The kind of person who

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being “the kind of person who . . .” I’ll do something, and think, “Does that make me the kind of person who does this sort of thing?”

For example, yesterday I went to a farmers’ market, and bought, among other things, half a pound of Swiss chard. Today, after work, I sauteed some of it with garlic and tempeh, and that was my dinner. I ate it with chopsticks. It was delicious.

So, does that make me the kind of person who shops at farmers’ markets? The kind of person who eats chard and tempeh? The kind of person who uses chopsticks even though she’s not Asian?

All those things are ignoring the first half of my day, which was spent taking money from people and giving them food that I’m ethically opposed to enough that I refuse to eat most of it. Am I the kind of person who works in a fast food restaurant? The kind of person who’s willing to ignore her values in order to get a paycheck?

I’m not saying there’s anything to this notion of “the kind of person who.” In fact, I think it’s kind of bollocks, and you probably do too. What interests me is the fact that it’s so ever-present in my thoughts these days. I’m rather obsessed with the notion, even though I know it’s both insubstantial and unhelpful.

These days, more than ever, I’m trying to define myself as a person. Up until very recently, I’ve always had a community to help me define myself, and when I find a community I want to belong to, I’m good at reshaping myself to fit into it. When my community was classically homeschooled Christians, that’s the identity I adopted, even though the “Christian” suit was ill-fitting and rather uncomfortable.

When I got to college, I was able to shed it with little-to-no social side effects, and I did, and I adopted a the identity of scholar–and very effectively, I might add. That’s the closest to myself I’ve been yet, and even then, I wasn’t being entirely honest with myself. I didn’t really love everything I studied as much as I made out. (I don’t regret this–a college experience is much healthier and more enjoyable when your attitude in every class is, “This is SO COOL!” Cultivating an attitude of delight has served me well.)

Well, since I graduated, and especially since I moved to Fort Collins, I don’t really have much of a community. I certainly don’t have one locally. Online it’s perhaps a little better, but even here–I’m not even a member of any fandoms! I mean, a person never really exists in a vacuum–I still have roommates, and coworkers, but still, there’s a distinct lack of structured community to tell me who to be.

I guess you might think this is a good thing. Like everyone else in our culture, I’ve been hit over the head with the “be yourself!” club since before I could walk. But, the thing is, community expectations aren’t the same thing as peer pressure. They can be good or bad.

As a student, for example, being a good student required me to behave in certain ways that made me a much better person–from basic courtesies like being in class consistently and punctually to far deeper adjustments like open-mindedness and critical thinking.

Admittedly, my school’s explicit goal is to develop young women in precisely those ways. I’m under no illusions–not every community exerts forces that guide people in positive directions. The obvious example would be Nazi Germany, but that’s overdone. Limiting this to my own experience, there are still plenty of examples of social pressure to be closed-minded, hateful, or ignorant. (See, for example, my brief stint under the “love the sinner, hate the sin” banner, regarding homosexuality, or the fact that to this day I can sing songs about how “Mister Darwin made a great, great, great big mistake.”)

At any rate, I digress. My dilemma these days is that I’m having to discover who I am all by myself, when I’m alone. Well, actually, it isn’t even that. It’s the frequent and painful disparity between the person I want to be and the reality of my situation. It’s not about being “the kind of person who”, it’s about the kind of person I want to be. The phrase, “living in a way commensurate with my values” is right up there with “the kind of person who” in the list of phrases that crop up while my brain races through its little rat maze every day.

I’m worried about disappointing myself. I’m constantly looking at the way I’m living and wondering if I’m living like the person I want to be. It would help if I knew more about the person I want to be. It’s good, in a way, to have a period where I have to figure out these things without a great deal of pressure and expectations, but it’s also leading to an awful lot of existential angst. (Occasionally important, but mostly silly. Do I really need to be worrying about what it means to be the kind of person who wears shawls?)

I know this is all a good and necessary process (and who trusts a person who thinks they know everything about themselves?). I don’t want to declare that I’m “finished”. But I wouldn’t mind getting past this lost-and-lonely feeling.

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5 thoughts on “The kind of person who

  1. Hi.

    I’m in my late twenties, graduated from UCSC last spring, and thought I was going to persue a PhD in some Humanities department, maybe a Cultural Studies dept, or a maybe a Communications department. For various reasons I didn’t apply to grad school, and during the winter I took a private ghostwriting class with someone who’s been a ghost for 25 years. Now I’m starting a small ghostwriting/editing business. I had no idea this was going to happen, and I often wonder if I’ll go to grad school after all.

    These developments have surprised me and conflict with the person I thought I was six months ago. But at the same time I didn’t really think of myself as any one type of particular person because trying to find out who you are, like there is some concrete, stationary “thing” that completely describes yourself and encapsulates all the complexities and contradictions, is impossible. To some degree I think it’s more powerful and exciting to understand the complex and contradictory nature of being a person, than to search for that one single “thing” that is you.

    But who knows what I’ll think it six months.

    Thanks for your post. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Hi hi.

    I feel kind of the same way, I guess. Not with the thinking about ‘I’m the kind of person who…” so much as like… what am i doing with my life and why? and is it the right thing? i mean, i feel commensurate with my values, or close enough that generally that doesn’t bother me. But I don’t have any idea what I want to do next year, or the year after that. I don’t know who I want to be in 10 years, or what type of person. :/ I feel very overwhelmed by this.

    I feel like I should just know. And I think that’s because before, in school, all school, there’s structure. You go to school for x number of years, then you go to college. Someone else is dictating the direction of your life – not 100% but enough that it’s not this big wide open thing with no answers. Everybody tells me different stuff about what I should do, and in the end I just end up stressed out and upset and no closer to making any decisions.

    I would also like to get to the next part already.

  3. Yeah, it’s not easy. I think it’s pretty normal to go through an identity crisis for a while after graduating – after all, you were a student for umpteen years, and then suddenly you’re not, so what now? It does resolve eventually, though, if over a period of several years (I’m getting there). And you’ll be wiser for the challenge.

    I’m not sure what you mean about your conflict with “the kind of person who…” thing. Sounds jolly to me to be “the kind of person who” shops at farmers’ markets, and wears shawls, and eats chard with chopsticks because it’s fun. Those are all different interests you have, which reflect different parts of your personality. As long as the classification is not something contemptible (i.e. “the kind of person who… cannot control their pride”), I doubt you have anything to worry about.

    Besides, branching out and finding new bits of yourself is a good thing. One-dimensional people are no fun at all. Way to be icosahedral.

    • Lyss! I think you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head, as it were–this is sort of about discovering myself. And it’s fun and brilliant, but also a little bit nervewracking.

      By the way, I received the box from you and the other ladies, and it thrilled me in ways I cannot even begin to explain. You all are so dear! I shall send a proper letter on its way in response posthaste.

  4. Pingback: Food and Me–there goes THAT identity! « middle muse

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