I’m not quite sure what personality is. I mean. I can identify several versions of myself for different social situations, but I feel like the same person within, and I don’t think it’s very often that people would consider me ‘out of sorts’.
And that’s including the fact that my mood swings wildly from bouncy fortress of gorgeous to miserable wasteland in the belly of an unhappy whale, by way of slow motion panic attacks in a giant mechanical squid.
Personality is something you simultaneously can’t identify, and use to identify yourself. It’s a game you play with your self and the people around you. Matching one to the other, whilst also spirally judging. Shall I present my affable or aggressive side? Do I like you? Are you worth my good face?
Take it online, and suddenly the physical dynamics are gone, and often anonymity is assured. You can be who you want to, or at least you can explore who you want to be, or could be, or would never be.
But are these different personalities?
Online and off we’re a million different people, tied together by the fiction of memory. We are a narrative structure knitting everything we have ever done into one multicoloured scarf. Threads of life. Woven together. The different becomes one.
But that oneness is still there.
Online, I am Alabaster Crippens. A name concocted for a paper zine. A character who was grouchy, miserable, misanthropic and ridiculous (describing love as ‘basically the same as cutting open your belly, tying your intestines to someone else’s, and running away as fast as possible’ and sitting naked in a compost to save on heating bills). When I moved online, I kept the name, but switched the personality. To some extent. Online, Alabaster was still prone to obscenity and ranting, but he was also more honest. Often more honest than I. Here was someone who could explore and open up about his emotions, his sadnesses and joys. His politics were explored and laid bare. His mistakes were open to everyone.
For a while, he was something I couldn’t be. Open in a way I felt impossible.
But of course, that practice helped me become that open.
I felt, over a few years, like I became the person I was online. Now, in the real world, I feel as much Alabaster Crippens as I do myself. Because we are one (we always have been).
Being different online put me in touch with a side of myself I was scared of exposing. It gave me the strength to expose my heart (and intestines) to the world.
Being different can build you.
Because you can’t be anyone except yourself. Everything you do is kept within you. Good or bad, you are the one who does the things you do.
Cyberspace can be a safe way to explore that, hopefully without hurting people. But remember that it’s still you.
It always will be.
Look at who you are regularly.
And keep it.
Illustration by Henry