“What do you do?”
I can’t describe how much I have struggled with this question, even when I thought I’d let it go.
I like to imagine a place many generations ago, where there were less people and they were a little more connected and aware of each other, and if I were asked that question my only response would need be “I am Chris.” And that would explain everything.
Today, identity gets blurred by expectations and media images and career plans and elevator pitches. There is an anxiety woven into our culture warning that whoever we are or whatever we’re doing at any given point isn’t enough in and of itself. We categorise and legitimise ourselves with words ending in -er: writer, doodler, whittler, philosopher. If we truly are what we do, then we might also more honestly call ourselves tellywatcher, toothbrusher, money worrier, imaginer of people naked (just throwing out random examples). But it doesn’t sound as impressive.
Young people, when they are struggling to get grips with who they are, get bombarded with questions about what they want to be. Some might even have an answer to this aspired identity question; unlucky them if it isn’t a good enough answer, if it isn’t the identity that was intended for them in the first place. Watch that dream get squished (for their own good of course). The superficial messaging that we receive in the hundreds of brand stories pointed at us every day soothes us, saying how free and individual we are. But everything points to conformity, just with bells on. Quests are not tolerated. Secretly, our culture wants everyone to be the same as everyone else – easier to manage and sell to, I suppose.
“I don’t know what I want to do” – adults say this as much as children these days. If I say it, it can be translated as “I have lost myself.” A painful loss, and you can see it in my eyes when I say it. In those moments, maybe what I most need to do is to experience that pain for a while. This is a secret story playing out up and down the shopping centre escalators that brands would never talk about.
I am Chris. I am a collection of values – possibly even my own heartfelt ones that I have spent much time tracking, observing and courting, and might strive to test and honour above all else. I am a puff of changing emotions that I can’t put my finger on, but which seem intimately linked to those values. I am nothing that ends in -er, apart from when that’s what I happen to be doing at the time.
This gives rise to endless possibility, and in the reflection of these possibilities I see the dreams of an interconnected individual, and I taste freedom.
But to answer “I am Chris”, and all that this complex concept contains, is taken as facetious and frivolous in the world of I.D. Dreams seem to invite concerns over sanity, pity for job prospects or even outright hostility. Dreams and values and emotions are not what make the modern world go round, and perhaps the reminder of this tragedy is profoundly upsetting to a human being. So the dreams get ridiculed and called names as if the playground has never been left, except clever adult words are used: naive, extreme, irresponsible, self-indulgent, idealistic.
As if the deepest expression of the essence of someone’s very core is somehow selfish and unrealistic.
Imagine a world of visionless people divorced from their souls, where the only response to that yawning emptiness is to run off and do things. What kind of a world would that be?
I am Chris.