Yesterday was my birthday. A few weeks (months?) ago I started pulling this joke that for every year now, I would turn younger, not older, making me now 29. To be honest, I really don’t care about my which number my age possess, my desire to turn younger is not mathematical but conceptual. Despite the onset of wrinkles, somehow it just does not ‘fit’ with how I feel and how my life looks to be past 30.
Let me explain. A few weeks ago I had a wonderful visit of Chip n Dale who now recently joined a larger part of my friend circle who not only are in long-term committed relationships/marriages and working devotedly and successfully on their careers, but now also owns real estate. I myself, in comparison, am again without even the faintest possible denial of a single status, currently officially unemployed and I don’t even own a sofa. Now at 31, I’m battling the consideration as whether or not that is not at least a little bit depressing… true, that I will (pepper pepper) soon finish a phd which at least should give me some ‘career’ points. So I’m not complaining, I think my life is very rich of interesting events and people, I’m simply comparing. Being the same age as people who objectively speaking appear so much more adult, I can’t help thinking that a few years less on my identification card would probably suit me better.
This leads me to a thought that I have become increasingly intimate with during the last few months, emphasized even more after Cheesecake left as void needs substance: (the potential illusion of) identity. What does our personality mean? What does it mean to be someone particular? And who are we really?
Last week on a beautiful Sunday hike with Amelia Earhart I brought up the topic of identity in the framing of how sometimes, if not always, we are a different person with different people. Likewise, our mood, fatigue and environment greatly effect how we react and behave. Are we then deterministic creatures enslaved by our unconscious interpretations from our perceptions? Does that mean we don’t actually have a personality? As we are so flexible to alter ourselves to context. Turning our identity into the reflection of what we suppose others request of us.
If neither of these persons, these expressions that are portrayed can be called the genuine self, what is left when they all are carved away?
Literary genius Kahlil Gibran wrote The Madman (which, if you have not already read, you should) in which a man’s seven masks are stolen. After his immediate despair and humiliation he finds peace in exposing himself for who he really is. I’ve read it several times and I remain confused. Not because the message is not clear, nor that it it’s not beautifully simple, but because I’m not sure what would be left if we are robbed of all our temporary selves. It’s it the soul, that spark of divinity that does not contain any us but only life?
A few days ago I had a unsettling thought enter my mind without any warning. As I was walking up to my bathroom mirror I was gripped with an unpleasant sensation that closest resembles: that what if one day as I look in the mirror, an unrecognisable face will have taken its place. Its eyes blinking as I order it, its mouth gasp in shock as expected, but a stranger, nonetheless. It is an utterly frightening thought, one that has few counterparts. Does that mean that my identity is tightly connected to my looks or how I perceive myself? Somehow this does not feel right. We change our looks all the time. Lose weight, put on make-up, age, basically go through unrecognisable changes. Even our self-identity is often a skewed and poor representation of the truth.
Maybe identity is much more of an illusion than we are comfortable to admit to… Perhaps personality and identity is a fluid concept ready to be changed at any moment. One of my favourite Hollywood scenes is in As Good As It Gets when Jack Nicholson after a series of awkward insults tells Helen Hunt that she makes him want to be a better person. While I think that our culture is obsessed with self-improvement in all the wrong ways, I perceive this to be one of the strongest compliments in the Hollywoodean history. If our identity is as closely connected to how we respond to others as it appears, then maybe the best response is to surround yourself with people who not only make you want to be a better person, but who in their company also makes you feel like the person that you want to be. #relationshipGoals