I can pick up accents. It's kind of a gift.
Drop me anywhere in the western hemisphere (so far) and I can pick up the cadence, the lilt, the structure and the pronunciations of someone else's mother tongue. Places I've experimented with this include, but are not limited to, Wisconsin, Canada, New England, the Deep South, Ireland and England. Scotland is the lone exception. It it an impossible - though beautiful - accent.
And I used to do impressions.
As a kid I had this great Ronald Reagan catchphrase. I don't even remember it now, but my mother would have me do it for her friends, my teachers would laugh with pride at my political wit, and late at night I would practice it for my inevitable audition tape for SNL. I was hilarious.
Oh, and I changed my name. A lot.
Karen was just too... plain. Homely. I filled an old mead notebook with practiced signatures of Callie, Kali, Kim, Kat, Karin, Kari, etc, etc. Nothing stuck, though, apart from a 5th grade English teacher in a bolo tie who nicknamed me Irish, on account of my auburn hair and super shortness (you know, like a leprachaun).
Only recently have I put my finger on the pulse of this weird and slightly disconcerting talent. I am always trying to be someone else. And when someone else doesn't work, I conform quickly and effortlessly.
Nearly every personality test (and teachers and most friends I have) told me I was an extrovert. Life of the party, friend to everyone, comfortable being out front and in charge, ready for action. This was me. This was who I wanted to be. Growing up, I would throw affection and attention to anyone who would return it. I'd cast my net out looking for a bite, a positive response, affirmation, and love.
Being loud and gregarious - and well, let's face it, dramatic - was the best way to get noticed. This was the Karen people wanted, I thought. But this Karen... this Karen was so uncomfortable, unhappy, and afraid. Being me was exhausting! Actually, it is exhausting! Because I'm still trying to figure out who Real Karen is (and I have the sneaking suspicion Real Karen is an introvert).
Even today, I mimic what I see and hear around me, quick to mirror the images I perceive to be normal, better, prettier, smarter. And I do this a lot here. Without even realizing it, I sit with an Irish friend and I project her beautiful words and phrases back at her. I replace my midwest tongue with a manufactured Irish brogue and, like a reflex, think to myself, "There, that's better. I'm Irish now."
What am I trying to hide? Who am I trying to be? Why can't I just, you know, be me? Karen, from Kansas. (or Kah-ren, from Kahn-sas, as the case may be).
This quote scares the crap out of me. Today at 34, three great kids, a husband I love, a new life abroad, and I'm still asking,
How has God made me to be?
You know me, You know me, You know me.
I'm trying to drop the accent; the faux-Irish one, that is. Nearly three months in, and it's harder than it should be. I'm Karen, from Kansas. And I still don't know what I'm doing here, who I'm supposed to be here, where I fit or how this will all work out.
It's a little hilarious when you think about it. Mid-30s me, still a mess. But I think, deep down, I'm not alone in the mess. I think you might be here with me, too. I think, if we were to be honest about it, there's a lot of us here, trying to figure out who we really were made to be.
Then again, it could be just me.
Make me feel better. Are you a mess, too? Can we cut the crap together, leave Reagan in the 80s and just be real?