The animal inside me


Hint: it has a thick, ever-changing skin

I’ve been reading the short story collection by Rachel Rose that’s quite rightly longlisted for this year’s Giller prize. It’s called The Octopus Has Three Hearts. Animals figure prominently as fascinating characters and devices, like metaphors on growth hormone. I love how she’s got me thinking. 

I slowed to a crawl over the following dialogue between a chameleon, named Charlie, and Sarah. 

“Consider me your soul.” 

“My soul is a chameleon?” 

“That’s why you have problems. You are slow and beautiful and change everything about yourself according to the company you keep.”  

Oof. That hit me square in the gut. 

Not too long ago I described myself as a chameleon in a job interview. The person sitting across from me was quite openly puzzled at this. I went on to explain that I adapt to not only situations and surroundings but also the people I’m working with or for. After years as a professional communicator and writer in business, I learned to be quite proud of this ability.

I could put myself in other people’s shoes, anticipate how an audience or reader might react and craft messages accordingly. I made people feel at ease so they would trust me with information and with the task of putting the right words into their mouths or the emails they send. I had a knack for delivering feedback and ideas that landed with the oxymoronic softness of a weighted blanket. 

My former colleague’s puzzlement may have been justified. If I’m a chameleon, who is Lisa exactly? 

It’s been a year since I left my routine of office work, regular human interaction and consistent paycheques. Embarking on a break and a dream to establish a creative business as a yoga teacher and entrepreneur, I thought I was being unapologetically myself. I was attempting to integrate my life and my work and my hobbies and passions in one big fun mess of possibility. 

I’d already been working from home due to the pandemic, with fewer social interactions, but the constant work connections still had me shifting from green to red to blue to yellow. As I stripped all of that away to build a new way of being, of working, I slowly removed the things that activated my chameleon instinct. 

What’s left is me. A lot of time with myself. Nothing and no one to adapt to. Even the majority of my online yoga classes are taught to students with cameras off, enjoying their own interpretation of my guidance. My world has shrunk considerably. I know that’s the case for many of us these last years and a privilege, a choice I made, but it bears acknowledging and assessing. 

I haven’t quite decided what to make of this yet, other than to note how strongly it grabbed my attention and allow myself to wonder why, to be open to knowing the reason and the next action for me when it bubbles up from deep in my guts. Once they’ve settled thanks to the ginger tea I’m sipping now. 

A good starting place is considering, who am I when I’m all alone? How would I like to be in my own company? Well, kinder, for sure. I’ll start with a little self-compassion. 

Any other chameleons out there? Who are you when you’re not adapting to the environment?

📸 George Lebada from Pexels

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