When actor Austin Butler won the Golden Globes award for his performance as Elvis Presley on January 10, 2023, I was thrilled because I thought his portrayal was spot on. My mom taught me to be an Elvis fan, and I’d worked at Graceland as a tour guide during the summer of 1995, so I watched Butler’s performance with a critical eye. But he did such an amazing job capturing Elvis, his physicality on stage, his facial tics, his hand movements, and his voice. In a press conference after he won, a reporter asked Austin about how his voice still sounds a lot like Elvis’ voice. Austin replied he didn’t think he still sounded like Elvis, but said, “I often liken it to when somebody lives in another country for a long time. I had three years where that was my only focus in life so I’m sure there are just pieces of my DNA that will always be linked in that way.”
I thought his answer was quite brilliant. When we live somewhere for a long time, we pick up on and adopt some of the lingo, the cadence of the voices, the customs, the trends, the culture. It’s impossible to avoid it altogether. But this is not limited to geographic places. When we spend a long time in any community, friendship, family, or relationship, we embrace (consciously or unconsciously) the habits, attitudes, and elements of others’ personalities. Some of those changes are good: a couple bonds, a family grows together, the good of one rubs off on another.
But sometimes, when we must move on, whether by our choice or not, we don’t realize that we take the personality of the old place or people with us. We don’t realize that we are still living in the past and repeating those habits whether they serve us now or not. We enter a new era and set up a tent that may be worn and full of holes from the old country even though we don’t live there anymore. I’ve done this – I’ve brought my pain from other situations and neatly reconstructed the difficulties in a new time and place even though it does not belong there. Even though I’d be better off acknowledging the unwanted effects on who I’ve become and then working to dismantle any harm it may still cause.
Being cognizant of who we are based on where we’ve been – the places and the relationships – in order to determine if we want to keep those qualities in our new lives is an important way to make sure we keep the positive and discard the negative. We will always carry some of the previous parts of our lives with us, but we can try to make sure the good outweighs the bad as we go forward.
P.S. When I was in the process of writing this piece on January 12, 2023, I learned that Lisa Marie Presley died from cardiac arrest at the young age of 54. My heart breaks for the entire Presley family and my fellow fans. The Presley legacy will live on, but now with another tragic turn.