Who are you really? I am perpetually interested in the question of identity. I am sure people trained in psychology have precise understandings of how identity is formed and changes (or if it changes), but, as I am not trained in psychology, I can only muse on my own experiences with this. We evolve into different individuals all the time, reinvent ourselves, and behave differently with different people. We don’t treat our family the same way as our friends, bosses, or even other family members. We treat different friends differently, take on different personae, and even use different language or dress differently with different people. It’s as though we all have different personalities or roles that we play in the different arenas in which we play out our lives. How are we supposed to know who we really are? I suppose we are all these different versions of ourselves, some better, some less so. And we are not black-and-white entities, like angels or demons.
In theater and writing, one thinks a lot about characters’ motivations. I wonder if our motivations are central to our identity. What motivates you? To survive? To succeed? To fill up an emptiness? To help others? To advance humanity in some way? To fill the hours of your life? To be productive? To fulfill some mission? To amuse yourself? To amuse others? To have pleasure?
I wonder about what else is central to our identities. One of the first questions people pose to you upon learning your name is to ask your profession and possibly what you do when you’re not working. It’s one of the first things I identify when I create a character in my writing; I identify my characters’ professions. But do our professions really define who we really are more than what music we listen to, what books we read, or what kinds of tea we enjoy? Perhaps when I create characters, I should really explore the nuances of their identities, like how they take their coffee and what their favorite movie is. I do a lot of this, but I don’t fill in every blank for every character. To really know a person, either in real life or in fiction, you need to understand a multitude of details about her and her back story. There are so many details in what makes you who you are, like ingredients in a soup. People are complex and multifaceted, so perhaps it is in these details that our identities emerge.
Like the constant regrowth of our cells, our identities change. Or do they? I have lost touch with a number of friends over the years, and when we reconnect most of the conversations we begin, we pick up from where we left off. I visited California last year and reconnected with a number of my friends from UCLA graduate school and a number of my relatives. The UCLA coffee shop Kerchkoff hadn’t really changed at all. My clothing style was different, and I had lived in a different country for a number of years. I had attended a new school and had met a number of people who had transformed me in the interim. I had studied quantum field theory. It had been eight years since I had seen these friends and family. I didn’t feel as though I were the same person as eight years prior, and they probably didn’t feel the same either, yet most of the reconnection was seamless. My friends and our jobs were different from when we were all students together, our experiences had diverged, yet I think we still managed to connect and converge most of the time.
Maybe the operative words are most of the time. People change both internally and externally. We develop illnesses that affect us. We lose people which leaves an impact. We are like a planet that evolves, building mountains, having seismic events, and being bombarded by meteors. Perhaps there are parts of our identity which are mutable and other parts which are fixed, like a planet with a core. I am curious as to what the core is though. I suspect motivation has a lot to do with it. And all these parts make us who we are. We need to accept all these facets of ourselves and others and to learn to adapt to the changes. And all of this, the good, the bad, and the ugly, is who we really are.
So who are you really? What makes you you?