I’m an only child. I realized rather early in life that being an only child and one of the few kids in our rather small family would have an impact on a number of aspects of my life from playing sports to how I held my shoulders at school.
I was consciously aware of myself rather early in life. I’m not sure if others go through this period of inner awareness and I wonder how that development affects us as we grow into adulthood. I have a vivid memory (for what that’s worth) of spending what felt like days and days on a working hierarchy of my mind. I laid out what I thought were all the potential body systems and thought processes I could have. Everything from “standing up” to “writing in cursive” to “reading a book.” The purpose was (I think) to be able to understand the how as well as the why of me. I wish I still had that notebook from when I was 9 or 10. As a senior in high school I used the topic of “Ego” for my year long thesis project. I explored the Id and Superego with Freud and Jung and Catherine of Siena and Hesse and Lennon and Margery Kempe. I was reading Doyle’s Sherlock stories at the time and the concept of a brain attic immediately appealed to me as I explored these new thought technologies. That was especially true as a shy and socially awkward only child growing up in a culture where I didn’t feel like I “fit in” (what teenager ever does?). I didn’t realize it at the time, but that project and those explorations have profound effects today on my views of spirituality, politics, sex, relationships, and identity.
I left that exploration behind and put the project in a neat jar in the corner of my brain attic. Sometimes, I’m tempted to go open the pithos but I worry that it will only unleash more turmoil and I’ll close the lid before elpis has a chance to escape. Other times, I meander past it and know that I should just break it and send to the trash fire where other items taking up space go.
I look at my 9 year old now, and marvel at how much she is rapidly changing but also wish I could tell her even more blatantly that it’s ok to explore the inner self. It’s an amazing journey. I hope she doesn’t put her pithos in the corner to collect neuron dust but keeps up the struggle and joy of inner discovery.
Last night, the person I freely call “my brother” messaged me a video at 2 AM from a bar where one of our favorite songs was being covered. I didn’t see the message until this morning, but the thought and intentionality that led to him sending me that at that moment in time and space made me smile. He could have shared that via Facebook or Instagram and tagged me or included me in an @ message in a sort of public shout-out meant to display our affinity for that song or each other. But the private nature of the message was intimate and special and meaningful.
Another one of my great friends that I also call a brother is fond of letter writing still. It’s hipster and chic and trendy to reflect back on lost practices like letter writing, but that doesn’t negate the impact. He’s had major life changes recently. I’ve been meaning to write him a letter with some of the thoughts and items from my brain attic that might give him some additional insights. We’ve exchanged messages and phone calls, but I’ve not taken the time to follow through with intimate sharing via the medium that I know would impact us both the most. Is that because I’m afraid of that pithos in the corner?
This week’s Roderick on the Line podcast covers this notion of sharing and online personas and what we communicate to the public about our own brain-processed visions of the world when we use Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. It’s worth your time to listen.
Connecting with other humans via social media on a broadcast level is comforting to this only child. I don’t have to really let you know who I am or what I’m necessarily seeing or thinking because I can control the message and the filter. I can bend my reality and share it with all of you in a way that helps negate intimacy. You get to see what I self-diagnose as my interesting self, but you aren’t privy to the artifacts and boxes and souvenirs in my brain attic. And that pithos.