I usually respond to self-identity issues through emotional thought exercises. When I moved back home the first thing I did was glide into my bedroom, plop onto my old red office chair, and swirled in circles around my bedroom. And all around me were blurry rusty memories of myself crumbling. In that corner. Sprawled out in the center. Sitting near my desk. Leaning over my vanity. Or on my white chair with disinterested glazed eyes in the direction of my television. Then there is my bed– one giant tissue. And my bathroom counter which I still like to curl up in. I have cried about how I couldn’t stop needing my parents. I have cried because I was unsure what my lovers really thought about me. I have cried about suicide and self-loathing and mental illness. I have cried about religion and God. I have cried because when I was all alone, not a glimmer in anyone’s consciousness, I felt unreal. I have cried because I didn’t know how to push the people away who have dirtied me. I have cried just to cry over and over again.
Though my self-identity has always been in an insecure-flux there were a couple of labels that I have kept in mind as a way to keep me self-aware. They were the kind of identities that you are forced fed like being a daughter, being italian, or being a student. The identity that took up most of my time and energy was being a student (admittedly, a predisposed plan with its own baggage). Now that I graduated and am done with school I have a lot of energy and time and brainpower unused and available for an existential crisis. I now have to actually figure out who I am. What this world is to me. And what kind of life I want.
My initial reaction to these pondering was a yo-yo between restlessness and fear. I wanted to experience things. Lots of things. Quickly. Urgently. I didn’t want any moment wasted. I didn’t know what those things were but I knew that they were out there being fondled by a stranger that I was jealous of. But, I knew that every choice I made will open one door but close off enough. And I was also petrified in making the wrong choice and then closing off doors to spectacular things. Because I am not 100% confident in anything about me I don’t know what choices I should be making and which doors are of merit to me. However, there is one glimmer of information about myself that I am starting to embody. I have a passion for art . As far as doors go, closing any door that gets me closer to being a professional artist would be the biggest of the fears. Another thing I’m scared of is falling into a routine of comfort. I am already extremely comfortable in Manhattan, with my boyfriend, with local friends doing local things, in a close distance from family. I could do this forever and be fine and that’s what’s unnerving. I’m too young to say something like that. I do not want to be trapped– I need to run and gallop. But there is a lot of mucus around me that is keeping me a bit stuck. Inside of me. Outside of me. I’m scared of falling into a dull routine that wastes the rest of my life because that is what’s comfortable.
All of these problems would be less dramatic if I had a drive– if I had a list that answered: what is my life, who do I want to be?, what really matters? Why don’t I have any goals at all?– if I had a mountain.
Something that was really inspiring to me was Neil Gaiman’s recent speech at the commencement ceremony at University of the Arts Class of 2012. He said some really brilliant things but an especially inspiring Gaiman quote was:
Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.
Since I heard this speech I been inspired to create my mountain. I did this by mind mapping out a bucket list. I created different categories of goals/self-identities. The main four categories are: (1) Art (2) Travel (3) Humans (4) Money (5) Other. Then underneath each category I created a list of examples that would accomplish those identities. My bucket list quickly became nutrients for my biggest art piece– living.
By giving myself feasible, interesting, exciting, adventurous, and curious goals I provided myself with a path. This path is interesting enough for me to be know that I will enjoy the process, the experience, and the accomplishment of going down it. On the other hand, I didn’t create a step-by-step plan so in the vagueness there’s enough room for me to breathe and make impulsive choices and to not be trapped.
Creating the bucket list didn’t solve all my existential difficulties however it has given me a strong foundation. I have some sort of idea of what I want to do and what opportunities in life are useful to me and what are not. I know that if I were to die crossing off everything on my list then that would be a really fantastic amazing life that I would be proud of. It would be a life that I know I chose to make. It wouldn’t be the reactionary kind of life.