The most dangerous game to play is to try and emulate someone else. It can be something as trivial as someone’s way of speaking or someone’s way of dressing, but also something much more pervasive, to the extreme of emulating someone’s life completely. Obviously, we must always be a product of the world around us, which necessarily includes the people around us, but the distinction is that some emulations just occur more naturally than others.
Here’s a silly example of a natural emulation: I’m developing a slight New York accent (not the more sexy NYC one, but unfortunately, the less glamourous Long Island one). I never tried to say “law” like “lore” or intended on having the beginnings of a low back chain shift, but it just happened as the natural and unconscious product of spending the better part of a year with New York law students and most of my summer days in Long Island, where my job is essentially listening to people argue.
Here’s a less silly example of a unnatural emulation: when I used to play improv, here was my strategy. I would go to a mainstage show, observe who I thought was the funniest, and consciously try to copy that person’s game verbatim. I probably still do that to some extent, but that’s always a dangerous game (there, UCB) to play because the audience always picks up on how unnatural that looks. What I wish I knew earlier was just to play my own game, because whatever works best is whatever works for you best, not whatever works for someone else, because you may not have the same strengths (or weaknesses) as they do.
Which brings me to totems. I don’t ever want to lose a sense of who I am on the inside. Although it is admittedly nebulous and possibly impossible to ever know what makes us distinctly us, I also think that the gut is great at identifying ideas that just seem unnatural, inorganic, or foreign. There have to be some elements of our essence that we just know to be right, without feeling forced or contrived. So by the end of this summer, I’m going to make it my goal to perform a song at an open mic. I’m going to force myself to get back on the BJJ competition circuit (this whole “I want to get some more experience at blue before I compete” doesn’t quite work when you’ve been a blue for over three years). And maybe I’ll even play some improv with some people, without the self-imposed pressure of getting on a team. Not because I want to emulate someone else’s life, but because it just feels right.