There's a paradox in us

People know me as a person that lives for the arts, a person that gives and takes and wants to try out everything art-related. A friend onc...

People know me as a person that lives for the arts, a person that gives and takes and wants to try out everything art-related. A friend once described me like this: "Merle breathes art."
And it's true. I am that person, in a way. But what has kept me thinking lately, is whether my personality or the way other people know me, actually defines me. Because that's the big question, isn't it? What makes you, you and what makes me, me? What is it that we are in our core? Is there even such a thing as a core? (as I've already discussed in this (Dutch) post) What makes us the person we are? Are we even one single person in a lifetime, or do we change over time?
Whenever I try to discuss this with somebody, they always tell me I ponder too much. That I shouldn't, as we say in Holland,  "break my head" over questions I'll probably never be able to answer anyway. I have to admit: that is probably true. But it still gives food for thought: is my thinking defining me? Are my opinions what I am? Or does it go beyond that?

I know, I haven't even started this post and I am already confusing you. But let me try to explain why it bothers me so much.


For several years now, I have been part of the Dutch Wattpad community. In short, Wattpad is a site on which you can publish your own novels and others can read them and comment on and vote for them for free. It's kind of a free e-book website for amateur writers. And on Wattpad everyone has a profile page, similar to profile pages on other social media. There's room for a short biography, a photo, etc. And this biography in particular is something that has kept me thinking. For a long time, my Wattpad biography has consisted of a text with in it my name, age, study, a list of all things and people I adore, a link to my blog and a link to my creative portfolio.

And for a long time this has actually suited me. It is quite a nice recap of my personal style and what I find important. However, nowadays I feel more and more frustrated with this whole concept of writing a short biography of yourself. The things you like, as I already said in a previous post (Dutch), are one of the most important things you should consciously pay attention to, because it teaches you so much about yourself, about what you stand for and what attracts and moves you. I am talking about hobbies, which is for me acting, singing, art, (graphic) design (thinking in concepts in relationship to (visual) media, red.), baking, cozying up with food and books/movies — but also: people you like and dislike, certain colors or atmospheres, music and movement, seasons and cities and certain types of weather — you name it.

But — and here's the big turning point — the things you like are indeed shaping you, but you are not necessarily defined by it. It will influence you, but it is not you. You are not what you adore, and you also are not your hobbies. It is a big part of you, of course, but it is not you.
And as soon as this insight hit me, I actually felt a huge relief. I've been producing and consuming art since kindergarten, so whenever I had to describe myself — in things like biographies, job interviews, whatever really — I always defined myself with my hobbies: I am Merle and I like art, design, singing and theatre. It kind of grew on me in a negative way.
But is that all there is to me? Is that my core, is that how I want to be seen by the rest of the world? The answer is: yes, but there's so much more, there's still so much left unsaid. All of me cannot be described in one sentence. All of me is way too big and way too complex to even start to grasp textually (or in any medium, really). It is not something that can be comma'd and dotted and neatly organized on a page, caged by lines and margins. It's a stirring, rumbling, tumbling whole of everything I feel, of every opinion I ever had, of the experiences I experienced, of (yes, there it is:) the things I love and the things that moved me, shaped me, the people I love to be around, the way I speak and the way I listen, the way my movements kind of vanish after they've passed, of my physical stuff like skin and proportion and weight, of my skull shaping the way my skin forms, the way my skin wrinkles me into a frown or a smile.

And, maybe even more important: it is not static. It is something moving, it's wearing out, reshaping every time time passes, every time new people enter my life, every time someone or something touches my heart. Even physically, time causes bones to break, resistance to weaken, skin to form and to die, constantly.

I am a complex being, formed and shaped by all kinds of things while still consisting of a thing that has always been there, since the beginning, something very simple and omnipresent. We have something to begin with, this thing I'd like to call the core, but we never know where we'll end because this core doesn't stay the same over time. It reshapes itself by everything I've mentioned before, and it will never be the same as it was five years ago, or five years in the future.

And that brings me to another thing I wanted to discuss in this post. In a previous post I already mentioned the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. (Besides, this is no sponsored post, merely sheer enthusiasm.) In her book, Gretchen discusses and tries out a very systematic way of living, a life based on rules and lists, in order to pursue happiness. I am, and have always been, a list-maker — that kind of person that always makes lists for everything and writes every thought down to make sure she won't forget it. But even for me, systematic as I am, this book refreshingly deepened my knowledge about how people work, or — to be more specific — how I work. Because let's face it: the things your parents teaches you are not based on nothing. Going to bed before eleven o'clock actually does benefit your life in great ways. Being kind to others, treating people the way you would want to be treated actually gives you a great boost of positive energy. People are complex, but at the same time also very simple. We follow life's rules in order to become happy, and if we don't, we don't feel happy. That's how easy it is.

While reading THP I've constantly been making notes in the margins and on the blanc end pages of the book, thoughts that arose while reading, or rules I always have to follow to feel right. At a certain point this basically evolved in to a big list of my personal Secrets to Life. It's not more than a page long, yet consists of all the 'rules' that lead to my personal happiness. To name a few, I always have to sleep at 9:30 PM to feel good and energetic the next day. Another one is: never force the things you like upon others, now matter how much you like them. Another one: never hurry unless you have a good reason. I always catch myself hurrying for no reason, or pretending I am very busy (for example: walking with firm and big steps towards the train station even though I have to wait ten minutes for the train, or: first boiling water, then doing the dishes while the water is boiling, then making tea — even though I have no reason for multitasking or hurrying at all. Why would I wait for the water to boil if I can do other things in that time? is my reaction, but there's no point in hurrying. It only makes you more stressed and 'busy in your head'.

Long explanation for what I actually wanted to explain: people are too complex to grasp in a few sentences, as I said before, but at the same time we tend to follow very simple rules that can increase the quality of life tenfold. Actual, specific, easily executable rules — like sleep early, take good care of your body, invest in relationships with people and things that mean a lot to you — that we can follow. What makes these rules 'hard', is the fact that everyone works differently: therefore everyone needs a different set of rules in order to achieve happiness. My rules will never work (completely) for you, no matter how important they are to me, simply because you are a completely different person with a different norms and values and a different core (remember?).


Turns out we're a paradox: we're too complex to summarize, yet at the same time our quality of life depends on a very simple set of rules that can shape us both positively (if followed) and negatively (if not). The trick is to get to know yourself. Then the rest is a piece of cake.


all illustrations in this post are made by Merle (me)
please don't steal thank you

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