Monday, June 7, 2021

BY REQUEST: "The We Who is Me" or "How Trolls are Made"

© Judith Cullen 2021

This is my avatar - Caledonia. This is also me. Some people don't get that concept. My late Mother insisted in referring to Caledonia as if she were something other than me, and it surprised me how much that bothered me. I could not help her to understand. Not everyone who uses an avatar (for whatever purpose) has the same connection that I do. Many of them do. Why would that be?

It's a difficult concept to express. People who know me only in the physical world struggle to understand it - to grasp that the connection is something beyond fantasy. People who met me initially in the virtual world, and then meet my physical self often comment that they see a resemblance.

Let's break it down: Cale is six feet tall and on the athletic side of "willowy." The athletic and the height were deliberate choices on my part because they are things I never have, and probably never will be physically. She has long, raven hair. I was a brunette once, and my actual hair is so thick that I don't dare wear it long lest I be strangled by it some moonless night. I'm short, round, salt-and-pepper graying, and I walk with a cane. That's the differences.

I may not be everything that Cale is on the surface, but she is almost everything I am otherwise. I don't pretend to be someone else. She is the virtual manifestation of almost everything I am, and a very few things I would wish. There is very little differentiation between us: I am she, and she is me - except that she could reach the top shelf in my kitchen without the aid of a long-handled wooden spoon.

What's more, Cale is who I might have been had I not been introduced and listened to so many damaging scripts in my early years, sometimes from people I loved. Messages that left marks I still struggle with: I was told I was overweight long before I actually was, I got all the same warped cultural signals about beauty that every woman of my era was raised with. Was I told I was smart, talented, clever as often as I was told, "If only you were . . . ."? Nope!

There are still some days when I catch myself in the mirror and see a troll. I have to stop and remind myself that what I am seeing is not who I am. I am seeing a reflection that was crafted for me from my earliest childhood memory. Cale is the "If only..." I might have grown up to be if I'd had control of my self-image, if only I had not had to endure "If only..." so many times. Cale is, in some ways, more me than I am - she's me if I'd had more choices.

Those things that are the important things: who I am inside, how I feel about people, how I treat them, my talents, my skills, my mistakes, my victories, my accomplishments, the inevitably painful lessons - those are the things that connect the two of us. They are our common ground.

So the troll still shows up, looming above the bathroom sink. But she's balanced in the blackened mirror by the expression of me I created based on my self-awareness, and decades of self-knowledge and experience. When I question the validity of this connection, I look at all the things the we-who-is-me have accomplished: skills, creative endeavors, enriching relationships. They have all contributed positive things to my life - the realities blending together into my whole.

This was brought on by reading a friend's facebook post, where they were told outright that they were ugly. (By the way, no he is not!)

"... If you say, “You’re ugly” to an ugly person — no credit
for honesty, which must always be a discovery, an act
that qualifies as an achievement. If you persist
you’re just a cruel bastard, a pig without a mirror,
somebody who hasn’t examined himself enough..."
~ Stephen Dunn's "Propositions"

So yeah, I still struggle. I admit to still being afraid each time I meet a virtual friend for the first time in the physical world - afraid of the disappointment. But in reality, it doesn't matter. We all have mirrors, and many of us were raised with the same skewed cultural messaging. Cale and I, we know who we are. The people who cannot see any farther than the differences? They missed that Cale is the outward reflection of who I am inside - the billboard advertisement of inward grace. They only prove how insidious that cultural programming is: they became trolls, and they don't even realize it.


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