Identity is difficult.
At least that’s what I’ve found. Bernard Stiegler, a preeminent philosopher, has dove into the way it’s forged or weaved. The way it actually happens is fuzzy, philosophers don’t seem to deal with the practical just the theoretical. Which I respect. The practical is difficult.
He defines the creation of identity, also known as individuation as such:
· The I, as a psychic individual, can only be thought in relationship to we, which is a collective individual. The I is constituted in adopting a collective tradition, which it inherits and in which a plurality of I ’s acknowledge each other’s existence.
· The I is essentially a process, not a state and it is a process of psychic individuation. It is the tendency to become one, that is, to become indivisible.
· This tendency never accomplishes itself because it runs into a counter-tendency with which it forms a metastable equilibrium.
To most these statements are something that the eye passes over without a second thought and I understand that.
So, I will summarise in order of importance:
· The people around you affect the way that you create self.
· However, ‘self’ is not, the endgame, as it were. Instead, it is a continual process that can never really end and it’s a subconscious process.
· Identity is a little like inertia, if there’s nothing around to affect it then it stays stagnant. However, when acted upon by outside influence it can be caused to move.
I feel like this is a simple way of explaining it, and I reject it. The people around you don’t matter if you ignore them. You will learn this with time. I also don’t think philosophers should be trusted. Especially Stiegler, he wears thin scarfs from the early 2000s that do nothing to keep him warm, which I believe makes him more suspicious.
Identity is easily forged, forgotten, moulded, transformed, erased and can be an active process if you take control.
I can see you now, eyebrows creased into little origami folds, wondering who is this? And the answer is simple. I’m that man across the way in the coffee shop sniffing at his espresso —mouth downturned. He has obviously never had an espresso in his life but has recently met a new love who sits across from him and he wants to impress her. She has already finished her drink and is watching him with disdain as he pats at his comb-over with clammy hands. I’m the woman running through the street in grey on grey office wear obviously late for a meeting. I’m the child eating an ice-cream that runs rivers down their hands and smears stickily across their cheeks.
I have gone by so many names that I’ve lost count. None of them really matter anyway, they’re just dirty rags I have worn and discarded when they have become threadbare and torn by time.
Why do I tell you this?
It’s because I love you. I’ve been watching you for a while, occupying the spaces of your life that you just forget, the people that flitter by like small birds on the periphery and I can tell that you’re intelligent. It’s in the way your eyes light up in the rays of the afternoon sun, normally at the dog park when you hear a middle-aged man in a bright polo say something misogynistic. You’ll be glad to know that I am a great supporter of women’s rights. I’m there you know, watching you roll your eyes and bite your tongue, pulling your dog away from the potential public quarrel. I’m the old woman that always smiles from the damp bench, she normally has her hair in curlers—I think it’s a fun touch. I hate that bench; it makes my clothes uncomfortable. But I do it for you.
So, I send you this note because I want you to notice me, you’re the first that I’ve wished this from not even my parents knew me for too long you see. But I want you to know me, however, I must figure out what that even means: ‘me’. For when one is others for so long, there is very little of ‘one’ left. So, I write this to you with hope in my heart that you will wait for me, to find me somewhere inside of these layers of people that swim around inside my body to create a ‘me’ that you will love. I will be perfect, I promise.
For now, we will both have to deal with this uncrossable distance, you may pine after your unknown lover who stands only feet from you, and I will wrestle with this inner conflict because I want to change for you. I want to be a constant for you. I can’t be a constant if all these people live in my body like a hostel in the summertime.
For now, you can sit in your apartment in the dark reading this note on your comfy sofa. I know that you sit there to read a lot, you seem to like it, but I can’t be sure. On rare occasions, I see little secret smiles shared between you and the pages. Mostly, I see crystals fall from your eyes and splash against the pages, leaving tiny stains of loss or despair. I can never tell. By the way, have you ever thought of reading The Narrow Valley by R.A. Lafferty? He’s from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He’s dead now but his short stories are my favourite—they’re sci-fi, kind of they’re difficult to define, which I like. His stories float in that literary miasma completely alone and solitary. I know that much about myself, I like him. He’s not well known, except by authors and a few hardcore readers. He writes of things that aren’t really there but also are completely concrete, I don’t know how he manages it.
But I talk too much of myself. I will explain the story of our love, catch you up on the details.
I saw you at the supermarket, you were buying sweet potato, but you were careful with your selection looking over each one for impurities as if you were handling ancient relics. I was buying onions, for a pasta sauce, you will be happy to know that I can make sauce from scratch, that is another thing I know about myself and something you will hopefully like about me. The first thing I noticed was your skin, you didn’t wear make-up which is good for it, but it seemed that you wore moisturiser as you were slightly dewy as if you had just been swimming. I also like swimming; you see I learn so much about myself around you.
That is when I knew you were right for me.
You went to the train, and I can see from your internet history that you are fastidious about public transport as it minimises your environmental impact. I appreciated that immensely, and feeling the white-hot knife of shame twist in my chest I vowed to catch the train everyday from then on in. Your train. However, the veganism will be more difficult to manage, but if that’s what you will want from me then that is what I will do. Anyhow, I would catch your train and I bought beeswax wraps for my sandwiches and when you saw the young man who held them you would shoot him a warm smile as he chewed and I would feel my heart swell for you were looking at me—but I’m sure you know that now. You would always have a little bit of spinach in your teeth from lunch, but I wouldn’t care, I would just smile back feeling my heart sink into my chest with longing and my skin itch with need as you glowed with pride for me. Well not me exactly, if there is such a thing as exactly me, but a part of me. I am also glad that I noticed on your social media that you are pansexual, which is good. Gender is difficult for me sometimes when you’re so many people at different times. I’m sure you understand.
From then on, I have followed you in the hope that one day you will recognise my eyes, which might shine like yours in the afternoon when you walk your dog near misogynists, but I doubt it. No one has eyes like you, and I would know that. You will be happy to know that from our walks through the park I have discovered I like dogs, so we will get along - me and your dog. Which is vital for a healthy relationship which I am dedicated to because I love you.
I follow you to your classes, which I must admit I find boring, I am not as smart as you, I am humble enough to admit this, which I feel is good, I can admit my weaknesses. But I do promise you I have a job that I go to a few days a week. I work at a make-up counter, which works well because opposites attract, you don’t wear make-up and I wear a lot to create these delicate facades of identity that I place upon my face. We’re like magnets that can’t be pulled apart. Make-up is a talent of mine; it helps me blend into the crowd and I help others do the same. One day maybe we can blend in together, at the coffee shop on the corner that you like, but you do take a long time to drink your coffee, which is okay. You savour it which I appreciate, and I would give ever tiny sip the attention they deserve with relish. I normally have a flat white, just for your information.
However, you have not noticed me, hanging onto your shadow and filling the gaps in your life with background characters who sit unnoticed like watercolour paintings. I see to only be a faint impression upon your life instead of the one whose arms you fall into when you trip in the street or who you will find particularly charming when they take your order at the coffee shop and trust me I have tried everything else. So, I have taken matters into my own hands, and that is why I write to you now. I hope from this you can know of me and understand the effort I have gone through for you, to peel all these pieces of armour away from myself, each identity burnt off from the heat of distant devotion. But no longer will I watch you from the sidelines as you cleave a path for yourself in this world, digging into the earth in solitude to claim it as your own, leaving your mark. I wish to do the same, with you that we can coalesce in this world, you a shining whole and me, a piece of something larger long forgotten in the recesses of my mind—all for you. We will have a house, with a small garden that your dog will play in and I will read the newspaper, while you drink tea and do the puzzles. The light will be warm through the lace curtains and we’ll smile at each other with long held affection.
So, you must see how you help me understand myself. For our future. You don’t want so many fragments of people that I have become over the years, that shield me from whatever person lies under the layers sleeping soundly for now. Everyday within your presence I peel back their skin and cast them aside, I can nearly see through the membrane of these identities to reach what is real. I wonder if it is. What do you think? But I will admit that I’m jealous of what you have, a dog and a mediocre social life with a few friends that circle around you like planets.
I have just learnt a thing. I am jealous and that’s okay, I promise not to take it out on you. Jealousy is an ugly thing, it burbles up from my belly like an oily snake that curls and tumbles inside me. I’ve never seen you jealous, so I assume it never happens.
You are truly flawless.
I want to know more about you, so I have taken steps to get to know you better. I think we may enjoy your yoga classes together and I have really taken to the bookstore that you go to often, although my dust allergy plays up when I go in there. Don’t worry I’ll take care of that.
This note is now finished as there isn’t much else to say that wouldn’t pass into passé statements of the sun and the moon and our love. So now turn off your light my dear for it is late and you need sleep, you have class in the morning. I am so proud of you for following your dreams, but you must wait for me to be ready, for me to learn my name and then we can be together. For now, I will watch from afar, the rise and fall of your breast and the scrunch of your nose when annoyance grasps at you in line for the bank. I promise I’ll be there for you, look for the flash of an eye around you, and I promise I’ll smile with sweaty hands and a nervous heart. I hope you smile back. Please don’t scream…just sleep.