Who Am I?

Dude! I’ve got plans up in this joint!

(I say this on the off-chance anyone’s taken the time to ask themselves: “I wonder what his plans are?” I’m sure there are quite a few of you who have been on pins and needles, anxiously gripping the edges of your seats, fretting away the sleepless nights about it.)

Anywho…

It occurs to me that most of what I’ve written, while it may address obliquely the question of who I am, never really gets to the heart of the matter. You see, to me, identity is less about the grand “WHAT I BELIEVE” (add impressive echo here) than it is about the little things, the experiences I’ve had that have brought me to whatever place I am now. Because, quite frankly, the “WHAT I BELIEVE” is largely dependent on those experiences. They are the reason why I believe what I believe.

This whole blogging thing doesn’t really do much for me unless I can really share with others the person that I am, without code names, without censorship, without obfuscation (which is, by the way, one of my favorite words to say). I take the time to write because, as I was reminded recently by a friend’s post, I crave connection: I want to know people. This is, incidentally, why I suck at networking–my interest in others lies in discovering who they are, not in discovering what they can do for me. I find that often the people who could do the most for me, be it professionally or personally, turn out to be the least interesting people to know. And vice-versa. It’s also why people who are good networkers want nothing to do with me: I seriously doubt that I will ever be in a position to do anything for anyone, either professionally or personally, but I like to think I’m a pretty fun guy to hang out with. (Of course, that may just be a latent narcissistic streak of which I am blissfully unaware…)

What’s more (and this is intended as a commentary on no one but myself), I’ve learned the hard way that if I have something to say that I’m not willing to own, I’m probably not ready to say it yet. Nor is it generally really worth saying. I try to live life according to the following philosophy, couched in Shakespearian parlance: “‘Tis better to hold up thine head and be cudgelled in thy face, than to remain unbruised through keeping it hid.” In other words, as Martin Luther would have put it, sin boldly; if you are to stick your foot in your mouth, do it with pride. Leave a Sam-shaped hole in the wall, for cryin’ out loud!

All this to say, I want you to know me: not just what I think or feel, but where all that thinky-feely stuff comes from. I want to give you a face to go with all the cockamamie ideas. (Feel free to use it as a dart-board; at least this way you’ll get some sporting fun out of the experience!)

So, first things first: Lo! here I am:

148499_10100741148544263_1419274769_nThat’s “Jack Kerouac” me, to the left there. Generally, I find myself somewhat un-photogenic, but then, generally, that’s probably mainly my fault. Because I’m also an irredeemable goofball. If you really want to know ME, you need to see this (below):

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Or this…

149_541775216053_3935_n

Or perhaps even this…

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If you’re sufficiently scared, we’ll move on…

You see, I’m not afraid to look like an idiot. I’ve spent far too much of my life standing on ceremony, minding that “image” thing everyone keeps talking about. I’m not afraid to admit that, as standards of beauty go, I’m no Mona Lisa. But then, if you stop to think about it, by our standards of beauty, the Mona Lisa is no Mona Lisa, either. Which is, really, what makes the Mona Lisa beautiful in the first place, isn’t it…?

I’ve got flaws and blemishes coming out my ears (in some cases, literally). But in those flaws and blemishes, I am ME, the individual no one else can be. Which brings me to the most important fact anyone can ever learn about me: I AM A TOAD! And I’m damn proud of it.

My goal in life is to fit no one’s bill but my own. I was born to break the mold (as were we all), and I am bound and determined to live that way, too. I want to be nobody else but who I am, because who I am is like nobody else.

(And here’s a secret: I only buy all that stuff I just said about individuality most of the time. The rest of the time, I’m one more insecure face in a giant, frightened crowd. Which is to say, I may talk a big line, but when you come down to it, I keep my head down as much as anyone else. But don’t tell–it’s a secret…)

Which brings me back from my constant urge to digress to the reason I started writing this post in the first place: Who I am. I am a scared, lonely, overgrown little boy who for a few minutes each day (if I’m lucky) manages to break free from the anchor-weight of living long enough to glimpse the breadth and depth of life. I am a boat tossed on a sea of uncertainty, hopeful of someday reaching the shore. I am a mystery shrouded in a riddle wrapped in an enigma coated in cliché. I am, in short, one of you. And you are more of me. And as such, I want to touch and be touched; I want to know and be known; I want to love and be loved. Don’t we all?

But I have to do this as myself. I cannot do it as Everyman, because I am not every man. To quote one of my favorite Sting songs, “the mask I wear is one.” I am, at the end of the day, the only person I can be, which is myself. And this mystifies me, too. As much as I want to understand and know others, I want to understand and know myself even more, and after nearly 36 years of trying, I’m convinced that our selves are the hardest people to fathom that any of us will ever meet. So, back to my plans: I want to share me with you in order to decipher my self. Where I came from, those moments in life that define us in silence, without us even being aware that they’ve passed: all those events, encounters, characters that have cast shadows across my path and brought me to the place I am today.

Because the greatest, most important truth of all is this: I am one, but I am many. I am the sum not just of my parts, but of everyone else’s as well. In order, then, to truly undertand myself, I have to understand you. And him. And her. And them. In the end, “me” and “we” are mutually inexclusive. We are all pieces of a whole. without any of which pieces the whole cannot be…well…whole. Nosce te ipsum? First nosce illos ipsi.

So, listen, O bloggers, and you shall hear of all the little things that brought me here. And perhaps, when all is said and done, we will effect a parting of the waters and a meeting of the minds…

11 thoughts on “Who Am I?

  1. Vance, I’ve been meaning to comment on this for several days. I’m so sorry for the delay!

    This post is so – you. And me. And her. And him. I LOVE it.

    It’s true that in your previous writing, and particularly before we became friends on facebook, I really had no idea who the man behind the blog was. Sometimes people prefer it that way — to be anonymous and mysterious — but if what we really crave is connection . . . Then, yes! It’s *so* important to at the very least open a window to allow readers to come in. You embrace your quirkiness, and so why show it off? Why not encourage readers to do the same for themselves?

    I love your thoughts about deciphering yourself. Sometimes I get annoyed when people say you have to “know yourself” before you can do anything else in life. Bullsh**! I’m with you. I think figuring out who I am is a lifelong process. And I agree that people are not mutually exclusive, nor are their experience and selves. I am absolutely who I am today because of what I’ve been through. We all are. That’s why I believe it is *never* okay to discount someone’s perspective simply because it’s different than your own….

    All in all, fantastic post. And I’m super excited to be on this journey of self-discovery with you!

    1. Thanks, Jess, for the thoughts. Always glad to hear what’s on your mind.:o)

      I find that anonymity and mysteriousness, while great for the James Bonds of the world, simply don’t work for me. I believe that we learn the lessons we learn and have the experiences we have for the purpose of sharing them with others, with arms wide open. While it is true that sometimes the result of such openness is a hard smack to the face (or heart), it’s a risk I feel I have to take in order, as your Huck Finn post said, to be true to my heart and self.

      By the way, you posted not too long ago about being accused of too much intensity. I understand completely; I tend to be the guy at the end of the table who WILL turn conversations toward the deep and philosophical, which is not always welcomed by others. BUT! Life is intense and must be lived, discussed and shared intensely, and to me, that is what this blogging thing is for. And I’m thrilled to have found others who seem to feel the same way…

      1. That makes me glad, too, Vance. I’ve always been intense and been drawn to people of the same intensity, but with a funny side, like you. Whoever I marry (if that ever happens) will have to have both, because while I need to be able to indulge (and be appreciated for indulging) in the deeper side of life, it’s important to offset that seriousness by being able to laugh, too. For, as Wilde said, “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about”…!

        And about being open, I am convinced that there is no other way to truly connect with people. Empathy is a powerful thing. The trouble is the line that many people don’t recognize and too often cross. It’s one thing to say “Here I am, flaws and all” and completely another to say, “Here I am, feel sorry for me…” You never want to make your readers feel uncomfortable or like you’re holding a pity party.

        But you already knew that.

        Kind of makes me wonder how a celibate priest could ever be truly effective when giving a mass on, say, marriage, though? Hmm.

      2. “But you already knew that.”

        If that was a gentle hint, it was the nicest I’ve ever received… ;o)

        Seriously, though–yet another reason I took some time off from posting: I felt like I was straying a little too close to that line between openness and fishing expedition. It IS a hard line to walk sometimes; the frustrations of life tend to bleed over into the writing, and you end up taking things out on the innocent people on the other end of the blog…

        I’m amused at your celibacy comment, because just the other day I cataloged an encyclical of John Paul II’s about sexual ethics, and I had the exact same thought.:o)

      3. Haha… Several thoughts… That was NOT a hint!!! I just know that you get it. And quite frankly, that’s why I’ve avoided talking about certain subjects in my own life… I don’t know how to avoid crossing that line with certain things, so need a little more time and distance between them and me to be able to walk that line with ease…

        And yeah, celibacy… Hmm. One of my ex’s is a Catholic priest. Not long ago I listened to part of a talk he gave on purity… It was really hard to take. (This is another story I need to tell someday, but… I am still friends with his family and they read my blog, so…. Haha. Yeah, another one of those lines…)

        And this comment is why we have email, lol. Sorry!

  2. Vance,
    Beautiful post, I think you could have put my pictures up in place of yours and have said many of the same things about me, except for the boy part! That is probably true about many people… Aren’t many of us just mostly scared? For me at least, I often feel that as time goes on and I do more and more brave things, that I am more and more fake, because I do not feel brave, I feel insignificant, and uncertain, much like you, and the rest of the world. However, I feel that it is important to keep facing the giant so to speak and try to be brave, to be more than you feel. In one of my favorite movies The Producers Nathan Lane says to Mathew Broderick, “There’s more to you than there is to you!” That is how I see myself…and actually everyone…
    I am glad that I know, or rather, have known you. Our experiences have shaped me, and helped me believe there is more to me than there is to me. I know all experiences contribute, but something about those times OH SO LONG LONG LONG AGO, were sort of pivotal and, dare I say magical. I am glad that you and I continue to share in a relationship even if it is this long distance,(but it is not too long distance and we really should make the three hour drive) cyber sort of thing. And on a side note, I feel even closer to you in this moment because of your use of willy nilly… a word I use often!

    1. Laurel,

      We DO need to make the three-hour drive. Soon! I’d love to meet the rest of your family.

      The Wells days were pivotal for all of us, I think. I know that the know-nothing, innocent little missionary boy in me did a lot of waking up during the two years we were all there together, and I couldn’t have had a better bunch of facilitators than you guys. I remember the Lounge Lizard group with all the fondness I can summon up in my faulty old heart.

      Oh, yes, and Willy-nilly, willy-nilly, willy-nilly, willy-nilly. Just for you.:o)

  3. Vance, I love this post and the images. I have to agree with both you and Charity. I suck at networking and selling. I’ve never had a personal Facebook account, but I can understand the benefits for many in staying connected to their friends and family.

    I really think it odd, though, that I found the most authentic connections online, and with people who will be my lifelong friends. They helped me discover who I am, and continue to do so. I, of course, have to put myself out there. It’s been difficult for me to share on a more personal level via blogs, but friends like you and Charity have helped me to open up more.

    One of the things I have discovered about myself is that I am guarded because I lived for so long around people who thought they knew me better than I knew myself. They knew me through their own filters. I almost bought into it. Almost. I am not who I am as defined by others. But, at times, I see my own reflection in them. And it is through this reflection that I’ve learned the most about myself, which is one of the reasons why I, too, crave connection.

    1. Keep reminding me about the authenticity of online relationships. Really. I think one of my biggest struggles is adapting my personal idea of authenticity to fit this digital era we live in. My personal relationship with computers is anything but authentic–I use them only when absolutely necessary and understand virtually nothing about them–so I guess i assume, willy-nilly, that relationships I form with others by means of the computer must also be less than real. Which, as you and others are constantly proving to me, is a false assumption. I just miss the one-on-one contact of playground friendships, I guess…

      I get the guardedness thing, and I also understand and appreciate the freedom conveyed by the relative anonymity of the Internet. My personal spiritual and philosophical journey has proven to me in recent times just how little my supposedly close friends and relatives know me and just how often I conformed to others’ ideas of reality rather than seeking my own. (Which I suppose goes to show that not even the one-on-one contact of playground friendships necessarily leads to authenticity in relationships.)

      I guess that my personal drive is to overcome the fear of prying eyes by setting it aside entirely. I know, for instance, that my family sometimes reads what I post, and I know they probably aren’t going to like it, and that it may very well lead to recriminations at a later date, but if my frustration lies in their not understanding who I really am, then laying everything on the line for all to see seems the only logical course (to me, anyway). They may STILL not understand, but at least then no one can say that their misunderstanding is my fault. Which is what I mean by “sticking your foot in your mouth with pride.”:o)

      All of this scares me to death, by the way. I put on a brave face, but I’m terrified of everyone walking away from me because of who I really am. I just keep reminding myself that if that is how they would respond to really knowing me, then I’m not entirely sure I care to know them. Which sounds harsh, but there you have it.

  4. I crave connection: I want to know people. This is, incidentally, why I suck at networking–my interest in others lies in discovering who they are, not in discovering what they can do for me.

    Anglophiletoad, I am the exact same way. This is why I sucked at selling life insurance, Facebook and Church. I found all of those to be more about “who knows who” and gathering contacts for ministers and business men.

    I am not one to have a lot of friends. Although I feel connected to a good number of people in blog land, I find it difficult to connect with people where I live. I think it’s often because I am NOTHING like other wives who are stay at home moms in this southern suburbia.

    It’s good to get to know you a little better.

    Enjoy your weekend.

    1. I sold kitchen knives door to door once, or attempted to, anyway. The whole showing up at strangers’ doors with a sack full of potential weaponry created some difficulty (I’m guessing the “you could be hit by a bus on your way home tonight” opener worked in a similar fashion with your product.) But the biggest issue I had with the whole thing was the inauthenticity of it all. I was trying to sell something I would never purchase myself (couldn’t afford it) to people I was trained to pretend to like. I have never been more frustrated in my life…

      I too tend to not have huge numbers of friends; neither does my wife. Her advantage is having grown up in one place, whereas I bounced around the Western hemisphere until I hit 19. She still has friends she went to grade school with (one in particular that she still sees quite often); I try to stay connected with people I knew at that age, but most of them live in other countries, and the rest are so far removed at this point that we really don’t know each other at all. I have a really good group of friends from college, but even they are so far removed geographically that it’s almost impossible to really connect (and by that I mean flesh-and-blood-wise) with them except on a very limited basis.

      As for difficulties connecting with immediate neighbors, I can definitely relate to that: I’m an atheist-leaning agnostic hanging off the southern tail of the Bible Belt–suffice it to say that kindred spirits aren’t coming out of the woodwork down here.

      And thanks–it’s good to BE known a little better.:o) I hope you have a wonderful weekend as well!

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