Identity

Who am I? What do I call myself? How do I see myself? How do I sit in relationship with others? What does this say about me? Who am I separate from others? Am I anything without reference to others? Is any of us?

Sometimes I think removing myself from civilization will show me, finally, who I “really” am; a simple cabin in the woods somewhere, a few months or a year of living my own personal Walden to let the essence of ME free herself from the din of self-conscious nagging (What does this thing I’m doing say about me? Would so-and-so like me less if I admitted to liking such-and-such?) that goes on in my head so often. But the truth, I suspect, is that there is no ME essence. There is no static ego. No “soul” to speak of. Not in any of us. Not in the way most of us grow up believing, anyway.

There is only an ever-replicating conglomeration of experiences; narrativized into memories; serving as a scaffold for the collection of ideas that forms our self-image from moment to moment. And even as we feel this process as an immutable SELF, the ground shifts beneath us. Our memories are weak; fluid. They change as we change. They morph in support of new realities; new narratives as we go through life. Most of us don’t even feel it happening. We feel the same. We tell ourselves we are the same. We cling to labels and affiliations. Indeed, human civilization as we know it might cease to exist were it not for such tendencies.

But here I am; very much aware of this process. Too aware? Perhaps. Well, too aware to make a proper cog, anyway. Or maybe that’s just self-flattery. Whatever it is, where most people tend to see themselves as stones in the river, I feel more like the water. There are times when I feel I’ve lost myself altogether; unsure what parts of me are truly ME and what parts have been adopted to please others or get along in various situations I’ve found myself in. Are any of the things I like actually THINGS I LIKE? What does that even mean, really?

And then I remember that the important thing is not where I might have picked up this or that bit of myself. The important thing is who I am, moment to moment. It’s what I enjoy, now. Maybe I do like Westerns today because my brother liked them when we were kids. Does that make it mean any less? In a way, it makes it mean more. It’s not only an interest, it’s evidence of a relationship. Why should that mean less to me than some ideal of “authentic” discovery, whatever that even means? I carry pieces of everyone I’ve ever known. Every relationship I’ve had has changed me; and that’s the way I want my relationships to be. I don’t want to be static, and collect static friends and acquaintances so we can all reinforce each other’s stasis. I want to be changed by the people around me, and I want to change them in return.

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