Saturday, March 29, 2008


A friend sent me this poem in response to the one I posted a while back. Sassoon's concept of the relationship between identity and solitude is in direct opposition to mine, oddly enough--or at least, to what I was thinking as I had breakfast this morning (alone, but happily, I might mention). I was thinking, in fact, that I am most myself when I am alone. Along these lines:

"I know who I am when I am all alone
I'm still that same man when everyone comes home
Could I bleed a little, hurt a little, cry a little more?
I know that's not what you came here for. . ."
--Matt Nightingale

I was also trying to remember an exchange in one of Madeleine L'Engle's books, in which (if I remember correctly) young Vicky's wise grandfather asks her when she is "most herself." I can't quite place the context, but I think they're discussing this poem (which L'Engle apparently misattributes?!): in particular, "If thou couldst empty thyself of self" and "But thou art all replete with very thou." What do these lines mean? is what L'Engle's characters discuss. Vicky says she is most herself, but also most emptied of self, when she is concentrating on a poem (I think), and most filled with self but least herself when she is caught up in anger/ jealousy/ bitterness/ self-indulgence. I think that is true for me, too. I feel myself when I am alone reading, or praying, or walking in the woods, or eating an orange; I feel alienated from myself when I am anxious about a paper or a person, when outside expectations confuse me and I don't know what I want.

...I think the effect of solitude on a person's closeness to being him-/her- self ends up being largely a function of what sort of self that person has, i.e., his/her personality. Sassoon feels far from himself when alone, it seems; but I (and Nightingale) feel most sure of who I am when I am alone, with no one else to push me this way or that and tell me what I am supposed to do or who I am supposed to be.

"I don't wanna be anything other than what I've been
tryna be lately. All I have to do is think of me
and I have peace of mind. I'm tired of lookin' round
wonderin' about what I gotta do, or who I'm supposed to be:
I don't wanna be anything other than me."
--Gavin DeGraw, "I Don't Wanna Be"

The trick is to find the person who makes you more yourself, and not less.

Disclaimer: I did not specifically look up those lyrics. They may not be quite right.

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