I really struggled last semester—and am still struggling—with deconstructing my own expectations of myself. I cannot expect myself to be the same person I was a year ago, a month ago, or even a week ago. Whether I am prepared or not, I am constantly growing and constantly changing. I set standards for myself of how I thought I should be changing rather than focusing on how I already had changed and could potentially change. In ignoring the progress I had already made in becoming my own person, I was doing myself a disservice. If I do not acknowledge the valuable progress I have already made, how can I possibly be prepared to continue changing in a healthy way? In my goal-setting essay I wrote that, “I want to learn how to get more comfortable with change, especially change that I did not expect or consent to.” I believe I finally am beginning to understand that the reason change made me uncomfortable, whether it was expected or not, is because I had not yet truly realized that I have control over my own life. I believe I felt out of control because of the unreasonably high standards I set for myself to always be perfect. These standards were unachievable. Every time I failed to meet my own expectations I felt even worse about myself because with each “failure” I expected myself to do better next time rather than confronting why I failed in the first place.
Going into this trilogy, I initially clung to Lilith because she was the only human among so many aliens that I did not initially understand. I wrote about this in the “To the Forums! 5: Allegory and Rejuvenation” where I said that I read Lilith as a representation of humanity. I think she was a comfort zone for me, but I was forced to let go of this comfort when Dawn ended, as we transitioned to Akin’s perspective in Adulthood Rites, and then shifted gears again when we transitioned to Jodahs’ perspective in Imago. I was definitely taken by surprise by this change; I expected Lilith to be the main protagonist for this entire series. But I am so glad my expectation was not reality, because I ended up connecting more with Jodahs than I ever did with Lilith. Out of curiosity, I looked up the etymology of the word “imago.” This is what it said:
“The name is due to the fact that such an insect, having passed through its larval stages, and having, as it were, cast off its mask or disguise, has become a true representation or image of its species.”
Before I read Imago, this did not mean much to me, but after reading Jodahs’ story of becoming its true self, this title made perfect sense. Initially, Jodahs thought that it was male. Its family expected it to be male, and those expectations transferred to Jodahs and became its own expectation of itself. After Jodahs realized it was ooloi it said, “I had just assumed I was male, and would have no choice in the matter” (547). I think that this shows how Jodahs had constructed an impossible expectation of itself. This line really resonated with me because, as I stated earlier, I did not realize that only I have control over my life. Jodahs struggled to realize this too, and Nikanj helped it do so. Jodahs told Nikanj, “‘I have too many feelings,’ I said. ‘I want to be your same-sex child, but I don’t want to cause the family trouble’” (548). Jodahs was torn between wanting to be its true self and not wanting to hurt its family. But Nikanj comforted Jodahs when it said, “You want to be what you are. That’s healthy and right for you. What we do about it is our decision, our responsibility. Not yours” (548). I believe this helped Jodahs realize that its life was its own, and that it should be what it wants to be unapologetically.
Jodahs only responsibility is to be true to itself, not to make sure that everyone else but itself is happy. Jodahs felt pressured to wear a mask and be something it was not. This connects to our course themes of harm and care. By not being who it was meant to be, Jodahs was not sparing anyone from harm, because its family wanted it to be happy. Jodahs thought it was caring for its family by trying to be something it wasn’t, but really it was just harming itself. I think this shows how easy it is to confuse harm and care. I think this same way of thinking is why I kept denying myself happiness. I thought that, by setting expectations/standards for myself I was creating goals for who I wanted to be, but I was actually just constructing an ideal version of myself that was impossible for me to ever achieve. This was very harmful, because when I did not meet those standards I thought less of myself and disregarded my own worth.
Of course, Jodahs’ life did not suddenly become easy because it was being its true self. Being yourself is only the first step in becoming “prepared to change and be changed.” Jodahs’ struggle was shown when it said, “I’m not learning. I don’t know what to do…I don’t want to keep being dangerous, hurting Aaor, being afraid of myself” (571). In response to this, Nikanj said, “Give yourself time. You’re a new kind of being. There’s never been anyone like you before. But there’s no flaw in you. You just need time to find out more about yourself” (571). This really stuck with me, particularly the line “Give yourself time.” In my ongoing journey of figuring out who I am, what I want, and how I fit into this world I know that I have definitely expected myself to find all the answers as quickly as possible. This was a mistake, because when I of course failed to immediately find those answers, I assumed that it was me that was flawed, not my way of thinking about it. But just how Nikanj told Jodahs, “there’s no flaw in you,” I now understand that there is no flaw in me either. I just need to take the time and the care to continue learning about myself, and to embrace that I will continue to change as I learn more. It seems like a never-ending cycle, but I believe it is a good cycle to subscribe to because the only way I will ever feel confident in who I am is if I keep taking the time to understand myself as I continue to change.
I know that I am not alone in this process, and that knowledge comforts and encourages me. Nikanj told Jodahs, “There’s never been anyone like you before.” This helped me understand that we are all special because we are all different. I think this is the only thing that we all have in common, that we are all unique. This knowledge helps me feel closer to people I don’t even know, and I think it is an answer to our course question of what brings us together. Of course, it isn’t the answer, but I think it is one of them. I believe this quote from Jodahs speaks to what I mean:
“The whole business was like Lilith’s rounded black cloud of hair. Every strand seemed to go its own different way, bending, twisting, spiraling, angling. Yet together they formed a symmetrical, recognizable shape, and all were attached to the same head” (742).
As individuals, we will each bend, twist, spiral, and angle in our own unique ways, but we will all be doing this together, on the same planet. I know that I am not perfect, and I will continue to work on dismantling my own expectations of being perfect. It will take time, but I have control over my life, and I will continue to do my best to prepare to change and be changed as I “begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.”