The Layers of Us

Taking a cab ride home from a friend's Christmas party, my friend Nadia and I took some time to chat about the nature of our selves. Nadia wondered to me that perhaps we have preconceived notions of ourselves that we cling to, many years after we've formed them. Are those notions of self still valid, or more delicately, useful, so many years after they were constructed?

I posited thus: every day, our experiences put a new coat of paint upon us. Layer, over layer, over layer. Each day, we look a little bit different than we did the day before, but the old layers of paint – going all the way back to the very first coat – are still there. It's just a matter of how deep underneath they are. When we look inward, and truly examine ourselves, it's like we can cut into those layers, and see all the different strata – both harm and beauty – that makes up us; our complete selves.

I'm not sure she was entirely convinced. Nadia put it to me that, in high school, people like us self-identified as "freaks", but that doesn't really represent how she thinks of herself currently. Surely, that identity isn't relevant anymore?

Perhaps it isn't, I shrugged. But part of that identity is still there, again thanks to layering. When you're in high school, that difference – being a freak or a nerd – is this microtrauma; a representation of your poor treatment at the hands of others. But as time rolls on, you polish that trauma. You paint over top of it and make it into something precious that you're proud of: it becomes cool to be one of the freaks or geeks. Eventually it's intrinsic to your identity, scarcely recognizable as a thing that could have harmed you. Just like an oyster coats over an irritating pebble until it become a pearl.

We arrived at Nadia's place and said our goodnights. She got out and I rolled on with the cabbie for another few blocks. He spoke up, "I really liked your analogy about each day being a layer of paint. What do you do? You should be a writer."

Thanks random cabbie. Merry Christmas. 😄

Photo: paint fragment from Belmont Art Park
by Cassidy Curtis - cc

Jesse Schooffself-help, writing