Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Unique, like everyone else


Last Friday, I was lucky enough to spend the day in Newport, RI, with my friend, Adam. Lucky because it was a perfect, cloudless, 77 degree day; lucky for the great company; and lucky for the oportunity to walk along the cliff walk with the glorious scenic ocean view on one side and the glorious, ostentatious seaside mansion view on the other.

Upon passing one such abode (like the one that cost 11 million dollars to build in the 1890's) Adam remarked, "What would posses somebody to say: 'I need a 3 story 70 room summer cottage with stone turrets'?"

"Oh, Adam" I said, "this has nothing to do with NEED. Those houses are statements. They say: 'Look how much money I have.'"

As we continued along the cliff walk, I got to thinking about all the ways we make statements about ourselves. Of course, most of us don't have the means to do so with oceanside real estate, but we all find little ways of expressing our individuality every day.

Take, for instance the graduation party I went to on Sunday. It was filled with 17 year olds screaming out to the world I AM SOMEBODY UNIQUE with their Hollister and Abercombie T-shirts, their colored flip flops, and their cache of ring tones for their cell phones. One girl had cut the entire front panel of her jeans off, except for a thin strip just above her knee and another just below. It was like an elongated denim film strip depicting the anterior portion of her leg.

At our picnic table, the graduate's Grammy and Bumpa were discussing Saturday's graduation ceremony. "There was one girl there with bright pink hair. It looked just awful. Her parents must have been mortified!"

"Are you kidding?" I asked. "That's fantastic! I don't even know her and I like her."

"Oh, no", Grammy replied. " She's going to look back on those pictures and cringe. And how do you get a job in the workforce with pink hair?"

"I disagree. I think she's going to look back and say 'Look at how cool I was.' And what 17 year old enters 'the workforce'? I say, now is the time to do it"

Now, I AM in the workforce, so if I want pink hair it has to be a bit more subtle. And we have company shirts, so no Abercrombie for us. Yet somehow everyone still manages to project their identity: the Mom, the ultra-marathoner, the golfer, the drum circle guy, the scrapbooker. We do so in the way we carry ourselves, what we talk about with our patients, the treatment techniques we gravitate toward. Even what we choose to have for lunch makes a statement: "Have you tried the terragon/ carrot soup?" "Oh, no. I only like real food: steak."

So how much of this is our true identity peaking out, and how much is our attempt to project a particular image to the world? And is there really a difference between the two?

I'm not really sure of the answer to that question. And frankly, it may take less time to save enough money to buy a 70 room seaside mansion than it does to figure out the answer. So instead, I'm just gonna throw on a tie dye shirt, grab my ipod of cool tunes, and head out for a roller blade. The world is waiting for my statement.

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