I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been getting progressively more precious about my writing here. Every word feels so consequential that I struggle to get things down — the way they were, the way they are, and the way I want them to be.
Lately, more often than not, I don’t hit ‘publish.’ I’m not ready, not (entirely) for emotional reasons, but for intellectual ones. I don’t understand things, I don’t like the way they’re still bouncing around in my head, and I’m not ready to commit them to the permanent record because they’re fragmentary, unfinished, and disorganized. But why does it matter?
In part, it’s because I’m self-centered and in possession of (perhaps possessed by) an overthinky brain. But also, what I write here is important because making sense of the thoughts in my head and putting them into language is how I understand myself — because these words are all that I am.
My words aren’t just all I am to you, but my words are all I am. Full stop.
Sure, the story we tell others is important — it’s how we construct our identities to those around us. But more importantly, the stories we tell inside our own heads, the stories we tell ourselves are what create (and recreate) our sense of self. And it’s not a static thing — it’s happening all the time.
Because language is “ongoing information processing,” my sense of self is constantly being written and rewritten in language I choose (consciously or otherwise) to create my own understanding of myself and the world around me. Committing that language to written text — writing it all down here — is important because I’m writing my story. I’m writing my reality. I’m writing myself.
V.S. Ramachandran, Ph.D. (Director of the Center for the Brain and Cognition, Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program, University of California, San Diego) suggests “the evolution of introspective consciousness” is what separates us from other animals. Half a million years ago, humans evolved to be able to take information about the material world into our heads, divide it up into “tokens,” and turn those tokens into abstractions (separately or in combination).
We gather knowledge about the material world through the human senses, we process it through language (written, visual, symbolic, etc.), and we construct abstractions in words.
In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty critiques prevailing philosophical theories that compared the human mind to a mirror that reflects reality (to varying degrees of success). Instead, Rorty argues the human mind produces reality, constructing it in language and in vocabularies that are adopted or abandoned according to their usefulness.
Rorty revisits (and expands) the idea in “The Contingency of Language” (in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity).
That’s why it matters… because I’m constructing reality. It matters because I’m writing the self… myself.
While I have no intentions of “getting it right” (that isn’t possible), I need to figure it all out and understand what it means in my own head… and I need to do it in a way that feels fair, in a way I can live with.
I have to get the story (my story) straight before I can find peace with bringing this particular chapter to a close.