Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Resolution (Identity Part 4)

I firmly believe that identity is fluid. From almost the very beginnings of this blog, written as a less articulate high schooler, part of my description page has said, "So this page is meant to answer the question, "Who am I?" and to be honest, there is no definite answer because I'm always changing. Not drastically, but I definitely know that I am not the same person now as I was two years, two months, or even two weeks ago." Change is the only constant. Regarding change of identity, I find myself again contemplating a change of name (really, pen name or pseudonym) which shouldn't be a big deal. As Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." One may argue that while pen names and pseudonyms and alter egos are made up, so are birth names. What's in a name, really?

However, the issue at this point is the problem of having had too many identities and now too much clutter. Though these names are made up and these identities have no real physical form in the world, their cumulative presence is indicative of an identity crisis that is very real. I revisited some old posts and was surprised to find that I've been in the midst of an identity crisis for over a year. It comes and it goes in strength, but it remains unresolved. It's clear to me now that even "Clary J. Simmons," the name and identity I thought was a satisfactory solution, was a borrowed name – borrowed from the fictional characters and meanings that I liked. Like a borrowed sweater, it looks nice and it feels nice, but it isn't mine, and I have to admit, there are some parts where it doesn't fit perfectly. Once again I found myself with no idea of who I was, looking into the mirror and not recognizing the face that was supposedly mine.

It's worth noting that depersonalization and derealization are well established phenomena, especially in the case of panic disorder, of which I am affected by. These last few weeks have been ridiculously intense academically, as midterms approach and program applications close. Needless to say, my stress and anxiety levels have been off the charts, and it's been taking significant effort to withhold a full blown panic attack. I'm not surprised that this is when the identity crisis has intensified. But in order to clean out my mental health landscape, as with physical settings, sometimes it is necessary to take everything apart in order to put it back together again.

In recent times, much discussion has arisen regarding gender identity, sexual identity, even racial identity, and I have found myself struggling so much to find a label that fits for me. Despite my desire to reject all identity labels, I somehow still feel like there is a societal pressure to choose one and stick to it. It's almost oppressive. In fact, in ED190, there was a discussion at one point, either on Freire or Vgotsky (I believe it was Freire but I'd have to clarify) about this very topic, and perhaps the idea that "to be human" means "to be able to change." By emphasizing the need to declare and conform to a single identity, society maintains the status quo, leaving individuals no space to learn and grow.

Seemingly, society was not always this rigid. In Buddhist tradition, a monk or nun is given a Dharma name in the ordination ceremony. Several Native American cultures give multiple descriptive names throughout significant stages of life, a practice I envy. Some name changes can be taken for granted, such as those who adopt an "Americanized name" after immigrating, or one who chooses a new name as part of a gender transition, or the taking of a spouse's last name after marriage. But aside from these, it is neither practical nor common to see frequent name changes in modern society. While lack of identity grants total freedom, identity is a necessity to hold individuals accountable without being completely dehumanizing (think Social Security numbers or at worst, Holocaust registration numbers). And for most, names are a source of pride for those who are comfortable with their identity.

If it hasn't been made clear already, I am not comfortable with my name nor my identity. My legal name is discordant and anachronistic for my age. To discard it would hardly be a tragedy, as it isn't even my birth name. My birth name was so early in my childhood that I nearly forgot it even existed. In middle school, when nicknames were all the rage, I struggled to find one that wasn't harsh or derisive. However, I've come to realize that no matter what I change to, these names will always be a part of me, like the inner layers of a Russian nesting doll. They remain profoundly influential to who I am, inextricably tied to stages of development sealed in time. It might take a while, but I think I'm starting to accept that.

In the meantime, the urge to change remains. As I haven't fully accepted the past yet, the desire to run from it, to be someone else pushes on my senses like instinct. I think it's best exemplified by one of my new favorite movies, Breakfast at Tiffany's. Audrey Hepburn's free-spirited character finds her past catching up to her, despite her best efforts to remain unfettered to her former life. Holly Golightly, running from her past life as Lula Mae, doesn't resolve her quandary, remarking "I'm not Holly. I'm not Lula Mae, either. I don't know who I am! I'm like cat here, a couple of no-name slobs." Her nameless cat bears a striking resemblance to my cat Larry, who has also been subject to several renamings and doesn't have a real identity. I relate to her "mean reds" too, which I interpret to be anxiety: "Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of."

The thing is, I enjoy creating identities and pen names. I enjoy the way certain sounds roll off the tongue, I enjoy seeing the way the letters are arranged, the way they're signed in lovely, loopy cursive. With my abundance of names, I can afford to be a chooser. This time around, I'm relaxing the uptight demeanor. I'm in college, and I want to enjoy it and have fun. As always, in the age of Twitter usernames and URLs, I've picked something that's unique and stands out.* I'm still keeping the accounts related to this blog separate from my social accounts, as I'm only comfortable sharing this blog with close friends or complete strangers. At the end of the day, I want to have a distinct identity, not a collection of potential characters. I expect after a while I will get bored of this name and change it again. In fact, I am already aware of what the situation that may prompt that change could look like. At this point, it's not an issue. There's no need whatsoever to conform to a single identity for the rest of my life. ◊

*(please check "CONTACT" for updated social media handles)

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