I stood in front of the mirror with my Splat hair dye. I was going pink this time. For good. I was sure this was the color for me, just like I was sure of green and blue before. No more changing. No more take backs. I was as sure as I ever was about anything… Not very sure at all.
As a young woman, I was having trouble picking a major, a part-time job, a style, and a hair color. Every day I woke up with a new idea. I want to be a CIA agent. No, a baker. No, a therapist. No…a photographer. My closet was full of different styles of clothing, from grunge to preppy to punk to sporty. Who would I be today? I’d ask, telling myself that I must pick who I am once and for all.
But that’s not how life works. People change. And that’s a good thing. It means we’re growing and learning and living. Maybe the only consistent thing about me is that I write, but that’s okay. Maybe I never have to choose who I am. Who am I? A being that is constantly changing and innovating. Every day, I am born anew. I bloom, rising like the sun every morning, and I have the opportunity to try again.
But why do I, and many others, have so much trouble deciding who we are? Because we only have one life to live, and there is not enough time. Because we only have one body, one soul, one mind to perceive the world and give back into it at this point in history, with this point of view, surrounded by these specific people. Have you ever felt like that? Like your time on earth is so narrow, so limited that you feel gypped? Well, according to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows that’s called onism.
- Onism: “the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die—and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.” –The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
As an introvert, I live life on the edge by reading. I dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail like Cheryl Strayed in Wild. I almost applied to study abroad at Oxford in England. I filled out the application, met all the requirements, and then… let the deadline to submit it pass by. But I don’t regret it. At 21, I’m happy with where I am and who I’m with. As someone with Bipolar Disorder, making snap decisions and bad judgments is something I need to be wary of. I tend to err on the side of caution. Sometimes I want to get married at Skate Country. Sometimes I want to sell everything and live off the land. Sometimes… my boyfriend has to tell me to “sleep on it,” so I don’t wind up telling my grandchildren I got married at a skating rink (what was I thinking??)
When I graduated high school, I put a Sylvia Plath quote on the back of my announcements:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked…”
I purposely shortened the quote to make it appear more optimistic. But I kept thinking about what Plath was really saying. I knew she couldn’t write anything without it being heartbreaking. I knew, too, that I couldn’t pick a quote to describe my future without it having some kind of deeper meaning. I know myself well enough to admit that I’m a drama queen. The tortured soul, and all that. This is what the rest of the quote said:
“One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
Was it an omen that I chose a particularly depressing quote to go on my grad announcements? No, I just loved Sylvia Plath. And I did not know that a year later I would sit in my dorm room crying, unable to decide if I wanted to study sociology and philosophy or linguistics. It was all up to me! …It was all up to me. I couldn’t make this decision. But what I could decide is that what I study in college or what hair color I have this month or what job I have doesn’t define me or my life. I can change my mind every day if I want. And I do change my mind, a lot. My family can’t keep up with whatever idea I’m obsessed with this week. Why should they? It’s bound to change. I’m 21.
But I think it’s more than just not knowing who I am and what I want to do with my life. It’s more than an identity crisis. I know who I am. I can’t choose anything because I want everything. I want to be a baker and a makeup artist and an actress and a lawyer and a yoga instructor. I want to be everyone and do everything. I want to… wait, there’s another Sylvia Plath quote for this.
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” -Sylvia Plath
We only have one life to live, but we want so much more. I want to experience life from other perspectives, through other minds, eyes, and hearts. From other places around the world. In different times throughout history. If you think about the root word of omnism, it’s omni-, which means all. Other words like omnipresent and omnipotent share this root word with omnism, and they reveal a more straightforward perspective on this made-up word.
Omnipotentadjective(of a deity) having unlimited power; able to do anything.
What omnism and Sylvia Plath have to tell us is more simple than it appears. We want to feel what others are feeling, to live what others are living… to be able to do anything. We want to Godlike power and knowledge. The hipsters can make it sound as romantic as they want, but that’s the truth. Wanting to make fire rain from the sky and rule the world is wanting power and knowledge, just the same as wanting to learn everything and be everyone. It’s a more noble desire, but the desire stems from the same place. No matter what you call it, all of us have a little bit of a God Complex in us. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, just something we should be aware of. It is better to want everything than to want nothing at all. Goals are what keep us motivated, what keep us moving forward. To want is to live. Without the most basic desires for food, shelter, and reproduction, humanity would go extinct. We want, as humans, more than anything to understand, to learn, to evolve. Without that desire, society would still be in the Paleolithic Era. Our desire to grow and our bodies’ capacity to accommodate that is what makes us human.
August B Pfizenmayer is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and student. She studies creative writing, specializing in poetry and creative nonfiction. She loves sweets and warm weather. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.