all full of contradictions. We are all enigmatic – perhaps more so to those who know us best.
But, I wonder, at what point do our contradictions spin into troubling inconsistencies? At what point are we so shifting as to become shifty?
Which of your own contradictions defines you? At what point do contradictions within a person become problematic?