The sophomore had left college to "find herself," rather as if she were a misplaced set of keys. She had the notion that her mind was a collection of pockets and, if she searched in each one of them long enough, she would find the keys to unlock that self.
Months later, she told her parents that she was deeply into the independent study called "Who Am I?" And by now, surely, she had become a professional introspector. A very private eye.
The woman didn't know this sophomore very well: she was a friend of the parents. But she knew others her age who conducted their own missing-persons bureau: others who had turned inward to see what they could find and had found self-discovery a totally absorbing sort of trip.
The woman wasn't opposed in principle to interior travels. She knew too many people who went through life without even stopping to interview themselves. They were wind-up toys. They did, therefore they were. Until they stopped. They never asked who or why.
Yet so many, so early, seemed so inward bound. They focused more energy on who they were than on who they might become.
For every 17-year-old who actually "found" himself or herself, there was another who simply lost experience. For every 19-year-old who got closer to his or her psyche, there was another who withdrew.
There was a young man she knew who had spent his junior year in a dorm room rummaging through his mental pockets and never finding anything except lint. There was a 22-year-old in her neighborhood whose horizons were still limited to the first person.
She wondered if there wasn't an age at which our pockets are waiting to be filled rather than sorted. Prolonged psyche-tripping at 18 or 19 seemed rather like writing an autobiography at 10 or 11. Sooner or later, you run out of material.
There are people, more mystical than this woman, who believe that they were born with complete, coheret inner beings that only need to be uncovered and expressed. There are people, less mystical, who believe that they were born blank and then marked. Their selves are products of indelible chalk.
She had always figured that people were born with tendencies . . . potential . . . possibilities. But the "grew" selves. It wasn't the primal scene of birth that seemed most interesting, but the process of autiography.
Some of the most self-aware people had taken their chances first and their temperature second. They didn't put introspection as a barrier before experience. They knew themselves in retrospect, through their histories. As an old and understanding man had said once in Detroit. "My life has been on-the-job training."
It was odd, but those who always tried to get their act together before they acted sometims got stuck at the beginning. Those who thought of themselves as constantly improving sometimes learned more about their own character.
This sophomore was still on her own internal trip. But perhaps she, too, would soon go and make some new material.
After all, most people don't find themselves, they become themselves. And life has a way of interrupting the most hypnotic private eye.