As for so many, the year preceding my acceptance into university was a very confusing one in many ways, but relatively straightforward in others. Although my future was a tangled mess of possibilities and uncertainty, the question of my ‘identity’ seemed like an easy enough one to answer: I was a metalhead, a drunk, a video gamer, and a music store employee, plain and simple.
Somewhere along the line, the task of self-definition has become a much more complex one; when someone in an academic setting asks me what I ‘am,’ they often seem to be expecting an ever-expanding list of ‘ists’ that can neatly package and parcel every aspect of my personality into well-defined categories that are easily shared, referenced, understood.
It’s easy to be excited about such a personally formative task in first year, as you eagerly grasp on to welcoming hands proffered by any number of people – be they O-Week EcoHawks inviting you to slap on a green shirt and define yourself as an ‘environmentalist’ and an ‘activist,’ or ancient Greek philosophers reaching across oceans and millennia seeking to sell you an argument for why you should be a ‘monist’ and not a ‘dualist,’ But after three years of such attempts at self-definition, who am I today? What is my identity?
I am still a metalhead, a drunk, and video gamer – and maybe if I had been a little bit less of each or any, I would still be a music store employee. There is undeniably much of my old identity still extant in the new, for better or for worse, but there is also so much more. Or is there? Have I really gained all that much, or have I merely learned bigger, bolder, more ‘proper’ terms for stating who I have always been?
I am a ‘Marxist’ – but certainly not a ‘Leninist’; a ‘Socialist,’ not a ‘Communist.’ I am an ‘environmentalist’ and a ‘pacifist,’ but not really an ‘activist’ (for better or for worse, I walked right past those EcoHawks and ended up in Phil’s instead). Many people would say that those specifics ‘ists’ mark me as a ‘leftist’, and since they apply that label to me whether I like it or not, there’s not a whole lot I could do about it even if I did disagree.
I am an ‘individualist,’ but I am also an ‘altruist’ – possibly because deep inside I know I’ve always been a ‘humanist,’ and maybe even an ‘idealist,’ I am an atheist, an existentialist, an essayist, and arguably, on my very best days, a humourist. Having reached the end of such a list, am I to assume that I have nothing further to say about who and what I consider myself to be? Obviously not; I am – we are – so much more than the sum of the categories which we define ourselves into that to think otherwise is absolutely laughable.
Yet beyond such simplistic guidelines and signposts, the job of relating further information about the content of one’s character becomes an increasingly time-consuming task, often to the point of exhaustion. With a lifetime of experiences and opinions built up behind every word we speak and thought we hold, it often feels easier to settle for being compartmentalised as merely this or simply that; nothing more salient than a relatively anonymous cog in a larger movement, bound to our comrades and neighbours under the strength of a common title.
So how can the question of defining my ‘identity’ be brought to a close? In the final analysis, I suppose that I am not, and can never be, anything more than the sum of the decisions which I have made in life to this point combined with the exciting hint of all the possibilities which extend in every direction beyond the next choice I am about to make. In a world where categories and ‘ists’ are meaningless and only actions hold any , I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker. I AM the Space Cowboy. Weight