Origin Myth

Megaphone

Hey Megaphone,

I never know what to say about myself. Every couple of days I meet someone new or I have to introduce myself in some online forum or give a synopsis of my life story. My life story is really weird. I was adopted as an older teenager. One of my parents is in prison. I grew up in unsafe places with conditions that aren’t fun to talk about. Really simple questions sometimes lead me to having to explain something I haven’t really made sense of for myself yet. Should I just lie? What can I do to make this easier?

Sincerely,

Long Awkward Backstory

Hey LAB you have come to the right place! I myself have a very mysterious past, and I’ve learned to deal with it in a couple of ways. It’s simple.

1. Dodge. You don’t owe anyone the exact and unabridged truth of your life. If the question is something like, “what’s your dad like?” and you don’t want to tell them he’s in Chino doing twenty years, be vague. Consider the questioner: does it matter or are they just making conversation? You don’t owe anyone the gory details, especially if they’re asking lightly.

2. Lie. If someone asks you where you grew up and you hate the answer to that question, make something up. Tell them that you grew up in North Dakota before becoming a bootlegger and falling in love with Daisy Buchanan. Tell them you were born on Vulcan but your parents sent you to earth when you first failed at logic. I like to think of this like comic book characters and their various origin myths. I myself have several. Usually when someone asks me why I was adopted I tell them I was raised by wolves until I was a teenager. It’s a good line, and it usually shuts people up. Fiction is better than fabrication. Honesty is usually the best policy and keeping multiple lies straight is hard. Be good or be good at it.

3. Just say no. This one is the hardest, because we give people access to us by answering questions like these. People are trying to get to know you and establishing firm boundaries often makes people feel like you don’t like them. You can do this, but it’s tricky. When asked something you don’t want to answer, you have to give it to them straight. “I’m enjoying this conversation and I’m flattered that you want to know, but I’m not comfortable talking about that part of my life right now.” Try making it your own. There are a lot of ways to say this.

The last thought I have  for you is the hardest one, LAB. Those stories about your origin, your family and your difficult upbringing are powerful. They belong to you and only you. It’s entirely up to you how they become part of your story. You can tell it ruefully, tearfully, airily or not at all. You can tell your closest friends everything they want to know, or you can lock it up in your diary forever. I hear you saying you haven’t figured your whole self out yet, and that’s ok. We’re all a work in progress. But don’t be afraid of that power.

Hoard your story until you’re ready. You don’t owe it to anyone but yourself.

I leave you with the modified wisdom of the Batman: it’s not where you came from or who your folks are or where you’ve been. It’s what you do that defines you.

 

Keep your head up,

Megaphone

Submit a question or comment to the Megaphone at [email protected] or follow Meg Elison on Twitter: @paganmeghan.