Who Am I? Who Are You?

I’ve been thinking a lot about niches and labels and identity lately, as well as the fact that I have very rarely been able to stay in one place for very long. I got thinking of all the things I’ve been, all the things I’ve done, all the people I’ve been, as far as my role or my particular station. All the buttons that have been pinned on me as my identity, however brief. I could write forever about this, but instead, I’m going to try (as completely and chronologically as I can) to list all the labels ever given me; all the jobs I’ve held. It may be overwhelming, both for me and for you, but I think it’s an interesting experiment in personal deconstruction.

Child. Sibling. Student. Gifted. Reader. Writer. Delinquent. Angry Child. Plagiarist. Attention-Seeker. Scrapper. Class Clown. Baseball Pitcher. Paperboy. Farmhand. Carpenter’s Assistant. Door to Door Sales of Newspaper Subscriptions. Guitar Player. Loser. Pizza Maker. Little League Umpire. High School Outcast. Victim of Theft. Dickee Dee Driver (Ice cream bike). Poet. Songwriter. Actor. Migraine Sufferer. Christian. Boyfriend. Unfaithful. Depressed. Musician. Lead singer. Bad child. Runaway.Camp Counselor. Landscape worker. Missionary. Agnostic. Atheist. Skeptic. Hopeful Skeptic. Attempted Suicide. Baker. Delivery Driver. Vacuum Cleaner salesperson. Telemarketer. Welfare recipient. Greenhouse worker. Spouse. University Student. Dog owner. Drop out. Factory Worker. Customer Service Representative. Daycare Worker. Father. University Student. Performer in local Theatre. Fish owner. Greenhouse worker. Dropout. Baker. Customer Service Representative. “That guy who faked a seizure ’cause he was bored at work.” University Student. English Teacher (as a Second Language). Smoker. University Student. Father. Dropout. Deli Clerk. Movie Theatre Attendant. Literacy Worker. Telemarketer. Personal Support Worker. Delivery Driver. Musician. Friend. Temp worker (greenhouse, winery, orchards, tree-planting, garbage collection, recycling plant, meat packing plant). Factory worker. CNC Operator. Drinker. Drug user. Manic Depressive. Cuckold. Divorcee. Couch surfer. Lover. Homeless Person. Gas Station attendant. Novelist. Reckless. Enemy. Angry Ex-Husband. One time Cross-Dresser. Illegal Cab Operator. Factory worker. Boyfriend. Musician. Artist. Writer. Poet. Smooth talker. Heavy drinker. Karaoke singer. One night stander. Bachelor. Customer Service Representative. Live in Boyfriend. Disappointment. Professional Artist. Expat. Nanny. Waste Disposal Management Dispatcher. Receptionist. Waiter. Bachelor. Musician. Pizza Delivery Driver. Waiter. Unemployed. Customer Service/Wine Importer. Friend. Car Owner. Marijuana Enthusiast. Wine Connoisseur. Enjoyer of pancakes. Coffee Addict. Long Distance Boyfriend. Desperate Romantic. Fool. Embarrassment. Couch Surfer. Homeless. Home Owner. Disappointment. New Employee. Fired. Unemployed. Telemarketer. Husband. Receptionist. Writer. Author. Executive Assistant for Charitable Organization. Poet. Student. Father. Brother-in-law. Friend. Painter. Technical Customer Service Rep. Writer. Magazine Editor. Clinically Depressed. Book binder. Medicated. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. “Survived By” More Nothing. Suicidal. Friend in need. Dependent. Self-exiled orphan. In Withdrawal. Non-Medicated. Writer. Writer. Writer. Writer. Lizard owner. Dilettante. Actor. Fictional Character. Happy. Insecure. Conflicted. Miserable. Disappointed. Writer. Blogger. Helena. Friend. Author. Suicidal. Unhappy. Confused. Jessica. Author. Playwright. Dilettante. Ken. Now what?

Can I — can you — be defined by any of these things? Is this who I am? Am I the sum of all this, or is it possible, do you think, to wipe this all away and take the definition of ME into my own hands. I’ve run away from my name all my life. I didn’t have a straight path, I can’t think of a right choice I’ve ever made.

I write this not inย self-pity, only as a realization that my life has been strange and eventful. I’ve been very happy, and I’ve been downright miserable. At times I thought I knew it all, and other times I felt like a fool. I’ve been angry enough to kill, and have been scared for my life. I’ve been loved and hated. Kissed and spat on, been made love to and been fucked. I’ve done stupid, foolish things, and I’ve done good things that no one will remember, and great things no one will forget. I have fought any chains that people tried to put on me, and for the most part, I hope I’ve been successful.

There is still so much I don’t understand, and I think that I’ve spent more than my fair share feeling lost.

I’d love for you to share — whatever you’d like to share with me today. I’m listening.

“We’ve got these chains that hang around our necks,
people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.
Afraid of change, afraid of staying the same,
when temptation calls, we just look away”

-Barenaked Ladies, “What a Good Boy”

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41 responses to “Who Am I? Who Are You?

  1. My life has been down right dull compared to yours. As I get older I embrace “boring is good.” And I don’t really mean boring, I mean uneventful. And to answer your question? I 100% believe it is possible to wipe away the past and take the definition of yourself into your own hands. In fact, I think the definition you ultimately create for yourself is the only one that matters. I don’t know exactly how to do that, I imagine it’s different for everyone. I’m still working on that myself.

    • There are so many things I didn’t get to do when I should have been doing them. But wishing for someone else’s life is pointless, and dangerous. To envy what is showing on the surface is to ignore what might be hidden beneath.

  2. Wow, that’s quite a list. You seem to have lived several lifetimes already, though I guess if I went through my life piece by piece I would end up with a decent list myself.

  3. You really are a dilettante! I remind myself daily that I do not want any one else’s life, no matter how fabulously they airbrush their facade. The stuff they don’t show is what nightmares are made of. I try to live my life in a way that makes me happy. I usually don’t get what I think I want but, I am mostly happy with who I have in my life. If things were perfect I would imagine that I would be bored.

  4. Those things don’t define you – but they do influence who you become. You are not defined by them – but they leave pieces in you.
    You (we) are so much more than the labels given to us – unless you don’t allow yourself to look past those labels.

  5. I was a let-down right from the start
    For not being the boy he could nurture
    For not being the child who would give a ‘do-over’
    For being a girl in an already sham
    And yet it’s alleged I found space in his heart
    Til repression and sanction created a merger
    A by-the-by ‘NO’ pushed him verily over
    The edge, and with that grew the thing that I am
    Not right, not attractive, unsporty, bad child
    A priv’ledge, a burden, and not worth his while
    So the broken in him made the broken in me
    And for years I ne’er knew there was more I could be
    So I wound up exploited and desperate for love
    Never taken advantage, for who would DREAM of
    Going ‘there’ with this awkward, uncomfortable soul
    Not good enough e’en to get used ‘as a hole’
    And eventually darkness engulfed and latched on
    The scars in and out show the fights lost and won
    And existence was sparse; enough crumbs just to cope
    And deep down was unreasonable, expecting HOPE
    So then when I met such a wonderful man
    With his smarts and his humour and great big kind heart
    He showed mild interest – I desperately latched in
    And we ended up married, tho spare good did it wend
    I learned tragic depths of the horror I am
    Needy and angry, not enough from the start
    Rejected, so ‘child’, ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ won’t win
    I’m determined right now, to find value as ‘friend’

  6. “I canโ€™t think of a right choice Iโ€™ve ever made.”

    You know, I was about to say, “I feel the same way.” But then it occurred to me, I made two choices that I feel without a doubt are right, and those two choices were to have children. No matter what doubts I have about any other decision I’ve made, I have absolutely NO doubt about my children. I feel I’ve done a pretty good job with them and that when all is said and done I will have contributed three productive members of society.

    I would assume (ass, you, me) that you feel the same way. Despite whatever issues we have in our heads, we do the best we can for a children and the choice to have them was the right one.

      • We could all do that with the benefit of hindsight. We do the best we can with the information we have at that moment. The trick is to realize that and forgive yourself. This is something that is difficult for me, but I’m making progress, and I hope you do, too.

  7. Helena/Jessica/Ken, you are gifted and artfully beautiful. In the midst of what appears to be chaos, you are there, putting yourself together while weaving stories. You are NOT “afraid of change, afraid of staying the same.” I wish you the best as you continue to heal. I wish you HOPE. I send you LOVE.

  8. By the way, I’ve had a less checkered past, but like you, varying jobs. Three colleges before I got my BA. Three careers before I was hospitalized and put on disability. Multiple jobs within each career area. I think that my path is somewhat symptomatic of bipolar disorder. Fly, crash, fly, crash, fly, crash, and repeat.

  9. I’ve realized that no matter what I do or say, it will never be enough for some people.. people have a way of twisting things around so much and then I’m the, “bad guy.” We are often damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I can relate to well over half of all them labels you’ve listed and when I think about all those labels that others have stamped me with, I feel like a total loser, but someone mentioned earlier that all those labels don’t have to define who you are because they’ve made you who you are today. I think it’s time to quit apologizing for our thoughts and actions and feelings and even our intentions because only we know our true intentions and if they’re good, then that should be enough because most of the time, our intentions are good but others see them as something else entirely. We can still focus on overcoming all that negativity and focus on being better or improving if needed. On a more personal note, sometimes.. the problems that people have with you or me or any of us.. aren’t even about us in the first place.. but it has everything to do with them and their inner demons and vise versa.

    • Thank you, Crystal. Sometimes we don’t even know what to label ourselves. Sometimes, I think, it’s easier for some people to become what people see them as — a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. I think this is why people fall into traps, and start following a path that leads them away from what they could be if they would just be willing to cut their own path. Some people, like me, never really figure out what it is they want to do, and so just kind of go along to get along. I’m not proud of that fact, but the truth is, what I wanted to do — write, or play music — I was always told it was impossible, and to not waste my time.

  10. The lines/chorus from “You Are More” by Tenth Avenue North came immediately to mind. Some might discount the song for the religious part of it, but even if you ignore that, the truth remains:

    “You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
    You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
    You are more than the problems you create…”

    People label, but even if the labels hurt, you don’t have to accept them, can fight against believing them, can try to realize that their perceptions aren’t necessarily your realities. Even “good” people get labeled negatively by some a/o by themselves. We all fight that and I think if we did a list like yours, we’d all have some things in that long list that we’d like to forget.

    Here are the lyrics.

    You Are More

    There’s a girl in the corner
    With tear stains on her eyes
    From the places she’s wandered
    And the shame she can’t hide

    She says, “How did I get here?
    I’m not who I once was.
    And I’m crippled by the fear
    That I’ve fallen too far to love”

    But don’t you know who you are,
    What’s been done for you?
    Yeah don’t you know who you are?

    You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
    You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
    You are more than the problems you create,
    You’ve been remade.

    Well she tries to believe it
    That she’s been given new life
    But she can’t shake the feeling
    That it’s not true tonight

    She knows all the answers
    And she’s rehearsed all the lines
    And so she’ll try to do better
    But then she’s too weak to try

    But don’t you know who you are?

    You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
    You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
    You are more than the problems you create,
    You’ve been remade.

    You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
    You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
    You are more than the problems you create,
    You’ve been remade.

    ‘Cause this is not about what you’ve done,
    But what’s been done for you.
    This is not about where you’ve been,
    But where your brokenness brings you to

    This is not about what you built,
    But what He built to forgive you,
    And what He built to make you know.

    You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
    You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
    You are more than the problems you create,
    You’ve been remade.

    You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
    You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
    You are more than the problems you create,
    You’ve been remade.

    You’ve been remade
    You’ve been remade.
    You’ve been remade.
    You’ve been remade.

  11. I like your listing of labels. Makes a beautiful wallpaper scheme. Mine are pretty similar with a few additions and subtractions. My latest is Cancer patient and am working hard not to make it the final one. A little HaiKu (JohnKu)
    Running fast and hard,
    Being sure about life’s treasures . . .
    Slowed to smell the rose.

  12. Labels only stick when we remove the backing. Sometimes, they don’t stay where we put them. (See: postcard project.) We’re all whoever we want to be. The labels from my past belong in my past. We continue to define ourselves by how we tackle each new day. Some people in my life respect that……and some still want to place me firmly in 1999. Their loss, not mine.

    • It was an amusing exercise, trying to remember everything I’ve been at one point or another, the good, the bad, and the inconsequential. I happen to think I’m better than I should be, but not yet where I hope to be, and how’s that for a daily meditation? Ha! Perhaps as a caption for a picture of a marathon runner or something.

  13. You’re an excellent writer. Rewrite the narrative of your life. Just because some people, parents especially, wrote our early narratives for us doesn’t mean those narratives were correct or should last a lifetime.

  14. My sense in the last several weeks is that your increasing comfort level as a good Ken is what you’re needing and wanting to share with us. Of course, Helena has been my friend, and she is you, and you are my friend, so it is whichever you wish. I am comfortable with you.

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