I know that I am not unique. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this habit of closing my eyes and imagining another person somewhere, also closing their eyes, also thinking my thoughts. No matter where I go, or what I learn, I can’t shake the visual of that person. I tell myself: Every moment, somewhere in the world, someone else is thinking and feeling the exact same thing I am, you are, someone, something, somewhere, every moment.
But as someone who walked permanently aware of this unity, I have always been determined to protect, proclaim, my niche. As an only child (no sibling role models) with a summer birthday (perpetually young), and a high responsibility complex (obedient), I have always been just an inch behind, never what you might call the poster child of my generation. The best compliment I ever received was, in essence, “You do you.”
With such a tendency toward individuality–yes, Mr. Meyers, Mr. Briggs, I’m an INTJ–I thought that my first summer on my own would be a lot like staying at home alone for the first time in middle school. The prospect of infinite freedom seduced me easily. For weeks at the end of semester, I took breaks from papers and studying to eagerly fill up the “Creative Ideas” note on my computer, saving them for the moment. An open apartment, a quiet sunny day, no interruptions…
The moment came and went, and, as I laid exhausted on the floor in the middle of my beautiful redecorated apartment—inspiring items such as sewing machine, poetry books, and paint aggressively prominent—those halcyon days of childhood creative solitude looked small. What did I have to show for all of that practiced independence and undisturbed creative wallowing? A behind-the-times perspective? An off-trend sense of style? Mediocre reading habits? A propensity for time consuming organizational projects? Minutes after erecting the set for my ideal, I found myself hibernating in the residue of its defeat. In the bright smoke of sunset, summer looked grim. I closed my eyes and thought my unoriginal thoughts, beginning to entertain such immortal questions as, what’s the difference between independence and loneliness? But, almost two decades of determination spurred me forward. I gritted my teeth and prepared to emerge gloriously me at all costs.
A few days trudged on like this as I fought doggedly to preserve my ancient solitary self. Until finally, I succumbed to the call of my generation.
It was nearly imperceptible at first, as innocent as the quiet blue-white blink of a log-in page, but it was undeniable. I hungered for social networking. Why shouldn’t LinkedIn be part of my daily routine? How much free news content had I been missing out on?? I have always loved Twitter! Why hadn’t I been maximizing its potential? Who was I comfortable direct messaging on Instagram?! What accounts should I be following on all platforms if I wanted to be truly in the know??? That totally fantastic app that I downloaded the minute I got my new iPhone based on the advice of a sign in the library last semester, where did I put it?? As my connections grew, of course they made me unwittingly more passionate about ecosystems, politics, justice, equality, and the world at large.
I truly hardly noticed signs of any change until they manifested themselves physically. I was innocently checking up on one of my many growing online presences when it happened. There was nothing particularly heinous about the pictures. It was your classic Pinterest simulacrum: white dress, cliche pose, soft edit, dance videos. All to be expected from some happily posting newlyweds and fam. But I felt inexplicably ill. The scale really tipped when I heard someone talking about bidding for a house before they graduated. I had to excuse myself. Marriage. Homemaking. Childbirthing. Anything that hinted that it could feel as everlasting as these endless days of alone time was terrifying. I yearned for perpetual change, quickness, energy, the sort of highly structured environment that could save me from slipping into the lazy, production-free days of my youth.
Naturally, this accelerated space of mental-living got me more interested in activity, and I began to enjoy getting around town on bike. Such unquestionably independent and immediate transportation represented at once sustainability, speed, and a certain amount of bravery, and I found excuses to take long routes.
The most drastic change, though, was my material exorcism. My heretofore keen eye for superfluous objects sharpened to a glare. Thousands of emails deleted without hesitation, clothes were thrown into my trunk to be donated, kitchen tables went the way of roommates never replaced. So strong were my convictions that even upon hearing of my parents’ garage sale filled with relics of my youth, I held fast, rescuing only a few items from the fray and leaving the rest to fend for themselves against the wily thrifters of the suburban jungle. I can attribute this only to my Netflix education. If I had not recently completed so many seasons of Anthony Bourdain‘s various world-traveling culinary masterpieces, I doubt I would have been so inclined. But lives are not built on ifs, and his shows had infected me with the travel bug. I want nothing weighing me down.
My remaining population of superfluous objects, though still many and still shrinking, is more carefully curated. I’ve kept them because I’ve decided that either they bear the weight of some mysteriously powerful un-expendable significance or no significance, and thus no weight, at all. Food is a swimming example of this category of objects as it is both proudly precious and unabashedly mortal. The most hallowed member of my menagerie today? The object of my bread baking desire, a burgeoning sourdough starter. High maintenance, fickle, time-consuming, disposable, and beloved.
In sum, the time that I designated for self-developing solitude I’ve used instead to become a digitally obsessed, relentlessly temporary, cause crazed, movement hungry, bandwagoning, hobby hoarding millennial. There is nothing more familiar, nothing less unique. And worse still, I’ve never felt better. I’m not saying I’m a lemming, but I’ve begun to lose the fear of losing myself. It’s taken nigh on 20 years, but I’m beginning to understand that no matter how unoriginal I am, I’m condemned to be an individual. I am not alive based on my ability to make the correct decision, and I don’t disappear if I make a bad one. It’s enough just to be present. It’s more.