amanda lynn ake

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Welcome to My Glass Treehouse: A Writer's Life. I write about books and writing struggles and mental health.

The Recreation of a Self

The Recreation of a Self

On my desk sits a small square drawing that I fiddled with at the beginning of my sophomore year in college. I drew a wispy branch of a cherry tree and in weird blocky letters added a Haruki Murakami quote that I had discovered over the summer: “Have you ever had that feeling—that you’d like to go to a whole different place and become a whole different self?” That feeling, the one which began the process of me shedding my old identity and searching for a new one, settled under my skin during sophomore year. I was living, for the first time, on my own and away from my parents. I had shed my skin as this sheltered, homeschooled, indoctrinated girl and I was standing in this place of cluelessness because I had no idea who I was without all those labels. When a religious community defines who you are growing up, who are you without that community? 

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I remember those late winter evenings, after I served as the librarian’s assistant, walking to the bus stop. Between the campus and the stop was a long avenue, unlit but for one lamp at each end. The campus was empty…My father had told me, when I was five, that a person was in danger only when another person was around. When nobody was near me, I was safe; I could even imagine a different life.
— Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

I love those moments when you stumble across a particular passage in a book and it just resonates. This passage from Yiyun Li's memoir was one of those for me. I can remember being very young, back when the tiny religious bubble I lived in was the only world I could imagine, and having moments like Li describes here in her memoir. When I wasn't surrounded by my family, my church, my friends, I sometimes tried to fathom who I would be if I weren't who I was. What my life would be like. 

I think my favorite thing about exploring cities by myself is the ability to completely lose oneself in the anonymity of it. My favorite pastime on busses and subways and in crowded cafes is that of imagining the lives of strangers. I take their physical appearance and their mannerisms and turn them into characters, giving them occupations and backstories and secrets. And then I pretend that they are doing the same about me. I wonder what story they’ve made up, what make-believe identity they imagine for me. Maybe, in their minds, I’m an artist or a nerdy academic or the kind of girl who stays up late at night to listen to music and drink beer with friends. Can they see that I am lonely? Can they see my racing thoughts, the anxiety of clenched hands? 

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A few weeks ago, I ordered fake glasses online. I’ve always longed to have bad eyesight. I always felt that it was a badge of honor, a sign of late nights reading under dim lights. I’ve always imagined that a version of me that wore glasses would look studious and serious and indifferent to other people’s opinions. Of course, this fantasy is fueled by the fact that I am and always have been extremely aware of what others think of me. This self-consciousness is likely one of my worst characteristics and one that has always held me back from so much authentic action. But it’s always likely because I myself am not sure what I think of myself. I never have been. 

Today I wore my glasses to one of my favorite coffee shops, Chrome Yellow. My photographer roommate caught me as I walked out the door and made me stand in the living room in front of the wall of books so she could take a photo of me. You look like a librarian, she said laughing. I told her, That’s why I bought them. 

But I also bought them because I like the person that I appear to be when I put on glasses. That doesn’t really make sense when I put it down into words, but it makes sense in my mind. When I put on glasses and I go to a coffee shop to sit silently in the company of strangers, I feel like a different person. I feel intelligent and certain and in control. I feel as though I really am a different person than I was when I started college, I really am in control of deciding who exactly I am and who I want to be. If I can decide to alter my appearance to fit the image I have of myself (and if that version of me is simply accepted by the world as fact), then can't I decide to alter other, core parts of my identity? Won't they be simply accepted by the world as fact? 
 

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‘It bothers you, doesn’t it’ Mia said suddenly. ‘I think you can’t imagine. Why anyone would choose a different life from the one you’ve got. Why anyone might want something other than a big house with a big lawn, a fancy car, a job in an office. Why anyone would choose anything different than what you’d choose.’ Now it was her turn to study Mrs. Richardson, as if the key to understanding her were coded into her face. ‘It terrifies you. That you missed out on something. That you gave up something you didn’t know you wanted.’
— Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

{Disclaimer 1: I’m planning to write a separate post about Little Fires Everywhere because HOLY SHIT I have a lot of things to say about it. Like. Wow. My boyfriend bought a copy for me at Christmas, but I got distracted by other books and somewhere totally forgot that I owned it until last week when I discovered it on my little book cart / nightstand. And I swallowed it up in just a couple of sittings.} 

{Disclaimer 2: I'm realizing this post is alllllll over the place, but I'm just going with it because I really love these photos from Chrome Yellow and I want to share them.} 

I connected with the character of Mia so much as I got to the end of Little Fires Everywhere and I couldn't help but tally up all the parallels in our narratives. I chose to go to college to pursue what many considered to be an impractical, frivolous career. I struggled to support myself and pay my own rent (though my version of Mia's three jobs was one job and student loans). I made choices that were rejected and criticized by the family. I ultimate chose to leave the path that was laid out for me, that was expected, to pursue a path that I felt was the only one that could possible make me happy, bring me fulfillment in life. 

During the passage describing how Mia loaded up the Rabbit with her belongings and drove across the country to make a new start and I feel a hunger inside me, a need to drive to a different part of the country and start over. Have a chance to totally start fresh. 

Sometimes you need to start over from scratch.
— Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

East Pole Coffee Co.

East Pole Coffee Co.