I am starting to figure out that some days I just wake up angsty and/or philosophical. I don’t know when or why this started, but it has been occurring a little more frequently lately than not. This morning my mind has been tracking down a path I am not too familiar with—the path of identity development.
For some reason the question of my mind this morning has been something along these lines: How did the high school version of myself become the person I am today? It sometimes seems the person I’ve become bares little resemblance to that particular version of myself. Which calls to question, was I ever that perceived version, or is it some mirage I cling to, to make myself mourn something that never really existed?
Before we go any further my friends, let me say this: this is not a call for attention like, “Hey look, I am going through crisis,” or “Oh, woe is me, I have lost my identity and the only way to gain it back is to move back to my hometown and reestablish everything about my former life.” What this is instead is trying to put to words what I think many of my friends and family are going through/have gone through.
I think there just comes a place and time where one day we wake up and discover we are a bit emotionally detached. I assume it is pretty universal. There are enough movies about it, and heck even concept albums and songs. Some people recognize what they are going through, some people can simply identify that something isn’t right, and they don’t know what to do about it. I think I lay somewhere between those two camps.
I can tell you right now that I wonder how the sweet, compassionate kid of 16 became a man who is nearly entirely impossible to please. Sure, outwardly not a lot has changed. I still speak kindly and train myself to be courteous to everyone. I force myself to remain empathetic, but I find it harder by the year to naturally be kind. But it is a struggle well worth fighting for. Kindness. Kindness. Kindness.
Kindness is lacking today. In a world that has grown accustomed to spouting off the first thing that comes to mind we have become judges and critics that look for the right to freely express themselves. Now, for those of you raising the alarm in fear that I am going to denounce that freedom of expression is important, hold your pretty hats. We do need these outlets of expression, but my observation about that is this: freedom of expression has become less about self-discovery and expression, and more about permission to rail and critique anything that we aren’t pleased with.
Think about advertising lately. There have been a couple that have really bothered me lately. The reason? The premise of the entire campaign was product shaming. I think particularly about the one that bashes iPads and another one that does the same with some luxury car. Now if you notice, I didn’t mention the products…because I can’t recall what they are. I namely recall that they were bashing Apple and a competitor. I can’t tell you a single positive thing about the product because I can’t even tell you the name of it.
Those types of advertising feed into the way I approach my life. When people ask how I am, more often than not I express some displeasure in something. I don’t focus on how great it was to work from Atlanta for part of a week; I focus on getting stuck in the Snowpocalypse. I don’t tell someone about an artistic pursuit I am currently undertaking; I tell them about a relational woe that I am going through. And folks…that’s just not who I remember 16-year-old James being.
I remember that dude being insecure, but to overcome that he tried too hard to do things that would impress people instead of focusing on the negative things around him. When things weren’t going well he put forth a little effort to make them better instead of finding ways to explain away deficiency.
All of that said, what I am missing is the segue. What took place to change me? I often think about character transformation as evolution. Much like successful species, those who successfully acclimate to today’s culture are those that evolve; they change with each new presentation of society’s standards.
But this morning, I wondered if that is an inadequate metaphor or description. Maybe what I have gone through is a series of little deaths and rebirths. That would account for the distance between myself now and a kid who upon finding out he inadvertently hurt Leslie Bizzell’s feelings went out of his way to let her know he never intended for that to happen, a kid who changed seats on the bus so he could have that moment with her.
The problem, again, is not who I have become. Honestly, there are facets of myself I like way more than that younger version of myself. But there are parts that I hang onto, and I wonder if I should. In the process of becoming the 35-year-old version of myself things obviously had to change. That is the nature of the beast. But here comes the turn.
What I find myself doing today is mourning a version of myself that I don’t know exists outside nostalgia. It reminds me of Zach Braff’s Garden State. He says something along this line: Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place. And I think the same idea rolls over to identity. I wonder if development of character can be seen along the same lines. Maybe the things that we miss about ourselves are fiction…and that fiction keeps us from being able to accept who we are. Maybe critiquing the fire out of ourselves is our way of maintaining a beautiful existence that never actually played itself out. Maybe we just don’t know how to accept ourselves as we are, and these little games we play remind of us when we were a good person, because we don’t think we are anymore.
I don’t really have the answers, but I know this: I like parts of who I am today, and I don’t like parts of who I am. I also know this: there are things I miss about my remembered self, and parts I would never want to live through again. But as Albus Dumbledore once said: It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.
So, in other words…maybe I should get out of my head and onto living my life.