Reinventing the Self

Because I’m going back to LA for a wedding in a week and some days, I have been looking through an old now-defunct blog I kept in LA. I found this post dated May 15, 2007 — near the time I was leaving LA for NYC — that I think deserves a place on this blog.

May 15, 2007

It is about time to start thinking about packing up my apartment. I don’t move until the end of June, but it takes time to ship the flotsam and jetsam that I’ve accumulated. More painfully, it will take time to decide what can go with me and what must be jettisoned because of the exorbitant cost of transportation. My desktop computer, kitchen utensils, my plastic lobster, curtains, and lamps? And what of my sewing machine, unique vases, and stationary? Thinking about what stays and what goes is more than just a question of replacing consumer goods or evaluating sentimental value. It goes deeper, to who comes to New York.

At the end of attending ninth grade in Illinois where I had been born and raised, my parents gave me some shocking news:

The whole family was moving to New Jersey.

Of course, there was the requisite fight (as if I had a choice in the matter), some cold-shouldering, and recurring thoughts that my life was over. (At that age, hyperbole and reality conflated.) The transition from eighth grade to high school would have to be re-enacted all over again, but this time, in an even more severe way, because there were no familiar faces bobbing among the masses herding along in the hallways. I was leaving familiarity behind.

A few weeks before the actual move itself, I saw the other side of the coin. I was leaving my life behind, yes, but I was leaving my life behind. Bluntly put, I was always at the periphery of my social group. I wasn’t a complete outcast, but I never really felt like I belonged. Being among the same people since kindergarten was constrictive; once you were pegged, you were stuck. Loser. If you were unlucky, you would start believing it. Looking back, I know that I did, walking around the hallways always looking down at my feet. And if you were really unlucky, you would recognize your complicity in this role. Which I did too. Early in ninth grade, I saw myself playing this person, and suddenly realized “that’s not who I am.” And indeed, I wasn’t. I started walking eyes forward in the hallway, gaining self-confidence and a sense of humor. By the end of ninth grade, I was a completely different person—the person I wanted to be. I even worked up the courage to run for student council; in my school of over 4,000 students, the student council positions were popularity contests. I thought my new persona – my real persona – would get me noticed. But no one noticed. I was still treated the same, not quite in and not quite out of any social group. My yearbook, even though I had told people I was moving, was filled with repeated instantiations of “Have a great summer! See you next year!” It was awful.

And it was then I realized that even though I was leaving my life behind, I could leave a large part of me behind. That person wasn’t me and I had a wide-open vista to redefine myself based on who and what I saw myself as.

Holding firm to that thought, I moved to New Jersey and started a new life, consciously. The transition was one of fits and starts, but I held firm to the thought that I get to be whoever I want to be, that there are no lingering childhood ghosts circling me, that I am the master of my own destiny. And that person turned out to be – in my opinion — incredibly successful, not just academically, but socially. At the end of twelfth grade, I would be able to read my yearbook signings and grin, not grimace.

Of course since then there have been two more moves: from high school to college and then from college to grad school. In both these moves, I have taken the opportunity to redefine myself – leave an old iteration of me behind and rebuild a new me to move forward with.

Right now, when deciding what pieces of my apartment to leave behind, I am concurrently making decisions about what parts of myself I want to cast overboard. I’ve changed my personality almost wholesale since coming to grad school, and I don’t know why or how it occurred without me being fully aware of it happening. I just know “That’s not who I am.” I play a pale shadow, a cardboard cutout, of who I am; I’ve somehow been complicit in pegging myself an academic and playing the associated role.

Now it’s time to stop looking down. All I can tell you at the moment about who will be arriving on that plane to La Guardia is that he won’t be the same person writing this now.



  1. I want the follow-up post!

    I moved every few years growing up. Instead of redefining myself at moves, I established a fairly solid sense of self early on. While I know I change from year to year, my introductions after a move tend to have a whole lot to do with where I arrived from. (I also have a hard time letting go of stuff, because it connects me to my past when few people can. The lobster magnet that I got in middle school is on my fridge now.) So reading about your decision to change is fascinating.

  2. Thanks for that post. It reminds me that the flip side of every crisis is an opportunity. It must be painful to uproot and relocate, but there’s also an opening for a brand new beginning. I had to go through this last year when I faced the possibility of uprooting and relocating my wife and three kids; that’s a long story and it ended up we stayed where we are, but I remember thinking the same kinds of thoughts you’ve expressed here so well.

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