I’ve never been good at making decisions. I have to take a friend with me to CVS to choose my hair dye and I call my mother for life advice once every 36 hours. It’s been something of a joke among my friends that this indecisiveness is mirrored in my personality and identity which resist binaries and embrace absurd contradiction. While I’ve made something of a name for myself as a walking, talking paradox, I have to admit that it’s not something I’ve ever really been comfortable with.
And while the pop psychologists of today consume themselves with talk of my generation’s pathological “fear of missing out” (or FOMO, for the text-speak savvy), I find myself more concerned by a different–even opposite–pattern. It seems to me that our generation, or maybe our whole culture, is fixated on an understanding of self that subsists on labels, boxes, and classifications–a society of Darwins gone OCD. In our quest for identity, I am convinced that we suffocate parts of ourselves that were intended to color us in and makes us whole.
I am beginning to wonder what we’re risking with such a linear conception of self-realization. Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to identifying ourselves with specific characteristics, interests, or beliefs. This is how we find and build community. And recognizing differences promotes conversation and growth. My issue, I suppose, is with our deeply-rooted conviction that defining oneself as one thing simultaneously defines one as not something else. I find myself asking, “What if you’re both?”
I think this plays out in both banal and serious ways. For my part, I’m queer–deeply attracted and in love with both women and men. My fear of this “both/and”ness has threatened my happiness and well-being on more than one occasion and my journey to embrace it has hardly felt like joyful liberation on most days. I live in a world that rejects my inbetweenness. And yet, that’s not what prompted this post. It was something much simpler.
As I walked underground through Center City, Philadelphia yesterday, I took in the smells and sights of the city and thought, “I am such a big-city girl.” Almost immediately, regret and guilt filtered in. What about the mountains, and the sea, and the wilderness? Wasn’t I a nature-girl? Absurd and stupid that I felt I had to choose, but there I was. How could I begin to understand myself if I was both?
I think maybe the answer is to fight for a world where being doesn’t mean defining and choosing just for the sake of choosing. Exclusive definitions and identity and all of that will come of their own accord. But they aren’t ours to create or force arbitrarily. Life is so long and short, and we are each new and different people everyday. If we are one thing and another, if we dream in myriad, then what a miracle. The real gift is our ability to inhabit the tension between impossibilities.
I love nature and cities.
I love to be the center of attention and I have terrible stage fright.
I love dresses and men’s clothes.
I want to be a minister, and a teacher, and a writer, and start my own school and travel all the time and be settled.
Emerson said “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”
Well. I’m choosing not to choose. And if I contradict myself?
“Well then, I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes.” (Whitman)
Maybe we can’t be and do all the things we want. But in the end, who really knows? Maybe we can.