Imagine a woman. Clammily searching for words, any words, to say to the friendly wedding guest seated beside her. Then, the next day, snarking out loud with friends at a cheap diner, ribbing the waiter, wiggling a finger at the baby in the next booth. Imagine her enraptured by an Auden poem she reads twice, three times, rips out to carry around. That night she joyfully watches four episodes of a sitcom so bad, she fears it's reducing her IQ. Imagine her haughty in a business meeting, saying icily, "This doesn't work; it just isn't working at all," and later, as she idles in gridlock, imagine her neck slick with tears, because what if this love thing never finds her, what if she wasn't built for it?

Imagine her in frayed shorts, a bespoke gown. Imagine her tough and terrified, hardened and guileless. A ruminator who somehow doesn't think things through, the wallflower who's occasionally the life of the party. To her friends: the eternal rock, the shoulder. To her sister: a fragile thing best coddled. To her parents, her boss: a good girl. To her ex: a bad memory. Who she's with, where she is, how she feels—all of this determines the self who wins the day, the self who makes sense for this Now, and this one, and this.

So how is she—how are we—to be a "real" self? (It sounds almost Seussian: If I'm being myself, which self am I being?) By recognizing that the realest real self, the only self that can be real, is one made up of lots of parts. Were we to live as static beings, constant and unwavering, we wouldn't be living at all. This woman—imagine her feeling heartbreak and stunned delight, exhilaration and gutting regret. Imagine her being, like all of us, a swirl of contradictions that do not contradict. Imagining her containing, as we all do, multitudes.


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