Living With the People We Pretend to Be - Dundurn
Aug 12, 2021

Living With the People We Pretend to Be

“We are who we pretend to be, but no one can pretend forever.”

If I could condense everything I wanted to say in my second book, Midnight, into a single sentence, it would be that. It was born from Vonnegut’s quote: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I believe he left out a crucial part that he was witness to during his time at General Electric: that we all live with a ticking time bomb in our heads, not towards mortality, but towards the destruction of our ‘selves’.

I saw this time bomb eventually go off, in other people as well as myself; a sudden upheaval and rejection of everything we associate with the person we were, things we grew tired or disgusted with: our attitude, our interests, our companions and acquaintances. Experiencing this sudden destruction of who I was, I sped through writing this book, slamming down almost one hundred thousand words in less than six weeks, trying to contextualize my fears, realizations, and the emptiness I experienced afterwards into prose.

And in those six weeks, I believe that I tried to live through Elias Roche and use his caricaturized struggles in the Diesel-Punk hellscape which was Lower Manhattan to try and shape myself again. Roche has lived under his own shadow long enough to want to claw his way out. He has been forced to realize who he was, and in doing so, relive who he was in horrible detail. He lived to regret and cringe at everything he had done, and tried to remake himself, all the while living in the same skin that performed horrible deeds and said horrible things.

This is not only a life lesson that I have taken account of firsthand, but one that I’ve seen seldom described in literature. There are plenty of novels detailing the journey to coming of age, or even stories of characters ‘finding themselves’ through hardship, but none in which the character turns around and says: “I hate the adult who came of age.”

If you understand, you understand, simple as that. But if you don’t, that’s okay, you will eventually.

Over the past few months, I’ve struggled with writing the third book in my Walking Shadows series. Writing and editing Midnight made me feel as if I had hit such a climax in my understanding of these characters, this world they inhabit, and myself. To break free from a crafted simulacrum of yourself should be the capstone to a life, to a series, to everything, right? Unfortunately for both my characters and myself, a cold hard truth we must always remember is that we all have to live with the people we’ve pretended to be.

But this burden, remembering the old us, is something we can channel positively. It’s something we can harness to put us on the right path. In the moment, I had thought this collapse was a horrible thing. It was only long after the dust settled that I realized it gave me the chance to craft myself again. It allowed me to begin the slow climb towards the me I think I should be.

And while it’s a long way to go for both me and Roche, it’s a path worth taking, and a path long overdue.

Brenden Carlson is a chemist and freelance writer. He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario. Learn more here.