I’ve been grappling a lot lately with what it means to be Nathan Kyle Hermanson. The most recent self-conflict came in the form of an email. I was writing a property management company about an apartment they had listed and within the first few words I found myself stuck.
“Hello. My name is Nathan Hermanson and I am a…”
You see in the past, I used to very clearly be able to state something like…
“Hello. My name is Nathan Hermanson and I am a young journalist living in Corvallis and I just so happened to notice your listing…”
Look, before you say anything, I acknowledge that I am an overly verbose person. An unnecessary storyteller. Just ask my coworkers. I’m the person that trails on and on about things, going off on tangents, much like the one I’m in now, about going off on tangents.
Where were we? Oh right.
I was stuck.
“I am a…”
What am I? A question that can stretch into existential dread, as it so often does for me. (Wahhh. Existential dread for a 23-year-old white male who lives in relative comfort. Could I be any less original?) When it comes to the email, the answer I settled on was Marketing Assistant. Which was accurate. It’s essentially my job title, but it still doesn’t sit right with me.
So let’s look at who I am, if you have a few minutes. Because I need to figure it out before my next email, or who knows how long I’ll sit staring at the dreaded Gmail box.
Let’s start with racial identity.
I am half-White and half-Filipino. Father’s side and mother’s side respectively. Let’s be clear though, at first glance, I am just your run-of-the-mill chubby white guy. Beyond the stubby squashed down “Cacho” nose and my slight squinty eyes, there is nothing in a passing glance that gives away the Pinoy in me. I am a white dude until I tell you otherwise.
And I was reminded of this all the time growing up.
Let me paint you a picture. I’m sitting on the couch at my cousin’s house. I’m having a good time, watching some goofy cartoon with my cousin-basically-sister when her dad walks in with a smirk.
“Hey cano. Ameri-cano. You look like your daddy, huh?” His laugh slots in somewhere around here. “You look like Vern. You look like your daddy.”
He meant well. I mean, he didn’t, but he’s an alright guy so I’m not going to feel victimized for being white. That’d be pretty bad.
But it did have an effect on me growing up. I don’t know that I realized it then, but I do now. I was uncomfortable in my own skin around my own family. I was, oftentimes, the one white kid amongst a sea of brown. I love my Filipino side and my Filipino heritage. Those on my mother’s side are the people I most identify with. The people I feel closest to. But it always felt like I stood out amongst them.
I always tell the story about how, later in life, I would go out with one of my best friends (who happened to be Filipino) and it would look like we were step-brothers. Me with my white pop and him with his Filipino mom.
It was always good for a joke and it didn’t ruin my life, but it had an effect.
Okay. So there’s that. I’m a mixed race kid who doesn’t really identify as either race, but as the jumbled up mess that I am. And it may have contributed to my reserved nature. Cool.
But what else am I?
I guess we can talk about the writing thing now. Sure.
In school, I was (again totally original) that kid who underachieved but was recognized as having some sort of talent or intelligence. I didn’t do homework often. I much preferred to blab with my pals and play video games after school than to pull up a chair and find answers to worksheets hidden deep within the pages of our massive textbooks. But the one thing each of my teachers did was compliment my writing.
“You’ll be a writer some day.”
“This essay is how you all should be writing.”
“Your writing is amazing, but you have to do your homework, kid.”
Now, I’m not sure how much of this I can attribute to the whole “everyone’s a winner” era, but I took it to heart. I wrote all the time. Wrote these little short stories that I’d pass out to friends. I eventually joined the school paper and that would lead into the next seven years of my life. Journalism.
I always sought the approval of others though. I don’t know that I ever wrote for myself, which is kind of a sad thought, but saying I did would be a lie. I wrote and I showed others, as I’m doing with this, hoping for heaping praise.
“You’ll be a big writer some day.”
“This piece is how THE WORLD SHOULD BE WRITING.”
“Your writing is amazing, but you have to make money, kid.”
I always called myself a writer, but I never fit any of the boxes that countless authors affixed to the title of “writer”. I didn’t write every day. I didn’t read every day. I didn’t do these things that would get me into the club, because I didn’t think I needed to. I guess it’s one part cocky, three parts lazy, and one part uncaring. I thought I’d just write something one day that would catch the right eye and I’d make something of it all.
Instead, I found myself working for a newspaper that was slowly draining my love for writing from me, wondering if this really was what I wanted to do for a living.
I don’t think I’ll ever write for publication again. I don’t know. At least not a newspaper. That world sucked the life from me, both in college and in the “real world”.
But I know I’ll write. And I know that I’m a writer. So I guess that’s one part of the “I am a…” that I can solidly commit to?
Eh. No one likes someone who identifies as a writer.
“I’m a writer and I’m working on this project that’s like a mix between Deadpool and classic fairytales, with a little bit of Twin Peaks mixed in? It’s great, you’ll love it. I’m still in the planning phases, but I swear I’ll get it done.”
What else identifies Nathan Kyle Hermanson?
I guess video games slot in here somewhere right?
Video games are very important to me. They were the things that inspired me to be a writer. The stories I found in games, the worlds that I felt a part of… I will carry them with me for the rest of my life. I carry them with me now and I don’t know if I’ll ever let go of them. More than once in my life, I pursued a career in video games. For a long while, video games and journalism had been smashed together. And then I thought about making them. And then I worked for a startup video game company and felt a little part of my passion for gaming disappear. Which isn’t meant to say anything bad about the company I worked for, but I guess it just says something bad about me?
So let’s see where that leaves us.
“My name is Nathan Kyle Hermanson and I am a mixed-race writer who passes as white and loves video games. I have so many questions about my life and the lives of people around me. I suffer from mental illness and I always want to cry but I never can. I hate myself and I don’t really know why. I try so hard to make other people’s lives better but I rarely put in the effort to make my own life better. I instead actively make my life harder, in turn, making the lives of everyone I care about that much more difficult. I am okay but I am also falling apart. I am so happy with where my life is but I’m so scared about where it may end up. I open myself up way too much to those who probably don’t care to hear it. I have a terrible sleeping schedule and I wish I had better self-control.
… I noticed an apartment you had listed and I was curious about what next steps would need to be taken in the application process.
Thank you for reading,
Nathan Kyle Hermanson.”
I think that’s good.
What? There’s a lot in there that I didn’t cover?
Maybe some other time.
Good night, Internet.