I sometimes wonder why it is that I seem absoloutely obsessed (at least in my own mind) with discovering, or creating a sense of identity. In childhood I always imagined the sort of person I would be when I grew up. I thought I would be a veterinarian, or a teacher or an environmental scientist or a novelist. I imagined myself as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, sure of my life, sure of my surroundings and most of all sure of myself. I don’t know when exactly it hit me, probably somewhere around my senior year of high school but I slowly started to realize that growing up didn’t suddenly mean waking up sure of where life should take you. Growing up didn’t mean loosing my fear of being home alone, an instant fabulous job, and all the knowledge of an expert simply because I’d reached 18. Eventually I came to understand that growing up is a process, a lifelong process and we never just wake up feeling self assured with all the answers and although our confusion is partially what makes life beautiful…it’s also what makes life a tad bit frightening.
I love children’s literature. I was lucky enough to squeeze in two children’s literature classes as electives during my undergrad. I could read children’s novels all day long. One of my favorites has always been Alice in Wonderland. I remember the annotated copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland my uncle gave me as a Christmas gift when I was in fifth or sixth grade. remember drawing a hot bath and flipping through its pages for what seemed like hours as my skin turned prune-y (I spent SO much time reading in the bath as a child). I couldn’t quite understand the adult content of Alice, I was old enough to realize there was more to the story than the Disney surface level but I could not fully comprehend what it was. Still, I underlined and highlighted my favorite quotes and passages (as I still do) as if I knew that someday I would want to look back and decipher their meanings.
A few years ago I picked up the same copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and began reading. The story meant so much more now that I understood symbolism behind Carroll’s characters however what really stood out to me was my own annotations. I found that many of the passages that stood out to me as a college student, also stood out to me as a sixth grader. At 12 years old I was so confused about who I was and who I would eventually become. I ricocheted between wanting to be the popular girl with a coach purse and a wardrobe straight out of a Limited Too catalogue and wanting to be the girl who wore studded earrings from Hot Topic and skater shoes. I couldn’t quite understand the concept of just “being me”.
I don’t really feel the need to try on such dramatically different identities for size anymore. I don’t worry about being “preppy” or “gothic” or whatever other stereotypes I pondered about as a child. However I still feel a little like Alice in my favorite passage. I look back on who I was two years ago, six months ago, three weeks ago and I think I know who that girl was…but when I look in the mirror and see someone so drastically different I wonder how solid my perceptions of myself can ever really be.
I see the timid, weak little waif of a person I was in March, so unhappy, so unsure, so trapped…and I wonder how she could share my same name. I see the happy, giggly, teenager who pranced around barefoot with flowers in her hair believing whole heartedly in true love, and I can’t imagine ever feeling so blissfully ignorantly hopeful again. Yet, these aren’t separate girls, all of these girls are me.
I know Carroll’s words don’t offer steady life advice. When I reread this passage I don’t feel inspired to “chase my dreams” or “find my passion” or “pursue true love”, yet I feel a sense of comfort. I am relieved that is not just I who finds herself changing so rapidly that over a short span she can hardly recognize her own mind. I keep changing and growing just to feel small again. When I think I’ve figured out my life a bit, I swallow a tablet that knocks me down, or a cry so much I start to drown in my own tears. Yet, I don’t think this mad dichotomy makes me crazy, I think it makes me human.