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.