This has been sitting on my Google drive for a while and I haven’t written anything on here in over a year so what the hell…
My latest idée fixe is the concept of identity. Who the fuck am I? How do I define myself? What is left when the artifices of the outside world are stripped away? As a person who likes to buck against the system and eschew labels it’s a hard thing to define in a satisfactory way.
Sure, labels are easy markers to denote things we know about ourselves and other people. It’s efficient. But the whole does not equal the sum of the parts. How you define certain qualities may not be the exact same way another person does and vice versa. Thus, the buttons we rush to pin on our jackets may be defined by someone else.
John O’Donohue, Irish poet, philosopher, & scholar, spoke of wanting to belong, of labeling ourselves in order to fit into a predetermined mold that resonated deeply.
“… many people are frightened of the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them. This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside in their souls. Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise. We settle for something that is safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts…”
I’ve struggled, especially the past few years as the gap between myself and others my age has only seemed to widen, with defining who exactly I am, where I belong. As a 1980 baby I get lumped in with the Gen Xers, but the people I’ve made meaningful connections with, deeper friendships, politics and humor aligned, are Millennials. Yes, this means I occasionally make references to things none of my (younger) friends know, which makes me feel old, and like an outsider. But similar things happen with people my own age.
What are 39 year olds doing right now? A quick google search will give you a myriad of lists of things to accomplish before you’re forty including “grow a salad for dinner” and “go camping by yourself” (a surefire way to get murdered). On the other hand, this same list has “clean out the attic and basement” (lol, no one can afford houses anymore, Jerry) so I’m not too sure how in touch with reality this source may be.
Most of the people I know in my age bracket have small to medium-sized children and are doing domestic things on Tuesday nights, like helping their mini-mes with homework & projects, or going to family dinners, or dealing with marriage/long-term partner paraphernalia. I do literally zero of these things. I do remember a time I did do those things, in my own fashion, but that was nearly a decade ago and it was definitely never the idyllic, blissful, thankful family life I see bleeding through my phone screen. (Please see Larissa’s Poor Parenting Choices, volumes 1 through 12, paperback, 2057.) Other than an occasional, “oh hey, we line up with political issues” I’m at a loss with how to reconnect with these people.
I straddle two generations and I often find myself wondering if I was socially, mentally, or otherwise stunted by not taking the time to figure myself out until a decade after everyone else. (Please see Larissa’s Poor Life Choices, ages 18 to 30, out in paperback & audiobook in 2059, narrated by Morgan Freeman and Olivia Coleman.) (Also, everyone needs to have someone in their life who will tell them they have a choice at every juncture. Yes, even the shitty junctures where it’s choosing between moldy banana bread and moldy pancakes.)
I do my own thing. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way: plunked down in the middle of a society where no one seems to have lived the same experiences as you due to the order of your life choices. This is another problem. Labeling yourself by labeling all the things you’re not. I’m not a housewife. I’m not a 20-something who can party all night. I’m not a person who does domestic things like owning a real house. I’m not a mother who still has to corral her children in the grocery store. And, according to my 18-year-old, I’m not a person who can get away with saying a particular piece of music slaps.
But rather than trying to cram the proverbial square peg into a round hole I’ve decided to just be. It’s exhausting trying to figure out where I fit in the social structure or if it’s acceptable to act a certain way based on age or environment. It’s much easier to forget about the expectations everyone has of me.
E.E. Cummings, American poet & playwright, among other things, summed this up beautifully: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight; and never stop fighting.” This sounds exhausting, but less so than trying to fit myself into a mold someone else tried to cram me into.
In a similar vein, Amanda Palmer’s song “In My Mind” had been running through my head all day when I stumbled upon this quote from Robert Penn Warren, American poet and novelist. “…the self is never to be found, but must be created, not the happy accident of passivity but the product of a thousand actions, large and small, conscious and unconscious, performed not ‘away from it all’, but in the face of ‘it all’…”
Honestly, what would I gain by dunking myself, Joker style, into a vat of premade labels? Would I feel calm knowing exactly where I fit in the world or would I kick against the pricks, unsatisfied with something that seems too easy? Would I hope to gain a purpose in life? What do people really want by asking that question anyway? It’s grandiose, pretentiously self-serving, and places an extraordinary amount of stress on your shoulders. Instead, asking what can I do with my life that’s important is realistic, achievable, and allows you to accumulate many small, but important things that lead to life satisfaction. No, it’s not the answer to life, the universe, and everything. It is a decent way to create one’s own self-image rather than floating through life on the boat of complacency.
I still forgo labels whenever I can. I don’t like people thinking they can get a canned impression of me at a glance. Be that as it may, I know I’ll get labeled whether I provide them or not. So yes, beyond the readily apparent white, cis woman labels please add head-in-the-clouds traveller, idealistic Lucky Charms consumer, and depressed muppet. These do not define me. They are merely part of me. I’m still, at 39, trying to define what “me” is but I think I’m closer than I was at 20.