I was listening to a podcast talking about early Dylan, and how he was influenced by Woody Guthrie, and was forming his own identity. And as I sat there, the whole concept of "identity" jumped out at me, because for the first time in my life, I thought "Identity? What does that even mean?"
Suddenly, the whole concept of finding oneself seemed silly, even childish; and when I brought this up to my therapist tonight, he said, "Congratulations, you're no longer an adolescent."
Like a lot of people, when I was younger (and not that much younger) I was obsessed with figuring out who I was. It's normal, I suppose, but after trying on different identities--writer, punk, actor, bisexual, functioning alcoholic, insomniac, and severely depressed person. I didn't want to be a phony, I wanted to be authentic.
But what's authenticity? It's one thing not to lie about who you are; it's another to obsess over it.
When I was younger, I used to wonder "If I lived a hundred years ago, what would I be like?" But this is a false premise--there is no "you" without your circumstances, there is no "you" a hundred years ago. Granted, for some this question is really "what was life like in different circumstances", but I and my friends would wonder what kind of life we'd be living in different times--would I be a housemaid? or schoolmarm? or work in a factory seventeen hours a day? But we'd picture ourselves, our own selves, not some other person similar to ourselves.
There is no Platonic "you". You are the sum of your experiences. If my father hadn't died, if my family hadn't moved, if I hadn't gone to West Chester, if my great-grandfather hadn't gotten on a boat and come over to the U.S., if my mother had eaten something disagreeable the day I was conceived, and didn't conceive until the next day--I wouldn't be me. So many tiny actions, the infinite ways that I could've been a different person, that even the concept of "identity" starts to fall apart as any meaningful measure of worth.
You are the sum of millions of years of DNA; part of you is your parents, part of you is your grandparents; somewhere in your mitochondria--itself probably in origin a foreign bacterium, so that even part of your own body was originally a different species--is DNA that goes back to your mitochondrial Eve, so that your very makeup is shared by other people; your DNA is both unique and shared. Your life is unique and shared with those around you; remove a person from your past, and you remove yourself.
I have values; I like certain things and hate others. I know who I love, and who I don't. But does it matter? Do I need to carry around a label in my head, do I need to identify as a writer in order to enjoy writing? I'm a married woman and (now) monogamous; so am I no longer an authentic bisexual? Does it even matter?
I don't know exactly why; maybe it's just getting older. Maybe it's because I'm still trying to find a teaching job, but not obsessed with whether I can call myself a teacher yet or not (it's all theory right now, so no). Maybe it's reconciling myself to the possibility of having children sometime relatively soon. Maybe the enlightenment fairy came down and tapped me on the head with her magic wand. Maybe it's just getting older. I just don't see how worrying about my identity is even a question worth asking anymore. Maybe I've found my identity, whatever that means, even if I can't give it a name, since who we are is too complicated to simply label in that way. But ultimately, it's suddenly a question that I'm not interested in asking--not because I've given up, or decided on an identity, but because it just doesn't seem like a deep question anymore.
Life's too complicated to worry about whether I'm still punk. But my liver's happier these days.