Self As Remainder

Food for Thought

This is a picture of the cheesecake my daughter gave me for my last birthday. No, it’s not after I took a big bite; this is before I had any of it. Apparently, she also offered it to her friend who was visiting, and this is what was left of it for me. It’s fine; as they say, it’s the thought that counts.

But what exactly is the person we think about when we are shopping for a gift? He doesn’t need to physically exist for us to think about him. When we ask who John is, a typical answer might consist of his job title and achievements, like how we might introduce him before he gets up on a podium. But that’s not who we give a gift to or miss when we haven’t seen him in a long time.

If John writes a user’s manual for a kitchen gadget, we might not detect him at all in his words, but if he writes a poem, we would. Why is this?

Let’s say that the blue circle represents what can be defined in words about him and the red blob represents who he actually is. The overlapping area leaves no trace in our memories, like trying to grasp a holographic image of him. A description like “John is a technical writer” is in that area, and so are his words in the user’s manual.

What’s left of the two overlapping shapes is the person we think about when we shop for his gift. What’s left of the circle might be the part that annoys you about him, and what’s left of the blob might be what you like about him. Whether you love him or hate him, that leftover shape is your John. He exists in your mind because he doesn’t fit the circle perfectly.

Nobody can, but some people come close to it. We won’t remember them because there is nothing for us to hold on to. We might remember the information shared in a user’s manual, but we won’t remember the author. Perhaps we would if the author’s name on the cover was Jermajesty von Priestley, again, because such an unusual name wouldn’t fit in the circle.

The part that doesn’t fit will annoy some people and delight others. You cannot control it because everyone’s experience of you will have a different blobby shape. If you try to control it, you will end up fitting in the circle perfectly. There will be nothing left of you for anyone.