Identity Cleft

Who am I?

Difficult question to ask isn’t it? No it isn’t, I’m Tim, your best friend ever and the person whose blog you turn to whenever you need a good chuckle or existential crisis. But what makes me who I am? Is it what I think (that bacon is overrated), is it what I do (say I love bacon, but then eat less bacon than you might think), or is it some combination of the two? Personally, I believe that what a person thinks is basically irrelevant. If it doesn’t lead to action then it’s it’s entirely subjective, there’s no record of it except inside that person’s own mind, and it has no impact on the world (except in rare cases of telekinesis, you know Derren Brown sort of shit, or what I like to call ‘Brownian motion’). And in regards to what people say? Well I could go around telling people that I have six arms (it’s a great ice-breaker), but it will have no impact on how many arms I actually have, which, if I had to guess, is closer to two.

What I’m saying is that the only thing that counts is action. So in that regard, who am I?

When I’m on my own? I’m that person who, when I realise I’ve taken a wrong turn while walking somewhere, is not confident enough to simply stop, turn round and go the other way. That would look mental. I have to put on a little play where I stop, look at my phone, act confused and maybe enraged at the erroneous directions I’ve received from some non-existent friend, then sort of huff at nothing, and impatiently turn the other way and continue walking. As far as what I’m thinking in that situation goes, well that means nothing, because I’m not behaving in a way that bears that out, and that’s all people can see.

We do this sort of thing all the time; my favourite individual one-act play is the one called ‘Push/Pull’, a silent comedy of errors wherein the main character encounters a set of double doors. They push one. No movement. They pull it. Nothing. They push the other. Still nothing. They pull it. At last, it yields. The actor grins with relief, and slaps their forehead to signify what a dunce they are. They walk through the door, shaking their head in disbelief, before turning bright red upon exiting stage left.

These are things we do to influence how people see us in the world. We want to not look like a total idiot, and show we have some humour about our idiocy. But it never fools anyone does it? I mean, it’s nice to see someone show humility when they’ve been wrong, but if someone manages to get through a door only on the fourth try, and then walks through stony-faced, I’m not going to think they’re a psychopath. But we need to display to everyone around us a certain version of what’s happened. Which is all part of constructing our social identity.

Watch any reality TV show these days (please don’t) and you’ll find at least one of the contestants/characters/housemates/jungle-bunglers say something to the effect of “I just speak my mind. If I don’t like them I tell them to their face. It’s just being honest.”

No it’s not, it’s being a bellend. Being honest would be to tell someone when they’ve done something specific to upset you, or the missteps of manners in their behaviour. Telling someone you straight up don’t like them is basically always shitty. But there’s a difference between not necessarily speaking your mind and being two-face. One means you have a sense of tact, and social grace, while the other means you’re a district attorney for Gotham City, and half of your face was burned with acid in a courtroom, which manifests as a split personality and a vendetta against Batman. You see? Worlds apart.

Similarly, how we present ourselves on social media is a relatively new dimension to identity. We now have more opportunities to define ourselves, forced to form opinions on everything, from the history of Western politics, and the relationship between the critical and commercial view of Christopher Nolan, through to whether honey is better for you than sugar (apparently it isn’t). If what we actually are, is the collection of viewpoints we display through social media, then most of us are actually fucking unbearable.

We also have different versions of ourselves for different groups of people, and times in our lives. Anyone that’s been to university will know that it’s largely touted as being an opportunity to reinvent yourself, away from those meddlesome corroborators to your past personality. Nerds can become interesting kooks, meat-heads can soften into film students, and those kids that didn’t really fit anywhere can do anything, but mostly tend to double-down on weed and scarves.

In my case, I aimed to totally invert my personality by becoming someone who could actually make friends, and talk to girls without sycophantically laughing at everything they said until they got paranoid that I was laughing at them, or just thought I was simple. And I got a haircut.

If you were wondering how that all panned out, feel free to look at my Facebook profile. Still got short hair. That’ll show those people who ridiculed me at age 19 for wearing an alice band to work. It’s almost like they wanted hair in their food.

In contrast, there’s a whole different version of myself I present when walking through the city alone at night. What I do, and I think this is quite a common technique, is try to adopt a certain threateningly wide ‘don’t mug me’ gait, and try to wear all of my past transgressions on my face. A face that tells of when I deliberately stroked a cat’s fur the wrong way because it had annoyed me; when I sneaked into a cinema and saw The Hangover Part Three without paying; and of course the time when I smoked that cigarette.

And long-term? How much do our identities change throughout our lives? I often think of a hypothetical moment in my future where I will have become the person I will be for the rest of my life. But if anyone actually reaches that point wouldn’t they just be bored? Do we just decide that our opinions on everything won’t change? What if at some point in the future, I want to be able to decide that I love bowling? Who knows? Maybe at some point in my thirties I’ll get really into it, and that’s okay. Maybe I’ll decide that knowing everything about different types of ale and telling everyone about it at every opportunity is somehow interesting too (if that happens, please show me this blog, and then kill me. Actually don’t kill me. Maybe frame me for some heinous ale-based crime so I have time to repent and re-evaluate).

My point of course, is that we shouldn’t feel bad about thinking one thing and saying another, or not always acting in line with our inner monologue, as long as what we say and do useful, good things. And that who we are anyway is free to change. For example, I never used to be this self-righteous, maybe one day I’ll return to being more humble.

But right now, I like being someone who writes blogs about very nebulous topics that don’t necessarily have satisfying endings, and masks that by closing on a sentence that sounds somehow conclusive. Because that’s who I am.

Next time on the Bandwagon – I explain that budgetary restrictions can really save you money. And for just £8.99 a month, I’ll show you how.

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Twenty-Six Years of Solitude

“No man is an island. Islands are generally cohesive masses of land surrounded by bodies of water, with their own climate and eco-system, rendering it quite unlikely for them be sentient or in any way gendered.” – John Donne in a pedantic mood.

“Oh God Tim, stop writing about negative emotions. It’s fucking depressing.” – You.

“I’ve started this entry with way too many quotes.” – Me.

I was going to work my way through the remaining deadly sins I haven’t covered yet, but thought I’d take a detour to write about loneliness. Partly because it’s an interesting topic, and partly because I think it shares something in common with boredom, and what a great idea to tread such similar ground two posts in a row.

Loneliness is surely a symptom of our biological and sociological need to exist surrounded by a decent number of other people, due to safety in numbers, a wider and therefore more robust gene pool, and recognition that a one-person game of Cards Against Humanity is basically just reading. No longer living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle means that loneliness is now less life-threatening (two-person trapeze acts notwithstanding), and only really affects our sense of well-being, and more directly our likelihood of procreation via tandem genital action. We’re constantly surrounded by people, and even let technology take the difficulty out of interaction, which seems like a sufficient substitute, but (as any episode of Black Mirror or indeed any entry of this blog, will tell you) ultimately damages your ability to do the same thing in the real world, while also making you less inclined to. Social media may seem like a good simulated antidote, but it’s very much like walking with a limp after breaking your leg. In the short term it alleviates the pain, but you’re doing more harm than good overall, and you really should see a doctor please, your foot’s gone black.

There seems to be an antiquated image of masculinity attached to the idea of loneliness, through the prism of ‘solidarity’ and the ‘lone wolf’ archetype. This seems to have come to prominence, not only through Wolf from Gladiators (remember how great he was because he was angry?), but also through 80s action movies, where ‘one man’ must do everything he can to stop the evil baddies, because being alone is great, and needing assistance is weak and lady-like. Just look at the jacked action stars from those days up to now. Are we expected to believe they got to where they are totally on their own, instead of with the help of several personal trainers, dieticians, friends, family and steroids? Sure, a ‘one-man army’ sounds impressive, but it’s probably very unfulfilling emotionally. I imagine John McClane would have loved to have someone to pick glass out of his feet for him. But sadly, he’s a real man, which is why his relationships with his wife and children were so healthy.

These crazy movie characters were out on their own because they were portrayed as being special, unique, misunderstood ballistic geniuses. And that’s certainly a road to loneliness, feeling like we’re all snowflakes, that can’t be put into a box. As kids we were always told how special we were (or I hope you were, unless I was the only one, in which case I actually am special. Oh wow, this is a lot to take on. Doctrine? Oh I don’t know, be good to each other, love thy Neighbours, even if it is a terrible soap, it needs your support. Umm, sacrifice a child every so often, but only a really shit one, like one of the ones that wipes its nose on its school jumper instead of a tissue. And worship me every day, I’m desperate for approval. But if I ever have a son, he’ll just be a regular guy probably, don’t start ignoring me). The only alternative of course is an admission that we’re all largely the same, but the basis of most art is to communicate what feels like a unique experience, only to have people recognise their own seemingly unique experience in said art. If people just accepted they were the same anyway, maybe no-one would bother. You’d go to draw something, write something, sculpt something, say something, and come to the conclusion that anybody else could do it too, so what’s the point?

And isn’t that another sort of loneliness? The feeling of being lost in a crowd, not being seen? And what about our loneliness as a species, resulting in SETI, and science-fiction wherein we make contact with aliens. We want to find another species out there, so we can feel comforted by the fact that Reljax from the planet Grenknork also gets sad sometimes and wonders whether anyone actually reads his blog.

I guess the way to combat loneliness is to force yourself to talk to others, even though loneliness can feel self-perpetuating. Talking to friends and family etc. helps me, even if that is just on Facebook – it’s better than sitting and wishing.

In recent memory I would say the most loneliness has hit me was after the break-up of a long-term relationship a few months ago. We lived together for a while afterwards until I found somewhere else and moved out. With the help of my parents, I moved my stuff out over the course of a day, us ferrying my belongings from the old place to the new in two cars over several trips. With the last car load full, I said goodbye to my ex with a confusing feeling of finality, and finished moving out. With too many books, not enough clothes, furniture and odds and ends unloaded into my new bedroom, and my parents having helped as much as they could, they left me to reorganise this new piece of land.

For a long time after they’d gone, I was in my bedroom, where I am now, feeling more alone than I had in at least a few years. I didn’t know what my life would be from that point on. Who would I tell about my day, or about that interesting titbit I heard while listening to a podcast? Unpacking all of my belongings just reinforced how many of my hobbies were purely solitary; reading, playing music, stand-up comedy.

I don’t even have a good, satisfying ending for how things got better, but they did. I’d already started writing this blog at that point (see if you can spot the undertones of bitterness in my blog about Valentine’s Day back in February), and certainly having an imagined audience was useful. But more useful were actual people. Not the ones on social media, but the ones I saw in real life, as often as possible to get through it. I know, boo-fucking-hoo I went through a tough break-up in my mid-twenties, what a precious little snowflake I am. But that’s the point. I wasn’t different, I was like everyone else. Everyone understood, and I wasn’t alone.

Next time on the Bandwagon, I get off my emotional high-horse, and tell the story about another relationship, during which we had an argument on Halloween, and I stormed out dressed as Tintin.