For several weeks now, I’ve been telling myself I really must get on and write a new ‘About’ page. But I’m conscious that I’m dragging my heels and putting it off. The thing about an About page is that, whether we know it or not, we’re choosing an image to put across, editing our lives, deciding where to place the emphasis. It’s an act of composition in which we divulge the aspects of our selves that are most important to the place from which we blog. And I find that brings up an awkward question: am I writing about myself or about Litlove?
If I look just at Litlove, I can see that she’s changed over the six years I’ve been running this blog. In the beginning, Litlove was very much my best self, a voice that contained the wisdom I’d learned from teaching, my sense of humour and enough distance on any issue to be able to analyse it rather than just react to it. That was the voice I needed back then, when I began the blog off work and ill with chronic fatigue. Litlove was a sort of virtual repository for my personality, and all the parts I couldn’t access consistently in real life seemed readily available to me in the miraculous space of words. Then things began to change, and Litlove was a space of experimentation. I began writing a lot more personal posts, I brought parts of my life into my blog that I wasn’t sure I understood in order to talk about them, and I used books and their authors in all kinds of ways to think through experience. Lately I realise that things have changed again, and at the moment (with the exception of this post!) all I seems to want to do is write book reviews. When I turn up to blog, I feel a hunger to forget about personal experience and shift my attention, whole and exclusive, back onto the stories I read.
While Litlove has been busy doing this, my life has changed beyond all recognition.
I’ve always been fascinated by the question of identity. My PhD thesis was devoted to the topic, and when I wrote it, in the 90s, the dominant theory was all about performative identity. This is the idea that there is no essential core of the self; instead we all play a myriad of roles, none of them absolutely perfectly because they are not wholly natural. It’s not like we have any choice about this, but the twists and chances of life – whether we are born male or female, whether we marry or not, have children or not, which career path we follow – all bring with them demands on who we have to be. The other theorist I used a lot, Julia Kristeva, talked about the way we are all sujet-en-procès, which is to say we are all a work in progress, constantly evolving and adjusting, never fully formed and defined. But the French is ambiguous because it also means we are always subjects-on-trial, our roles constantly being tested and challenged. Are we good enough mothers or wives or teachers? What happens when our various roles clash?
I can see why these theorists appealed to me so much. I was a wife, a mother and an academic, and when asked, I’d say I was an academic because I felt it allowed me more leeway to be eccentric and unconventional in those other roles. Looking back, I see I let the label of ‘academic’ do a lot of explaining for me. In practice, I found it schizophrenically hard to be pulled in so many different directions at once. Motherhood and academia draw on painfully opposing parts of the self, and both are unreasonably demanding jobs, sucking up all the time and energy at one’s disposal. I was so busy being all these functions that I had absolutely no chance to be me. When I finally came off work ill, I remember thinking to myself that now I really wanted to find out who I was, underneath it all. Because it felt to me as if there truths about myself to discover, stable ones. The extreme discomfort I often felt in trying so hard to be coherent and un-perplexing to other people, to present a tidy and composed self in whatever situation I found myself, surely indicated that there was an essential core that I was often guilty of betraying.
These past few years have seen most of my official roles drop away. I’m no longer a full-time lecturer and my son has grown. If you ask me who I am, I have no convenient labels to offer, no easy descriptions to fill in a character outline. But I feel closer to being myself than I have in a long, long time. I’m not a decision or a choice these days, not a model for anything, or an aspired-to ideal. I’m more of a gut instinct, or a sense of resources in readiness, a mental and emotional attitude that shifts positions but doesn’t overextend itself, an eager witness in a state of openness. I don’t ask myself to be coherent any more, or understandable to others. I reserve the right to contradict myself, to change my mind, to be surprised by impulse. And paradoxically, this is what puts me more in touch with something real and authentic in my nature. I have the confidence to forget myself because I don’t have to remember to be anything specific.
So where is Litlove in relation to me now? I’m honestly not sure. But I know that she has been essential in the process of self-recovery that I’ve been through these past six years. She often spoke from the parts of myself that were missing in action. She was probably always a couple of steps ahead of me in her willingness to speak up and speak out, without fear of consequences. Because writing always reveals where we stand, whether we intend it to or not. There is no entry into words without a perspective chosen, a stance assumed. Writing helps us to see who we are and what we think, really, deep down. It is almost impossible to write consistently from a false position. Disclosure and revelation go hand in hand with anything written from the heart, and a blog, this weird public/private space of extraordinary freedom, encourages us if nothing else to speak from the heart.
But what I’ll say in an About page, I really have no idea!