Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"I" and "Love" and "Choice"

Photo by Mark Patterson

I just started taking a course (my final course in the MACS program) on the concept of identity. Between this course and some occasional thoughts that arise from my fieldwork for my thesis, benthropology.com will be little more than a showcase of what I'm working on in school for the next several months. This blog post is slightly modified from the first assignment I submitted for class. We were asked to post a picture and explain how it represents our "core identity." Here goes....

As you all know from [our discussion of Rogers Brubaker's thoughts on "identity"] the other night, I don't exactly believe in this concept of a "core identity," a "self," or whatever you want to call it. I'm not going to argue that it's not there, only that I can't demonstrate that it is, much less what it is.

So, instead of trying to articulate "I" in terms of "Who I Am," I would rather speak of my identity in terms of "What I Love." Although that can be a very long list, I think it comes down to just a few things that are represented in this picture.

1. Music. I'm thinking back to the [Introduction to Cultural Sustainability] class when we were all asked to say a few words about our cultural identity. I explained that, despite my upbringing in a Christian family, an awareness of my American nationality (i.e. pledging allegiance to the flag hundreds of times in my childhood, but really taking more pride in my WW2 hero grandfather), and occasionally exploring my Irish, German, and allegedly Cherokee roots, I no longer feel that I closely identify with one cultural group. When I look back on the last 30ish years that I can remember, there is only one thing that I have done and enjoyed frequently and consistently enough to consider labeling myself accordingly: I am a "musician." But, when it comes down to it, I think that most (if not all) sentient beings are musicians; I just happen to get paid for it. What really matters in this identification is that I am passionate about writing, listening to, performing, thinking and talking about music, much more so than anything else I do that could be called a skill, habit, pastime, or vice.

2. Nature. [The photo above] is an engagement photo that was taken out in my parents' yard. We sat on an enormous log that was washed up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I always feel at peace among, in, and on trees (interpret that however you'd like), and I think it's fair to say that I identify with "nature" (plants, animals, rocks, all that stuff) in a way that is comparable to how I identify with many of the people in my life. It's obviously not exactly the same connection - I don't have verbal conversations with clouds or anything like that - but I identify with the whole of my environment.

3. Silliness. We had some sillier pictures taken during our photo shoot, but I'm sure my fiancĂ©e would kill me for using one of them here. This one captures another thing I love to do: laughing and making people laugh, especially by doing nonsensical things. Laughter is, ironically, something that gives me a sense of purpose, though it is usually triggered by ideas and events that appear to be meaningless and absurd.

4. Family. I have 3 brothers, 2 sisters, 2 awesome parents, 13 cousins, 4 uncles, 4 aunts, a couple of cats, some siblings-in-law, and many more people whom I consider family, even if they aren't technically so. We all have a variety of cultural, political, and religious persuasions. Even among my immediate family, there has been some drifting away from the Protestant tradition we all grew up with. Some of us are beer people; others, wine people. Despite all of our differences, I feel more connected to them than to anyone else in this world. And despite all of our commonalities, it is the fact that they are "family" that makes me intentionally identify with them - not because they are my blood relatives, but because I choose to keep calling them "family."

And now I'm about to start a new family with the awesome woman in this picture. When I first met her padrino (godfather) on New Years Eve 2012-13, he must have handed me 10 shots of rum, pitorro, or coquito, each time saying, "Bienvenidos a la familia" - "Welcome to the family." So not only am I starting a new family; I'm also marrying into a family I haven't known for very long, but who will be part and parcel of this "identity" that I'm choosing. That is really the essence of what I am - or rather, what I love: choice. Not "in law" or "by blood." But in love and by love is how "I" come to be. I love that which compels me to love.

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