Unreliable narration

A few days ago I was poking around the random site results on Marginalia (I’ve recently linked this, but if anyone reading this missed it: It’s a search engine that deliberately emphasizes the weird little sites that don’t have a lot of “weight.” They’re not necessarily popular, so larger search engines like Google won’t recommend them.)

A lot of these are the kind of thing you’d expect to make up such results: tiny little blogs and personal sites. Shrines to favorite characters. Members of webrings (Web rings! Those still exist!) People who make loads and loads of dedicated little animated link buttons that you can download and use to link back to them. It’s a weirdly nostalgic little reminder of how the internet was before everything became an app; before all of the weird nooks and crannies and edges were filed off into a nonthreatening corporate realm of sans-serif fonts and vowel-less names and vague promises to reinvent the [insert everyday object or concept here].

One thing that is…completely expectedly popular on sites like these: Assortments of personality test results. A site owner may list themselves as an Enneagram type 5 and an INFJ and a Choleric type and also Lawful Neutral…and so on. I am not surprised to see these. I took most of these at some point in history myself (Enneagram type 4w5, INFP, Neutral Good, for the record.)

Looking at these also makes me ponder something about those personality tests: I wonder how many of us take those more for validation of our ideas about ourselves than we do to learn something about ourselves. Surely I cannot be the only teenager who was disappointed to find that an assortment of responses to multiple-choice questions determined that I was a warm and fuzzy loyalist who was kind and committed to people rather than something exciting, like a sensitive artist or a brave adventurer?

I mean, the more accurate way of looking at it is probably that I have some of both of those things in me; I care a lot about my friends and relations, yes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I also long to be a creative person, and – more than that – to really feel like I belong in the land of creative people, which is much harder if you are like me and regularly bump into our old friend imposter syndrome on the bus.

From there of course it gets a lot more existential – who gets to decide where the bar is that one must get over in order to be “really” creative? Is “creativity” a thing you have, or a thing you do? Both? Neither?

What “counts” as a creative activity? Is cooking creative if you are following a recipe? Is writing creative if all you are doing is expressing yourself about what happened in the checkout line at the grocery store? Can something be creative if it is also analytical?

These things are so often set up as opposites, as “or”; one is either a logical left-brained robot with a genius for puzzle-solving and language OR a messy and colorful right-brained artist who is brilliant with visuals but not both, never both, never ever ever both. You are supposed to pick a side; the two camps are mortal enemies with one constantly seeking to crush the vibrant soul of the other and force it to do times tables, or something. (This is rather unfair to both the analytical and the creative brain, of course, neither of which deserves to be pigeonholed forever as either a flaky, self-important artiste or a soulless lizard-person in a sleek business suit just because they happen to be good at different jobs.)

But how would you know whether or not you already are what you want to be?

How would anyone know?

Perhaps that is the point of all the lists, really. To reassure those of us who sense that our inner narrator might be unreliable that someone, somewhere, agrees that we might be a thing we believe we are but cannot prove.

Nobody can disprove it either, not precisely, but there are some of us who will otherwise always wonder. Am I who I think I am? Am I who I want to be?

How would I know?

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