My Secret Life as a Russian Spy

I just finished season one of an amazing show, and I can’t wait to start season two; but before I do, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on some thoughts I’ve been having.

First, The Americans. If you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out on great television. I’ll sum up the premise as best I can: It’s set in the 1980’s in the D.C. area during the Cold War and centers around the lives of two KGB operatives (Russian Spies) who are undercover living in the United States. These spies are not only posing as American citizens, but they are playing the part of husband and wife, raising their two American children (who have no idea their parents are in the KGB); and were “married” to add credibility to their cover, as ordered by their commanders back in Mother Russia.

You can see how this dynamic would make the relationship between Elizabeth and Phillip (those are their American names) extremely complicated, not to mention all the other roles they play as spies outside of their faux suburban home life, namely conning other people in order to obtain the necessary intelligence to carry out their mission. Often times sex is used as a means to gain information, an effective yet destructive tool that further muddies the waters in an already convoluted marriage arrangement.

There are other characters too: an FBI agent (who happens to live across the street); Nina from the Russian embassy who is feeding information to the FBI; and Martha, the secretary in the FBI office who thinks she’s in a relationship with Clark (one of Phillip’s personas), but is being played for information. All these characters interact with each other on various levels and it’s the uncertainty and instability in the relationships that become the driving force of the series. On a show of spies and FBI agents, it’s hard to know when someone is being honest or when they are playing a character in order to manipulate the situation. Many times both are true.

So, how does this relate to real life? Watching the Americans got me thinking about the dynamics of my relationships, how differently I may act from one social group to the next or even from person to person. In a way, we are all playing different characters of ourselves throughout the day, for example, acting one way in a professional setting and playing a different role at home or with friends. If I think about it, there seems to be countless versions of me, all of which vary slightly according to who I’m with at the time.

I’m not saying this to make myself sound disingenuous, or am I admitting that I intentionally con people. I’m just pointing out the complexity in our daily interactions with others and the dynamic nature of relationships in general. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about who I am as a person and I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same thing, but what does that even mean?

Who am I?

The question doesn’t seem to be as meaningful when you recognize the fact that we are always changing and adapting. To define yourself in a single moment in time is pointless because time is not static. We are not static. Maybe it’s better to ask where am I going? What is my life’s trajectory?

In literature, a character is often defined by how they change throughout the story. A good narrative focuses on a person’s journey through conflict. She is struggling as a waitress, but eventually works her way to Broadway; or he goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, then ends up a respected mayor in a small french village before being outed as an escaped convict. If we only focus on one point in a character’s story, we miss out on so many details that inform the context of their life’s trajectory.

I say all this because lately I feel like I’ve been pulled in a lot of different directions when it comes to the trajectory of my life. Part of me is interested in one path, another part in a totally different direction. While most of this struggle has been internal (being pulled from within), there are other characters in my story who ultimately play a part in the direction I choose.

How this relates to a Russian spy leading a secret life is this: until I have chosen the path I want to take, it’s important to continue to play all the roles, even the ones I will eventually give up on.

This is the part in my writing where I usually get stuck. I could say so much more about the different personas we portray or the different paths we have to choose from in life. I could go on about the intricacies of our various roles and relationships and how they themselves are like stories with their own trajectory. I could try to convince you to embrace the complexity of the relationships you’ve developed in your life and to stop worrying about what others may see as inconsistencies in who you are.

Or I could just stop writing and let you come to your own conclusions.

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