On my fifth birthday, riding on the swinging garage doors, I wondered about life. I wondered about the essence of awareness of conscious existence. Why was there no connection between my awareness and that of others? What did existing entail? My first five years had only served to confuse.
I saw two sets of worlds: the world of myself as against all others, and the world of children as against adults. I never believed I would grow up. Not really. One thing worried me especially: would I essentially change as I grew up, or would the me of myself remain constant?
That afternoon by the garage on my fifth birthday I resolved to keep in contact with myself. From birthday to birthday. I promised myself on my fifth birthday. I promised myself to keep in touch with myself on every proceeding birthday. More times than not, I keep the faith. I re-familiarize myself with the five year old and touch base.
Not long ago I came across a letter written five years after that fifth birthday. It was addressed to the me of the future. It read:
Hello, How are you? What do you think? Have you changed?
Of course I’ve changed, and for the worse, as do all people growing up. Childhood is the age of innocence and wonder and faith in the infallibility of adults. Since my childhood my innocence has been tainted by knowledge, my wonder has been dulled by complacency, and my faith in mankind has been demoralized by observation. I can still remember the jarring shock I received when I saw an adult act in childish temper.
I feel somehow guilty that I have changed. It seems I should have kept the girl of five alive to a greater extent than I have. I make compensation to some degree on my birthdays, when I remember.
Athens’ public library has a used book sale once a month, and also a corner inside the library proper for free books, contributed by neighbors and discards. Being a glutton for freebies, I have noticed/remembered how upbeat and hopeful we were not so many years ago (remember The Age of Aquarius?). And that UTNE and PSYCHOLOGY TODAY were definitely good reads. Trying to get organized, my usual rallying cry, I came across a copy of Psychology Today I had saved. I was unsure why I had saved it but when I opened it I found out why: It contains an unread article by Kenneth J. Gergen, Ph.D., The Decline and Fall of Personality ( Nov/Dec 1992, p. 59).
“Many of us believe that somewhere behind our masks lies the real person, that all this role playing is so much sham. We may also believe that that for the sake of society and ourselves we should drop the roles and be what we truly are. Yet if by chance you are beginning to doubt that there is a factual self beneath the fake, and feel the mask may just be the genuine article, that “image is everything,” you are entering the new world of postmodern consciousness. He adds that “Slowly we are losing confidence that there is a coherent, identifiable substance behind the mask. The harder we look, the more difficult it is to find ‘anyone at home.’
For contemporary psychologists, people are much like input-output machines…what they do depends on what goes into them.” Remember that this was long before the recently attractive idea of many toward the partly (soon wholly?) robotic man.
I never thought of myself as a romantic, but as he differentiates between the Romantic and the Modernist conceptions of the self, I have to register as a Thinking Romantic. (Where does curiosity belong?)
“It is from the romantic tradition that we derive our beliefs in a profound and stable center of identity–a center which harbor[s] the vital spirit of life itself. In the past, when it was popular, the romantic self was a compelling account of forces buried beneath the surface of consciousness, in the deep interior of one’s being.”
It is also the home of the “soul.” Everyone knows now that I am not religious in the usual sense of the word, but I do honor my depths and support from my unconscious. And now I accept the mantle of being a “Romantic!”