Return of the Paper Girl

“And all at once I knew how Margo Roth Spiegelman felt when she wasn’t being Margo Roth Spiegelman: she felt empty. She felt the unscaleable wall surrounding her. I thought of her asleep on the carpet with only that jagged sliver of sky above her. Maybe Margo felt comfortable there because Margo the person lived like that all the time: in an abandoned room with blocked-out windows, the only light pouring in through holes in the roof. Yes. The fundamental mistake I had always made–and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make–was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.”– Paper Towns, by John Green


Those of you who have been keeping up with my blog for a while or who have browsed my page a little may have noticed that the theme of a “Paper Girl” in my own life and writing spans far past today’s entry. In fact, my previous blog on Blogger was entitled A Paper Town for a Paper Girl, a name that I never explained to my readers. The title comes from a quote in the novel Paper Towns by John Green (in my opinion, one of the best young adult writers of our time… but I digress). Paper Towns, narrated by Quentin (a self-proclaimed “band geek” without any actual musical talent), explores the intricacies of perception versus reality — in other words, can you really know a person based on a few memories and the way they act in public?

Quentin has loved Margo Roth Spiegelman, the beautiful girl next door, ever since he can remember. When their paths cross on a bizarre ninja quest, Q gains a deeper insight into Margo’s world — but when he looks for her in school the next day, she is gone, leaving only a few clues behind. Q and his friends mingle with the upper cliques as they embark on a journey not only to find Margo, but to find out who she really is.

Along the way, they learn about the concept of a paper town and how it relates, most figuratively, to their own lives. Not to give too much away, a paper town is something that is used in cartography — when mapmakers are mapmaking, they sometimes include a fake town here and there just for copyright purposes (that way, if they see the paper town resurface on another map, they know that it was directly copied from their own). Therefore, a paper town is a place that only exists on paper and never in real life. Stemming off of that definition, Margo describes herself as a paper girl, recognized for a certain persona that isn’t entirely real.

It took me a while to realize that I too was made of paper — in fact, we all are. People observe us in various social situations and then characterize us based on the pieces that they see.Tweet this!

While public perceptions of us may be somewhat accurate (after all, they are often shaped by the images that we ourselves put out), they seldom tell the whole story of who we are and who we want to be. But because we are so aware of these caricatures of ourselves, we often model ourselves after what others perceive in us, even if that may differ depending on the situation. For example, my personality is always a lot more vibrant among some people than others, not just because of my selective shyness, but because of subconscious expectations that I will act, move, and speak in a particular way. It makes me laugh when I hear all the adjectives people have used to describe me, because some deviate so far from the person I have always considered myself to be.

So maybe the true danger in all of this isn’t just the fact that we form ideas about people without really scratching the surface. Maybe our biggest problem is that we allow ourselves to be placed in that box. Does this make us fake, or take away from who we are in any way? No. Stereotyping and categorizing is perfectly natural and to be expected, to some extent. However, as time goes on, we should try our best not to let the paper versions of ourselves overcome the people we are inside.

10 Replies to “Return of the Paper Girl”

  1. Hi! Doubly thanks for the comment on my post – both for the comment itself, and for bringing me here! Now I want to read Paper Towns, and I’ve been reminded that the start of new semesters is a *good* thing – previously I was mostly dreading it. Ta! 🙂

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed! Thanks for the comment : ) Paper Towns is one of my favorite books… I love John Green’s writing and characters and the work he has done. I think you will really like it. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I think we all do have a paper side. I think we have to. If we truly want to understand others, we have to take in whatever we can as quickly as we can and evaluate as best we can, even with somewhat sketchy details.

    I guess it’s just important to realize we only see a small part of each person we come in contact with, and they only see a small part of us.

    Your article reminds me of the Woody Allen movie “Zelig”. The character Zelig instantly transformed himself into whomever he met. If he was with a doctor, he thought he was a doctor. Not really knowing who he was made him take on the personality of others. I think we all do that to some extent in an effort to get along with others. Though it may be a bit phony, the intention is still good and hopefully as you learn more, you can share more of who you really are.

    Great article…thanks!

    1. I’ve never heard of that movie before but that sounds like something I’ll definitely have to see! I think we all take on the roles that are expected of us to an extent, but there are a lot of people who seem to do what Zelig does — they practically morph into the person or people they are with. I remember in high school I had one friend in particular who went through about a thousand new personas and lifestyles, generally based on whom she was closest with at the time. I don’t know if she’s happy with the latest version of herself (I hope she is) but I do know that the girl she is on paper now isn’t a particularly accurate depiction of who she actually is, if that makes sense. Still… I understand why she does it.

      Thanks for the comment! : )

  3. You know, if you think about it, it’s not a bad thing necessarily to morph into someone you spend time with. You would just want to make sure that you are with someone who is smarter, nicer, etc…than you!

    Imagine hanging out with Gandhi and becoming more like him…

    You would at least learn to make your own clothes..


    1. Well, making my own clothes WOULD save me trips to the mall…

      Hahaha, I do think it’s good to emulate the qualities you admire in someone. I was trying to point out those people that change their dress, music, interests, etc. to be a part of something else and to fit that sort of definition.

      I wish I could be like Gandhi!

  4. I know what you mean. It’s funny but in my generation, we were very much about non conforming, except everyone wore bell bottoms, smoked weed and had long hair. Just how did we “non” conform? Haha.

    At any age, it’s always going to be best to be yourself, as completely as you can.

    1. I think that’s definitely a cross-generational thing, because I see people today who go out of their way to be “different,” when really they dress/act/talk the same way all of their friends do. Maybe it helps us feel comfortable before we really find our true identities.

    1. Thank you, Vanessa! I wish I had a concrete answer to that question. I guess that one of the most important things we can do is to keep growing by learning new things and taking advantage of new opportunities. Of course, people will always have their paper images of us, but I think that’s the best way we can better ourselves. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

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