“We Are What We Pretend to Be…”


“…so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” –Kurt Vonnegut

Do you ever get the feeling that you are pretending to be a grown-up? When I look at the list of nouns that is supposed to describe me, I feel a little overwhelmed. Wife, mother, writer, landlord. It all sounds so…responsible.

I’m looking at my boys across my very small house, and I’m thinking, “I’m in charge of their welfare.” I make sure that they are clean, fed, vaccinated and not killing each other. Alas, no one else is going to fix the light switch that is crackling in my tenant’s apartment unless I either replace it or call the electrician. I have to figure out what my client means when he says he wants an article about, “How to Know What Your Marketing Team Is Doing With Social Media,” or he’s not going to work with me again. Such is the life of a grown-up.

I’m guessing that, if most of us were really honest with ourselves, then we would admit that we look out at the world through our 30, 40, 50 or 60-something eyes, which may or may not require corrective lenses, and sometimes feel the same way we did when we were 10. Gravity takes its inevitable toll on our physiques, but it sometimes can’t quite seep into our minds.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, suggests going back in your mind to who you were when you were 10 years old to find your most authentic self. So who was 10-year-old Jackie, you may ask? I remember having a green electric typewriter that I constantly used to write plays and stories. I lived in a remote, wooded part of Saline County, Arkansas, near Lake Norrell, and I would rope my school friends into playing parts in my plays. Inevitably, the stories involved getting lost in the woods with a serial killer. We would stomp through the woods, with the leaves crunching beneath our feet, trying to avoid poison ivy and a fictional homicidal maniac. If only I’d filmed the stories with a handheld camera and a few ancient symbols. I’d have given The Blair Witch Project a run for its money.

Now, I don’t think that my authentic self wants to push my annoyed friends in to panic-stricken role-play. However, that little girl who clacked away on her typewriter (remember correction tape, people?) looks a lot like the person I’m pretending to be today. I’ve traded my green clunker for a MacBook, and I’ve traded writing plays for writing web copy and novels.  I’d never be 10 again; I’m not some hopeless case of arrested development. However, I do know that when I look at those nouns that describe me, I legitimately like what I see. A year-and-a-half ago, I couldn’t have said the same thing about myself.

When I was a retail store manager, I used to go to work and say, “Are you ready to play store?” I did play “store” as a kid, but I never played “payroll slasher” or “loyalty card pusher.” In so many cases, we take on roles that we were never meant to play. We do it in the names of responsibility and maturity and doing what our parents told us to do. Sometimes, we have to play those roles as part of being what we want to be. Many, many artists have waited tables or worked odd jobs to support themselves while they pursued their artistic dreams. Many people enjoy the world of business and finance (didn’t you play “bank” and “office?”) and fit well into corporate life. However, as Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” How many of us are even remotely close to what we dreamed we’d be at 10?

While you may not be rash enough to ditch your job and find a new life, take some kind of step back in time today. What did you want to be when you were 10, and what’s your vision of yourself today? Do you look in the mirror and like what you see, aside from the aforementioned gravity? We only circle the sun a finite number of times. We have an obligation to ourselves to make every trip count.

Be very careful who you pretend to be. And in the meantime, stay away from those serial killers in the woods.

4 thoughts on ““We Are What We Pretend to Be…”

  1. Erin says:

    I have a very hard time remembering anything about being 10 years old. If my calculations are correct, I was in the fourth grade and I do know that’s when I had to start wearing glasses. And I know I didn’t want to wear my glasses because I wanted to be cool. What I thought “cool” was, I don’t remember, but it did not include glasses. Why I was so concerned with glasses and not with my frequent wardrobe choice of overalls that I just recalled, I’ll never understand.

  2. Jeanne Martin says:

    For as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer… I am a writer… I’m not published, but I am a writer.

  3. At ten years old I aspired to be a Chemist, Biologist, Dancer, Actress, Poet, Chef, Doctor, Ranger, Soldier, Nun, Singer, Mechanic, and the King of the world. Yes I wanted to be King, because back then we were taught men had power not women. I clearly remember my ever changing mind bouncing from interest to interest. I drove my parents insane with my hobbies. Mom gave me her microscope so I could explore amoebas and bacteria. I received a Chemistry set for Christmas and thought it was the biggest score ever. I made up plays with my friends so we could dance and sing. I watched very closely as mom cooked so I could surprise her with dinner already done when she got home from work. I took care of my brothers and their friends when they fell injured, and I fought back when they sought to bring harm to me. I guarded the young, respected the elder, and intervened when necessary. I also fixed/made my very own go-cart with my Dad. I think I had it all covered that year. I WAS King of MY world.

  4. Jackie, sometimes I read your blog and I feel like we are the same person, mostly from the whole leaving-a-soul-sucking-retail-management-job-to-be-broke-but-pursuing-what-makes-us-happy perspective, but I also rarely feel like what I thought being a “real adult” would feel like. Lately that has been changing, I think I also had to get used to the idea that although when I was younger I could be anything and everything seemed possible, eventually you have to make choices which inevitably means some things will never be possible and to be OK with that… I hope that makes sense. (You’re the writer, not me!) For me I was living with some existential “bad faith” but I feel much more authentic now.

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