I’ve spent a lot of midnight hours wondering about the ‘who’ of becoming. Who am I, now, who will I be when the shadows of the night stretch into the clear light of tomorrow? Who must I be for this world to seem less cold, to be the one in the centre of the moment, not the sidelined observer?
Whenever things happened in my life I’d ask what they said about me, as a person. If I readily forgive the friend who damaged me, does that make me a willing victim? If I stay, does that make me a trooper, someone admirable with grit and determination? If I go, am I flighty and flaky and unreliable and unemployable and unlovable? If you can watch me sleep and still walk away, what kind of nobody must I be? If I run a marathon on little training, am I brave or foolish? Badass or just slow AF? If I get my motorbike license will I become someone else entirely or just be same old tiresome me with the renewed ability to run ever more swiftly headlong into (metaphoric) walls?
I spent so much time on the who, that I failed to realise that the who is auxiliary to the how.
And so, how do you become?
When I was little and living in suburban Sydney the magnitude of the world used to both dwarf and awe me. I was convinced that nothing would ever happen to me. Nothing of consequence. And in all of that nothingness I saw the days and weeks and months and years rushing forward, overwhelming and enveloping me like a great wave from which there is no escape. I thought the problem was perhaps partly geographical, partly personal. I was blonde, freckled, pale-skinned. Average, unremarkable. Bookish, sure, but not brave about it.
I was sure real life was ‘elsewhere’, and that to experience it I would have to go out looking for it, in the dark, in the dregs of the night, calling its name at the top of my lungs. I read Sartre, de Beauvoir, Henry Miller. Alice Munro, Cheryl Strayed and Nora Ephron too, but they would come much later, too late, one could argue.
I thought that one became by being better than yesterday. And that day by day we build on what we already know, growing stronger and smarter and healthier and more whole. I didn’t know that real life has zero f*cks to give about the arbitrary linearity of my imagined life. That happy and stable and employed and in love one day has no bearing on tomorrow, let alone on a five-year plan (perhaps the most idiotic concept in the history of idiotic concepts; but I digress).
That we would never have chosen the things that happened to us. That ‘no regrets’ is a beautiful lie and a false choice because we can’t change how it went down but by God, we would, wouldn’t we, if we could? That the year you spent drunk on cheap beer and the sweet words of half-grown boys and misdirected energy and half-thought-out projects and friends who were anything but, and writing angsty manuscripts tarnished by the endless flow of tears: that was it.
The great becoming.
That the muck, the dirt, the down-on-the-ground howling. The incompleteness. The taking-of-the-punches. The my-God-this-cant-be-it moments. The traitorous bottles of red and the false intimacy and the cigarettes on the balconies and oh the glorious waste.
We would never have chosen the things that happened to us.
But they did.
Every single heartbreak, every disappointment, every harsh word, every ‘this-is-all-you-get-and-not-a-crumb-more’ injustice. Every time you went home alone and it broke you, every time you didn’t and it broke you all the same. The words that were spoken, but more importantly those that were not. The moment, when you saw things starting to change. When you said, this is it: the reason for the rest of this shit. Because of now, because of you. The beautiful fall. So stunning, so predictably unexpected. So pure. So seriously f*cked up.
You would have chosen to heal like this: surrounded by good friends, your energy put cleanly into your work and your running: good and noble causes. Early nights and reading books and general, classy ‘waiting for the storm to pass’ behaviour.
Oh, sweetie, ha, how deliciously naive you were.
How wholly necessary this all was. How awful. How unavoidable. How gloriously messy and ugly and unforgivably human of you.
Who do you become? How do you become? What do you become?
The answer is as it always was. Not who, or how or what. No, my dear, the whole point is this:
“You become. It takes a long time.”*
*Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit