Writing about Identity

For a while during mid-life I had a real struggle trying to make sense of the idea that, “I’m not that person anymore, that’s not who I am.”  I’m not talking about other people here. I’m talking about reconciling who I am in the present with who I was. In the past I was indeed myself. Now I am also indeed myself. So I could not divorce myself from “that me”. I am speaking only about and for myself here. I do understand what people mean when they talk about this personally. But individually, I have reflected a lot on this idea within my own perspective of life and identity.  Identity.
Who am I?  If we spend too much time on this, we will drive ourselves crazy. I think adolescence is such a fraught time because that is when most of us begin to understand that we aren’t the same as we were as children. There is a reason that adolescence and early adulthood are the season of angst. And then life continues to happen, and we continue to grow, and I think for many of us, we step into life or are drawn into life as it occurs. Not wondering who we are very often.  Just life.  Sometimes good.  Sometimes hard. Sometimes joyful, sometimes tragic. Just life. And sometimes we may still have an identity crisis along the way.
I’m not sure when I was caught again by the idea of identity, then and now.  Probably when I was around fifty.  I have many women family members and friends of many different ages, but for those of us into their fifties and beyond, there seems to be a consensus, a really wonderful consensus. For most of us turning fifty was the time of liberation. Of not caring what anyone else thought about us. Of feeling free to reveal ourselves, to be ourselves, to live free of constraints of the expectations of others, even of those we love and who love us. For those who love us, it can be an adjustment.  This was not a time of angst for me, it was a time of reflection. Of affirmation. I think this is true for many, if not most of us.
At fifty or thereabouts, most of us come into our own.  I sometimes wonder if there is such a shared experience of liberation for men at a certain age.  But through some conversations with various men in my life, I think so. It is a human thing, not a woman thing. But I think women talk about it.  For myself, I think of it as my evolution.  My evolution of identity through the way I have experienced my own, individual life.
My frustration of reconciling “I am a different person.” finally worked itself out for me.  For me identity has come down to this. I am not the same, I am different.  But for me, that difference is not divorced from the person I was, the person I am now is not a different person, but an evolved person. It sounds pretentious. Or maybe cliché, but this is my own perception.  We love and are loved, we hurt others and we are hurt, often because of what we have done. We nurture and, if we are lucky, have been nurtured. I regret some things I have done very deeply, but I have learned, and I have been able to respond to others and to life in a different way. I hope I have grown into a better person. I think I may have become a wiser person. There are lessons we learn because of our mistakes. I believe that we are indeed the sum total of our experiences at each and every stage of our lives. I have not been obsessed with identity over the years. Nor am I now. But at a certain point, well beyond adolescence, I felt the need to revisit the idea of identity. Because I have time now to reflect on such things. I am grateful for this time of peace. Do I experience turmoil at times? Certainly.  Pain? Yes. Anxiety, even depression? Yes. And joy. Life is messy. But the flow of my life overall is quite different. There is much to be said for contentment.
Why do I feel a connection between a private period of reflection and a more open sharing with others, especially writers?  Each of us who communicate with one another here is at a different point in highly individual lives. But we are all writers. Who we are is reflected in what we write. We discover ourselves by writing. We discover one another when we read each other’s writing. We can share, learn, and grow.
Often I post one of my poems to share something that relates to a prose reflection I’m posting.  Pairings. But not today.  Earlier this year I posted several poems in this vein. Today I am posting separately a fragment of a published poem. It is from a longer poem Manila from my book Spent (see About) It is a reflection about a mistake in a relationship. I didn’t feel foolish when I wrote it. I don’t now.  I just feel wiser. The one most closely related to the reflection today is probably my poem Flotsam, published here a few months ago. It felt true when I wrote it. It still feels true.


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