by Ellsworth Kelly
Not feeling particularly well, I spend the day belly-down in bed drinking hot chocolate and binge reading. I read a Mary Gaitskill short story collection (Bad Behavior, for those who know). I read a Mary Gaitskill novel (Veronica). I read 300 pages of The Fantasy Bond by Robert W. Firestone. I read You Are Having a Good Time by Amie Barrodale. By 5 PM my head is swimming with stories and I feel like a swamp creature: swollen eyebags, unbrushed hair, drowning in S’s oversized bathrobe. At 6 PM I get dressed in preparation for dinner. Rachel Comey jeans, Aritzia cardigan, hair in bun, swipes of concealer, a slick of red lipstick. When I look into the mirror, the girl who looks back bears absolutely no evidence of her day. I have slipped into my social identity, the version of myself that shows up at happy hours and house parties and drinks with friends. This is the version of me that caused an acquaintance to remark during my sophomore year of college: You’re always so put-together. And I thought, then and now: I’ve never been put-together.
I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between public and private personas, the version of us that comes out at work vs the version of that emerges at, say, Thanksgiving. William James referred to this as the “social self”. The Internet has only exacerbated our ability to slip in and out of different identities: who I am on Twitter is meaningfully different from who I am on Substack is meaningfully different from who I am with friends. Different platforms summon different selves. It’s seductive to believe that it’s merely different qualities that get exposed, slices of a more complete self lurking under the surface of the water, but I don’t know if I believe that. Instead, I think the version of ourselves that we expose in each situation is undeniably us—it’s the self summoned by context. Each version has as much legitimacy as any other version.