Identities are stubbornly quantum and resistant to definition. We think ourselves into being one day as one thing, and another day seek to be something else entirely. This process repeats itself in perpetuity. Trying to build a solid edifice out of your identity is well-nigh impossible, as the bricks of its structure are really quantum bubbles jumping all over the place, weirdly etherous. It is hard to strike a balance between an identity’s simultaneous solid and vapour states.
Identities can be like colliding galaxies. Often what we think of as integral parts of our ‘self’ came from somewhere else. The identity we mould for ourselves brick by vaporous brick is at odds with pieces of identity that people around us thrust into our precious edifice. Sometimes that foamy edifice we ‘built’ to hold our heads high in the world is completely invisible.
Today, there are means available to battle identity invisibility, like selfies on Facebook, where we amplify and exaggerate the idea of self. But outside the virtual box, the real people around us are only able to see the odd bits and pieces that they imposed into the structure of our identity. These pieces say less about us and more about the person it came from. If we are suggestible and hold on to these foreign bricks for too long, we may end up believing what others, ideologies, religions, even our families tell us we should or ought to be. To extrapolate from Shakespeare, to be ‘this’ or not to be ‘that’ becomes the question.
I have a friend who describes me as ‘independent’. That is an adjective, also a unit of identity, a fluid brick if you will. It somehow stuck out from my morphing edifice, gargoyle like. The problem: ‘independent’ was something I never was; I am, if anything dependent, living inside a suffocating smog of despondence. In an epiphany one day, I realised my sit-at-home dependence and insecurity to her was a form of independence, a short cut, my layaboutness.
Though she was no layabout, she was fighting a very intense personal struggle for ‘independence’ by her own misty definition, to overcome burdens and perceived chains. She had slotted an airy brick into my edifice that really belonged in hers, this was a brick she desperately desired for herself. But when she used the word for me it was tinged with passive malice and the word had miraculously ‘antonymised’ in nuance; it was now somehow undercutting. All this from one fluid word, one protean byte of identity, the always quantum identity, a bizarre world difficult to intuit, where one word can be its own antonym.
Another friend once called after a long time to ask me about the correct way to cook button mushrooms. I chose to feel disparaged that day. How can I insist on feeling slighted for something that I have used in the past to define myself? This is my very own vaporous brick, this cooking self. Some days I like being ‘this’, and on others I find I hate being known for only ‘this’. I had to find an explanation for the constant switching between these states of being.
There have been many more banal recipe queries, and every time I received such a call or message I would feel uneasy. It was because in my friends’ queries lay a certain kind of reduction, a cutting down to size. It suits them to only place a few bricks in my edifice. The thing that I wanted to be most, which was not my cooking self, was invisible to some and from some others I kept hidden, tucked away from their view. They would only perceive pretence and clumsy swagger where I was striving for growth and steady mobility. The quantum nature of identity is such that what I view as essential to my existence, to somebody else that essence is simply arrogance, waiting to turn into hubris.
Identities vary from place to place. How is it that I feel like one person in this city and when I visit my hometown I feel like something else? Well, it’s because in different places, even in different houses, people size you up differently based on actual information, your gender, social standing, misconceptions, perceptions, gossip or grudges towards you. A daughter is never perceived in the same way as a daughter-in-law for instance. And this disparity in perception can yoyo from extreme to mild across cultures. So your identity can change from person to person and from place to place. There’s no pinning it down, it is like a darned electron inside an atom.
Cannier folk than me have learned to manage this quantum fluctuation in identity by getting a jump on their image building. I have not succeeded at something so corporate. As perceptions go, I exist at the tail end of the continuum — a place where it feels like I am working hard to get my naked emperor to put on some invisible new clothes for the people to see and praise.