One aspect of the pandemic that brought me low is the feeling of losing myself. The features and qualities that I rely on for self identification melted away and what remained was not enough.
I’m not sure that I’m explaining it right. All of my life, I have used labels to define myself. They started off as nicknames or descriptors given to me by my parents or my sister. What does it mean to be “Supergoof” or “Strawberry Freckled Face?” That was me, when I was little. I was also “so smart!” and “such a good bowler!” and “spoiled brat.” The nicknames and praise made me happy, because I felt like I was those things. The criticism of being “spoiled” I also took to heart, and I tried for a long time to be generous enough that such a descriptor might fall off and no longer apply.
I lived for the praise. I still do, I suppose. Eventually, I started coming up with my own descriptors, and the external names became less important. I was good with computers. I liked to draw. I was skinny. I played saxophone.
I became a gamer, in the original definition of the word. I was a bit of a nerd, but that suited me just fine. I still played saxophone, and bowled, and did stuff with computers, and I played around with writing. After my Dad died, I decided I wasn’t just playing around — being a writer became one of my core identities.
I was someone’s boyfriend for a while. I was an Airman in the Air Force for a while. Then I became a husband, and a father. A “bread winner,” a home owner, and a computer tech.
Should a person wear so many faces? I saw myself as well-rounded, but maybe I was too divided.
These identities were based on the things that I did, and the things I did were the basis of how I saw myself. I’m not sure why I’m using past tense. It’s still how I see myself. When I’m not taking part in the activities I use to define myself, I lose touch with who I am. I become no one.
That touches on a central fear that I’ve talked about on this blog before. I don’t want to be a mistake, the accidental product of a couple of teenagers that had unprotected sex in the early 70s. Lives were changed, not always for the better, just by me existing in the world. I need to leave the world better than I found it. I need my life to justify itself, somehow.
How can I justify my existence if I’m no one?
With the pandemic, I stopped doing the things I use to define myself. I stopped writing. I didn’t play music. I didn’t bowl. I wasn’t reading or making art or game with people. Even at work, I was programming less than I used to, because they need me to do more than just code.
Recently, I went on a retreat and started writing again. Just last weekend, I played my saxophone with a swing band. Today, I helped a couple of people write some code. I’m still not programming much in the way that I normally think about programming, but maybe it’s a new identity starting to form. It feels uncertain and new and scary.
Who will I become if I stop writing again? Who will I become if I go back to doing nothing?
I’m writing now, and I can only control the present.