I’ve been having trouble recently with the idea of individuality. I feel surrounded by the masses. Everyone I know is a part of the masses. Unthinking, unfeeling, barely existing. There are very few people, if any at all, who are truly different. Part of that is a numbers thing – google tells me 107 billion people have lived on this world. We’re not unique. Other people have had our problems, our thoughts, our dreams.
This bothers me. It bothers me a lot. I stay up at night staring at the ceiling realizing again and again that I will never be an individual. What makes it worse is that the more I try to be an individual the more I blend in with everyone else. Everyone has a desire to be different, special. It’s funny when people call themselves “weird” or say phrases like “normal is boring” because they are normal. Their incredible unoriginality is proven when they say the words uttered regularly by every other high schooler in the world.
But that’s totalizing. In reality, people are different. No one else has lived your exact life – even if they have lived very similar lives. Details make people different. That makes me want to focus on the details, my details, rather than on actual people, on actual me. I want to focus on what I’m eating for lunch and what kind of flower I’m going to draw today. I want to say that no one else has eaten 5744 grains of rice today and go to bed happy to know something I did today was original. But even as I count out my grains of rice, I know it’s probably not true. But it’s impossible to know. How do I know whether I should eat the last grain of rice on my plate? What if 8745 grains of rice is the magic number that’s never been eaten? But what if I eat the last grain of rice just as my neighbor from across the world decides that 8745 is their magic number? Some people think that the dumb/weird world records are just dumb/weird. I get the appeal. A factual way to know that at least something you’ve done in your life has been original. It’s the same appeal of being known for your sins or commenting ‘first’ on an inconsequential video.
“Every snowflake is different (just like you)” is unironically the best mcr song but it makes me frustrated that the “many special things about you” the song describes are physical attributes like “blue fur” or “the very silly way you grin”. Those aren’t special. They can’t be when the average person has around 7 doppelgangers on this world (and that’s just during your lifetime). There are 7 people on this world right now that look like me and I can’t help but wonder if they are prettier than me.
But maybe the problem is that I’m looking at all these features separately. Someone else may have had your thoughts and someone else may have had your dreams but no one with your smile has been raised by someone with your mom’s tears and someone with your dad’s scowl while feeling your pain. People have experiences, half formed thoughts, and feelings – none of these belong to them but maybe, just maybe, the unique mix of all these things that results does belong to them. Only your shadow can live exactly your life. People are built and shaped from their unique combination of experiences and how they view and react to these experiences. No one else can understand the you that life took decades to build.
But what’s the point?
If people are really that unique that’s proved nothing except that we are utterly and completely alone. You will never be able to click with someone, not really. You can never just take yourself and transfer it to someone else’s mind. And it’s hard because sometimes when I meet people I want them to know my life story but the idea of telling them is terrifying. Because words (and every other art form) are an imperfect form of communication. Once your thoughts leave your mind they’re no longer pure. Once your feelings leave your heart they’re no longer yours. There are only so many combinations of words and images through which you can describe things that when you’re explaining yourself you’re actually using somebody else’s words and now I’m no longer describing myself. I’m describing someone else and we’re back where we’ve started – neither of us know anything about me.
And here’s the worst part – there are two sides of this debate. People are the same or people are different. Not only am I failing at choosing a side, I’m also failing at finding a positive side. I don’t know why I believe in the disadvantages, the painful parts of each side. I don’t know how to change my opinions, how to convince myself of something different.
And not everyone is the same. There are unique people, people who everyone knows. Shakespeare, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Hitler, My Chemical Romance. For a moment I feel there is hope that people can be different because these people are different. But then the hope is destroyed because it’s not the individual. No, the world would not be that different if a couple of these people had never existed.
In Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement speech he speaks about how after dropping out of college he wandered into a class on typography where he learned about serifs and such. He then talks about years and years later where on the first MAC they programmed it to have beautiful evenly spaced fonts and typography. As a joke he claims that Microsoft copied Apple and thus without him wandering into that handwriting class personal laptops would never have these great fonts. It’s a big claim to make and also probably completely false. In truth, someone else would have taken his place. Someone else would have figured out how to program cool fonts into personal computers, someone else would have taken that class, someone else could have done it all. Steve Jobs is just playing a role, a role which he ended up in by pure chance – by luck, coincidence. Don’t get me wrong, he worked hard, definitely. But lots of people work hard. Lots of people drop out of college and attend random classes. Lots of people dream about becoming him but not a lot of people do but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be him. I bet plenty of other people could fill that role, the role that is supposedly his.
And it’s the same thing again and again. Someone else could have taken the role of Shakespeare – I’m sure someone would have eventually written a play about star-crossed lovers. Someone else could be the ‘emo’ figureheads, there are so many angst ridden bands. Someone else could have been the face of the desegregation movement. No one person has as much impact on the world as they believe they could. Because someone else could be the mother to your children, the husband to your wife, the teacher to your students. There are just so many people out there and maybe that’s the problem – overpopulation. It feels impossible to be an individual. Everyone is just another ‘sheeple’ fulfilling a role and we don’t mourn the nonexistent. The truth is that if you didn’t exist then no one would care because so many others exist that can fulfill the same role. And it’s pure chance you ended up in that role. Things like hard work are necessary but not sufficient. They just put you in the running for the lottery – you can increase your chance of something but at the end of the day it’s just that, it’s a chance. I don’t gamble.
Something else I’ve thought about is lying to yourself, pretending to be unique. Or just genuinely believing that you are unique. Pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist and living in a shelter or a bubble where you actually are unique. Honestly? It seems nice. But choosing to ignore the rest of the world seems a harder pill to swallow than accepting you’ll never be an individual. I don’t think anyone who truly struggles with being unique – anyone who finds it important enough to block out the rest of the world for it – would be able to do it. Instead, they would be horrified by the thought because it would mean accepting defeat. Accepting that they will never be anything in the real world and so creating a fake one. Their lives would become a lie. But the more I think about this the more plausible it gets. People do create fake lives, or at least immerse themselves in fake lives. Videogames, fandoms, fantasy worlds, books, heck even the desire for virtual reality proves that. The creation of utopias and cults which ignore the existence of the rest of the world is just an extreme of our everyday reality. People want to be unique so they create a world in which they can be unique
But some people don’t have fantasy worlds. They’re the kid reading nonfiction and looking out windows. Some people don’t daydream. Some people spend their entire life in one reality, they never get a chance to be someone else.
I think there are two types of people who do not try to escape from reality and they are polar opposites: Ambition and contentment.
These are the people who have a drive, they never stop, they never relax, they’re always itching to do something. And everything they need to do must have a purpose. They’re always running out of time. It’s always the next big thing and they never stop. Sometimes I feel these people forget that life is passing them by. But they also have purpose – their life never stops and these people probably could not go on living if life were to stop.
Some days I feel that the ambitious kids are just the ones who have managed to trick their mind into believing that if they try hard enough there will be something unique about them.
Then there are people who don’t have to face the harsh reality of the impossibility of our fantasies because they’ve never had those fantasies or, if they did, then the reason they loved them were because they were fantasies.
These people are content to be sitting in the basement of a university typing away at research that’s not goanna change the world. Can you believe you spent 12 years on this one book- I wonder how many people will actually read it? 17 floors above you is the man who people will remember – he’s the genius, the world changer, his office is twice as big and has a window through which you can see the mountains and interns begging for an interview. Everyone will read him; no one will read you. He has a family which to be proud of; you have a man you think you love but no one cares. He looks respectable; the first thing people notice about you is that you have enough hair on your upper lip to be a circus freak/ I hope you have an incurable illness to explain how a belly can be so disproportionally big. I wonder do you actually leave your office – ever? How do you deal with looking in the mirror? Some say that age brings wisdom but I think it might bring blindness because no amount of wisdom is going to help you ignore the fact that your life is inferior.
Newt from the Fantastic Beasts movie is an exception. He is content to write textbooks and care for animals- he doesn’t need to be a hero, he doesn’t need to destroy things, and he is content but his contentment is not disappointing and ugly, his contentment is beautiful.
I wish I could be content with something like that but I don’t know how people get to that point. Maybe they’ve been dealt so many blows that any jolt at all makes them wince and reel back, ready for the next hit so when their ride comes to a standstill – not at its destination and not about to get there any time soon – they are too relieved to be disappointed.
Another painfully commonplace human emotion is jealousy. People aren’t unique and so when you find someone who could be unique it just makes you feel like shit because you aren’t. Because you’re a cliche but in the worst sense of the word where you’re a blank face of the masses and they’re a cliche in the best sense where they are the ones the masses crowd around, they are the cliche everyone wants to be – the cliche of your dreams.
There is absolutely nothing remarkable about me so I spend my time fantasizing about someone who is remarkable – someone with talent someone with a backstory- at this point I’m practically begging for a tragedy and
It’s not like my life is happy, fulfilling
Because if it was then I wouldn’t care that it was boring
No, my life is angst ridden and empty
Always something bothering me but always not doing anything about it
It’s like having an itch you can’t get to
It’s like your breaths always coming out too shallow and too fast
Your movements are always jerky
There comes a point that you can’t appreciate art because you’re not the one who made it
When your fantasies are tainted, shadows cast over them by giant dark clouds of feeling hopeless to make my life into something I want to make it into
When I get the chance to reinvent myself I wish I knew how I want to reinvent myself but it’s not the image it’s the person and I will not, am not satisfied by who I am
And sometimes I wish I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life because the unknown seems so much better than a future I don’t want. A future I should want, a future I wish I wanted. But it feels hopeless. I don’t know anything else – this is all I know. My life is too long for me to just accept it.
Even if you do something original it’s not yours – if you hadn’t done it then someone else would have done it. Heck, if you hadn’t been born, another sperm would have reached the egg and replaced you. Why do I feel the need to compete with these unborn versions of myself – they’re worse thaan dead they never existed. But maybe because they never had to suffer through a pitiful unoriginal existence I feel that they are the better version of me. They could have been someone unique.