After my last post, a friend tweeted me and said, “Now that I know who I am not, who am I?”
It seems like most of our lives are centered around definition; around discovering who we are. Now you can get all metaphysical and state that we are all just pure consciousness and that the ego is the great pretender, seething for an identity. And while I can buy into that at some level, rarely does that sentiment chip away at the frostbite of loneliness and isolation that we feel when we just can’t seem to relate. We’re all looking to belong to something but before we discover where we fit, presumably we’ve got to determine who we are.
It almost seems en vogue these days to be in the midst of some form of existential crisis or another. The idea of the corvette-revving toupee-wielding middle-ager is so cliche it’s almost campy. Now we tattoo our bodies with zodiac signs and favorite song lyrics, name our children after Celtic warriors and obscure vegetables, and take up pole dancing as an alternative to actual physical fitness – all so we can carve out our own personal sections of humanity and stake claim to our very selves.
I can’t remember where we learned that to be is not good enough. We have to do and say and preach and act and show the world that we’ve got just a little more personal significance than the guy next door. And to what end? To become perpetual motion creatures keeping up with the Joneses only to discover that the Joneses are only who they are in comparison to you.
The Indigo Girl say that “the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” And isn’t “fine” precisely what we are all trying to capture?
What if who we are had nothing to do with the variable juxtaposition of the people and things around us?
I don’t believe we have the vocabulary or even the functional capacity to learn who we are without the process of elimination. If someone asked me “who are you” I would immediately start thinking of who I want to be, and gauge my life as it measured up to my ideal sentiment. God that’s depressing.
The problem with seeking an identity is that we are always going to fall short. No one of us is exactly who we want to be, and if we were there would be no room for personal progress. I’m always happier when I can clearly identify what I am not (or what I am not anymore) and feel happy about that. Experience is fluid, so if we choose an identity and hold fast to it despite an ever-evolving backdrop we suddenly become irrelevant. It reminds me of a certain conservative politician who clutches desperately to a belief about effective birth control when evidence to the contrary is literally staring her in the face; she couldn’t change her mindset because it would destroy her identity, as antiquated as it may be.
Are we “closer to fine” if we let go of the things by which we define ourselves? Can we exist in a state of perpetual “whatever” and still feel like we’ve got a grip on life?
When I make a choice today, I’m tempted to ask myself, “What am I trying to prove to the world?” The answers are usually quite piercing if I’m honest with myself. But sometimes that’s ok. Sometimes I want a definition. Otherwise I run the risk of letting everyone else define me, and knowing what I know, that could get dangerous.