Chapter 36, Part 2

I've been thinking about how we can absorb other people's labels into ourselves.  We take on some of them willingly, incorporate them into our lives - mother, father, husband, wife.  Others - caretaker, cook, housekeeper, breadwinner - we mix in out of habit because other people have so long identified us thus, either verbally, or in action.

We can lose who we are and what we want to be to what other people think we are or want us to be.

I have never, truly, identified myself as a writer.  And the word 'yogini' is not a favorite of mine.  I identify myself as artistic (but not an artist), as a person with OCD-like tendencies, as a lover of words.  I identify myself as smart and relatively unemotional.  I am a good cook.  I appreciate good food.  I am a good listener and a good friend.

If you looked at my Facebook profile, you would get the impression that I identify myself  as a person who doesn't like identifying herself in public.  My profile contains minimal information.  Facebook then misleads people because they changed "Likes" to "Favorites" so now, friends who asked me to "Like" their band, page, cat, are listed as "Favorites" even though I only just like them - or felt obligated.  You'd see that I've been to some concerts and that I like the Bay Area from my pictures.  And that's about it.

If you read through this blog, you'd know somewhat more about me - that I'm fairly easily annoyed and don't tolerate willful idiocy well.  Or will you?  Are those things I know and therefore assume other people see?  Are those labels I want you to use?  In this case, you'd probably see it, too, but I shouldn't foist my labels on you.

Online personae vs. real-life personae make identity concepts even more difficult than they were before.  What I say to you here isn't always what I'd say in person.  The mask of anonymity  is supposed to (according to myth and Hollow Man) allow us to be our real selves.  But I think online identity has shown this idea to be muddy.  And I think it's muddy because the person we most want to lie to about who we are is ourself.

This led me to think about what makes us who we are. Is it how we label ourselves?  Is it how we present ourselves to others?  Is it our legacy?  Or is it everything?

Obviously, we don't all have lots of faces, but we all have a few. Mostly, I think they're fairly nuanced differences we project, but not always.  And with the addition of the internet, identity becomes more complicated than ever. Even what to do with our online identities after we die is up for grabs*, mostly.  What's out there digitally is, essentially, immortal.  Sure, all of it can be deleted, but that's only if someone knows it's there to delete.

If I died after writing this blog post, Matt could, technically go delete my Google account, my email accounts, my Facebook page. He has my passwords. But there's stuff out there that he doesn't even know exists. Not because I keep it secret, but because, as an enthusiastic user of things digital, I've created accounts/identities  I know I've forgotten about.

So it's conceivable that some piece will remain even after the known parts are gone. Is that forgotten piece still, really, me?  If I forgot about it, it probably wasn't a big or important part of me. It may even be an incomplete piece. Could someone get a sense of the real me from that?  Does it matter?

Does it matter how people I don't know identify me?  I'm not a public figure. I don't need votes or poll numbers, so do I care?  I don't know.

In general, I'd have to say that I don't really care what strangers think of me, but if we're talking about a remnant of something giving an inaccurate impression?  I don't know. Because in the end I don't know what makes me, me.

It's all of what I present and, simultaneously, none of it that forms my self identity.

We often talk about the importance of knowing who we are, but we are so many things at the same time that it's hard to sift through it to create a cohesive identity for ourselves that I don't find it at all surprising that some of us never quite understand ourselves - especially without help.  Am I Dorothy?  Yes, but I'm also not Dorothy.  Dorothy is part of me, but she's also things I'm not.  At least not anywhere else but here.  And this is why it's so hard to pin down an identity.  Whether I ever get it all or not, though, I'm still out here in my little boat, oars in the oatmeal, rowing, rowing, rowing - and maybe that's just how it has to be sometimes.

I read a couple of really interesting pieces on identity since I started this post a thousand years ago.  *Cyberspace When You're Dead by Rob Walker and this one, In A Flash by Dragnfly at SMITH Magazine.  And another one that's peripherally related, Thelma, Louise and All the Pretty Women by Carina Chocano.


Yolk E said...

Very nice. I especially love this: "I think it's muddy because the person we most want to lie to about who we are is ourself." Really painful, but ultimately I agree, and nowhere is this tendency more visible in the versions of "us" we create on the internet. I love that I get to choose which parts of myself I share, and that I share parts of myself online (OK, now this is starting to sound gross) that I don't easily share in real life. It's all so interesting...

Dorothy said...

It is all so interesting. At least to you and me... And I read another great article in the NY Times this week that was about feminist identity and Pretty Woman vs. Thelma & Louise. I need to add the link to the post, but in it Carina Chocano says, "And identity, as about a million people from Joan Didion to Jean-Paul Sartre to Oliver Sacks have observed, is really about narrative. It’s a story you tell yourself about yourself, but it’s also a story others tell you about you." I feel like that's the best shorthand of this post ever.

Catherine said...

Ooooh, two of my favorite bloggeristas sharing parts of themselves ;) online. I can't wait to go read the Times article.

Dorothy said...

Both Times articles are great and thought-provoking. Definitely with the time to read.