“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.