I spend a lot of emotional energy trying to be interesting. It’s not enough to be just Kate, a third-generation Californian born in Hollywood and living in Oakland, a daughter, sister, wife, mother. A writer. A knitter. No, I feel I must embellish.

To be fair, I live in an ostensibly cool place packed with interesting people, so the bar is high. In the Bay Area, it’s hard not to regularly have the experience I imagine Ivy League freshmen have — a certain sinking feeling, almost a panic, at the realization that rather than being Top Dog at Small Town High, they’re now just one of many A++ scholars on campus. Around here, there’s always someone more beautiful, more talented, more hip than you.

It’s embarrassing, to admit my desire to stand out, to be different. So eighth grade. It’s uncomfortable to reveal the pride that lurks behind the impulse to be more. I can’t be “just a soccer mom” — I have to be a soccer mom with, say, a nose piercing and a snake tattoo coiled across my collarbone who teaches belly dancing and Kundalini yoga while the kids are in school.

I’m tired of trying to be interesting. It’s too much pressure, and I’ve got enough to do, what with working and raising two kids and staying married. But there’s something threatening about letting go of the striving to be sparkly — a fear that an “ordinary” life just isn’t enough. How do I settle in to the person I am, and release the craving — the hubris, really — to be more? And how do I know whether the impulse to get another tattoo or write a book or learn to ride a motorcycle comes from some kind of “pure” creative expression or whether it’s me trying again to prove that I’m “cool”?

My subconscious is tangling with these questions. In a recent dream I was standing face to face with God — who happened to be manifesting as a woman dressed in a fancy white ball gown encrusted with pearls. We chatted for a while about this and that and then she plucked a pearl from the bodice of her dress. “Here,” she said, pressing it into my palm. “Hold this and remember that you’re already whole.” The next day I bought a single pearl to wear on a long necklace, close to my heart.

That’s it. That’s what the striving to be interesting is about, for me: An attempt to feel complete, to convince myself that there’s nothing else I need to be — or can be — but myself. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes as I’m edging toward the old truism about how we’re all supposed to “just be ourselves.” But it turns out the cliché is literal: there’s nothing else a person can be. Being myself means living from the inside out, rather than outside in — noticing the texture and vitality that’s already inside me rather than trying to create it with whatever trappings signify coolness at the moment.

This is humility, I guess. And I continue to be surprised to learn that when I fall into the state of being humble, it’s a relief rather than a humiliation. Some inner gear clicks into place and for a moment I see that I’m not any better or worse than anyone else, and that this is just true, no matter how many tattoos I have. Sure, this state is hard to maintain — in fact, if I try to conjure it myself it dissipates almost instantly — but the flashes of it I do enjoy remind me that being myself doesn’t need to be some tiring task or performance. It’s just me. Just Kate.

About Kate

Things are weird in the wide world -- and like everyone else, most days I'm used to it. But to shake things up for myself, I like to notice and write about stuff that strikes me as both beautiful and strange, fascinating and repulsive, sweet and sour -- like how the steamy, stinky air that comes up from the BART vents at 16th Street Mission reminds me of being twenty-two, apparently immortal, and in love.

8 responses »

  1. Amber says:

    I don’t just like this post, I LOVE it. It hits close to home… I’m often afraid that my need for approval and uniqueness are driving me, rather than true interest or creativity. Your dream of God was beautiful, perfect even. I might just buy a pearl – to remember.

  2. sometimes being yourself is more interesting than being interesting

  3. A new image of God as entirely good, to add to my album of sometimes more twisted images. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Anonymous says:

    A lovely ephiphany. A true understanding of humility. I am reflecting on your story, your dream and the pearl in it and the biblical story of the one who searched all over for the “great pearl” and when he/she found it, gave up everything for it…somehow side by side those stories speak to me. Thank you.

  5. jewlee says:

    O my dear, dear friend. Your words, thoughts and feelings are so beautiful and true. Thank you for sharing yourself.

  6. Ernie says:

    Another great article Kate. Marie really enjoyed it too.

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