Can you pretend to be someone else?
A few days ago a friend of mine who’s also a writer, Joan Hall, got me involved in a “game” on Twitter. We had to describe our WIP (work in progress) in three words. This was the result…
“Always be yourself” were the first three words that I came up with and a second later I realised that this description applies both to my present project, the first episode of the Modifieds series, and to Secrets of a Handbag, which is undergoing editing and then needs to be translated in English.
While I was writing that Tweet, a lesson in the first module of the course Tribe Writers came to my mind. In that lesson, Jeff Goins asks his students to think and write about their worldview or, in other words, the message that has to transpire from their blogs.
When I first attended the course, that lesson caused me a lot of problems because I didn’t know what my warldview was. I had a blurry idea but nothing that could be summed up in a few words.
Now I think I have found it.
The message, or at least one of the messages, that I want to transpire not only from what I write but also from who I am, is this: be yourself, always, in spite of circumstances.
I haven’t decided it consciously. My characters have made the decision for me, as if they had a meeting in a dark basement and decided a common strategy. And it seems they are doing a very good job because, even if their stories are very different, my characters often find themselves in the middle of one of the steps towards being what they really are.
Elisa, the main character of Secrets of a Handbag, has the unpleasant habit of changing her behaviour due to the circumstances and, above all, due to what people expect from her, and this attitude shine through her handbag’s contents. Elisa is submissive with her boyfriend, she pretends to be interested into her university mate’s intellectualisms, and she has a different behaviour with Mr. Palmieri, her boss. Elisa is much more spontaneous and genuine with her house mates, Gina and Patrizia, but the only one who really knows her is her bag.
On the other hand Diego, the male protagonist, is always faithful towards himself. Secrets of a Handbag doesn’t talk about this but I know Diego very well and I know that he has struggled for a long time against that treacherous tendency to comply with what others expect forom him. The challenges he dealt with made him rational to the point of being cyinical and cautious around others, but never disposed to bend to convenience.
My immagination goes into raptures at the idea of the meeting between these characters and the protagonists of the Modified’s series in the phantom basement. Lorelai and Jason come from an imaginary future where scientists created a race of genetically modified superhuman, just to realise that they’re too dangerous due to their abilities.
It seems a completely different matter (and it is) but the deep problems that Lorelai and Jason have to face are the same Elisa and Diego deal with.
Lorelai is a first generation Modified. She spent her life trying to integrate herself among Normals, hiding her abilities and repressing her true nature. Limiting the effects of genetic modifications requires great self-control, that’s why Lorelai keeps a facade that acts like a dyke, holds back everything that makes her a Modified, and hides it from the rest of the world. Does it sound like a situation that can last for a long time? Well, believe it or not, Lorelai managed to keep this little theater running for more than a century, but things are bound to change when an undercover mission force her to work with Jason.
Jason Hike, unlike Lorelai, doesn’t mind admitting being a Modified. Actually he enjoys the power and controll over others that comes with being a Modified. He always refused to suppress that side of him, even if he ended up harming other people and committing crimes. But maybe the encounter-clash with Lorelai will be able to change his mind.
Lorelai and Jason are (forgive me the abused phrase) the two sides of the coin, the two extreme perspectives of the same issue: the research for a balance between being yourself without rules or restrictions and the behaviour required by law and society.
Useless to deny, this theme is important to me because I found it out for myself. No, I don’t have superpowers (I wish!) but being myself has been difficult, especially as a teenager. I’ve always felt different, because I like studying, I like reading, I love writing and I never told anyone. I felt other’s judgment weighting on me, that’s why I tried to adapt to what people expected from me.
It took a lot of willpower to learn to ignore other’s judgment and I still have problems, but fortunately I deal with it much more rationally then I did when I was fourteen.
This isn’t really something new, but looking around me I see people plodding along life because they try to be something they can’t be, that’s why I’ll never stop saying this.
Being yourself is always the best option, you don’t have to give up on what you are to comply with other’s wishes, with other’s expectations about what you should do or be. It’s doomed to be a stretch and this way you’re not going to take the best and give your best in this life.
What about you? What kind of struggles have you been through to be yourself?