by C. E. Poley
We often find ourselves struggling to define how we feel both inside our selves and outside. We struggle to find methods that express our thoughts and emotions, such as writing, painting, making music, mathematics, astronomy, and countless other things humans do. It is not easy to express the self with clarity. We are told every day by American media that we have many outlets to express ourselves. Most of the time we are told that our ‘Self’ is related to some product, food consumption, or beauty standard. Most of the time, we are told, “Buy this product to express the real you!” That is not the way to know ourselves, for that is never who we were. That was not the truth in the hour of our birth, drenched in blood and desperate for clean air, when we were just us before anyone else told us what to be.
One of my best friends asks me on a frequent basis, “Which thoughts are your own?” This is a query that haunts me, as it should. Which thoughts are spurred by external sources? Which thoughts belong to my parents, their legacy and nurture, stuck in my brain as my own? Which thoughts come from my genetics? Which thoughts are my own? It is not external sources. Our own thoughts are not the constant stream of processing that occurs in our brains, processing interactions with other human beings, words that were exchanged, television that was watched, music that was listened to, books that were read, text exchanges and social media discussions. None of that is ours. It is the world’s. It is our society’s. We must deal with it. If we never face it, it will be a distracting tsunami in the back of our minds. We will never rest.
We must find out where we stand, where the me in all of the world is. Not how we relate to the world, but rather separate from it, who are we? Who are you, separate from the world around you? When you stand still, alone with yourself, who are you? (Alone here has strict criteria; you are not alone if you hold a pet or play music or watch TV or read a book. You are with the other humans who made those things. They are there.)
Agnes Martin, an American writer born in 1932, said another thing on aloneness and self-awareness that struck me when I read it:
“We have been very strenuously conditioned against solitude. To be alone is considered to be a grievous and dangerous condition.
So I beg you to recall in detail any times when you were alone and discover your exact response at those times.
I suggest to artists that you take every opportunity of being alone, that you give up hope of having pets and unnecessary companions.
You will find the fear that we have been taught is not just one fear but many fears. When you discover what they are they will be overcome. Most people have never been alone enough to feel these fears. But even without the experience of them they dread them.
I suggest that people who like to be alone, who walk alone will perhaps be serious workers in the art field.”
One of the most powerful things about NaNoWriMo is that it truly just encourages people to ask themselves that question. “Which thoughts are your own?” Asks NaNoWriMo. “Tell us. Write a novel. You can do it. Do not stop writing.” A powerful message that every year, expands to a larger audience.
Friends, do not stop writing. It is one of the purest forms of self-expression and is a healthy outlet for your thoughts. (Listen to another great piece on writing by David Foster Wallace) Ask yourself which thoughts belong to you. Please share your internal journey and your thoughts with the world, if you are bold enough. If more of us ask this important question, we all come closer to real discovery and healthy awareness of our true selves.