It was on The Who’s 1973 album that a song of the name The Real Me appeared. The album was one of a story of a man lost, trying to put together for himself some sort of an identity. In a large sense, many of the struggles we have as people have to do with a struggle for some sort of identity.
Who are you?
I find it fascinating how much you can find out about someone based on what they say to you within minutes of meeting. In the last nine months or so of living on the Upper West Side of New York I have met quite a few people, and I have found many of the conversations to be startlingly similar in nature. It starts with the obligatory, "I’m so-and-so. Nice to meet you." The person might not have had any interest whatsoever in meeting me, but it is necessary nevertheless to express pleasure in meeting me. Sometimes there is the line asking about where I live. I don’t always know where the person is from, and so I will often enough just say that I live in New York. This is, of course, a mistake on my behalf because nobody is content knowing just that you live in New York. From there they want to know where in New York you live. Sometimes the specificity gets to the point that I tell them that I live on 100th and Broadway, above the 24 hour supermarket. I don’t usually tell which window is mine, though. The next question is the killer, for me. Usually people have to ask, "What do you do?"
To me, it’s interesting because you have a person that knows nothing whatsoever about other than where you live (approximately) and the very first thing they want to know about you is what it is you do that brings home the paycheck, as it were. This is a bit difficult for me because what I have been doing professionally (when I have been doing anything at all) is hardly a reflection of who I am as a person. One really doesn’t get anything about a person from "Administrative Assistant." It’s particularly difficult to get anything from "I’m not working right now, but generally in the lines of Advertising, Human Resources, Public Relations, that sort of thing" – which says nothing whatsoever other than what the University assured me my degree would have me ready for.
But I write!
My natural inclination is, when people ask me what I do, to tell them that I write. The only problem with this is that people are aware that for the most part, writing doesn’t pay the bills. So then after I tell them that I write, the next question that inevitably will come up is, "That’s very nice and well, but how do you support yourself?" How much I’d love to tell them that writing is how I support myself, and that is all. And then, with a wink, to add "and of course, winning the lottery once in awhile doesn’t hurt." But of course, this isn’t yet what I am telling people. Instead, I tell people that I’m not currently working, that I do some temp work in administrative settings, and that I’m considering going for licensure to teach in a public school setting. All of which is a mouthful, but it’s much better than fumbling around and not being quite sure of how to say that I still haven’t put my degree to any good use.
This brings up an interesting question. Are we what we do for a living? Largely, I would certainly hope not. There are a lot of butchers out there with more to them than being able to cut and weigh a piece of meat with high accuracy. If a person mops floors for a living, if that is what they do so that their spouse and children are able to have a home with food on the table (or in the refrigerator), does that mean that this should be how we define this person? I should certainly hope not. A person could very well mop floors because they are paralyzed with fear of having their written works rejected, and thus only get published posthumously when a large trunkload of their writing is discovered.
I am what I like?
Another problem I see a lot is the reliance on a person’s interests for determination of who they are as a person. Take the following as an example. Let’s say that a person is fond of sushi, likes watching animated television programs from Japan (many varieties), enjoys playing video games on a Gamecube (is particularly fond of games tied to games played in childhood – Mario, Zelda, etc), and also likes to cook. You would think that this was a fairly good description of an individual, and that you could almost even imagine what such a person is like. As it turns out, this laundry list of interests happens to match up with me, but it could just as easily match up with another person with a radically different personality and sense of self than me.
For example, I am to some extent a caring and loving person. Generous and helping those in need, that sort of thing. There could be an entirely different person who has all of the same interests and hobbies, who could just as well also listen to the same sort of music that I listen to, eat the same kinds of food that I eat, and they would still be a radically different person. Such a person could be difficult to approach or have any conversation with, selfish and possesive, and completely uninterested in other people other than in matters that would somehow help the person.
I find it to be interesting because in the world of dating, a person gets to know another person first by asking a lot of concrete questions, such as “What kind of food do you like,” or “What sort of music do you listen to” and only later do they gradually get to know the other things. Slowly, because it’s a bit awkward to ask your date over dinner, “Are you a selfish individual, or are you more sharing and caring?”
Just because a person happens to know that I like to go to the Homestar Runner web site does not mean that a person necessarily knows me – albeit they can know a little something about me. Truly getting to know someone – this is considerably more complicated. In the end, however, it is more satisfactory than mere superficial acquaintanceship.