Identity (French: L’Identité) is a novel by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in 1998. Kundera moved to France in 1975. Identity is set primarily in France and was his second novel to be written in French with his earlier novels all in Czech. The novel revolves around the intimate relationship between Chantal and her marginally younger partner Jean-Marc. The intricacies of their relationship and its influences on their sense of identity brings out Kundera’s philosophical musings on identity not as an autonomous entity but something integral shaped by the identities of others and their relations to your own.
The passage of time almost demands that we tell some sort of story: there are certain ways in which we can’t help changing through life, and we must respond to them. Young bodies differ from old ones; possibilities multiply in our early decades, and later fade. When you were seventeen, you practiced the piano for an hour each day, and fell in love for the first time; now you pay down your credit cards and watch Amazon Prime. To say that you are the same person today that you were decades ago is absurd. A story that neatly divides your past into chapters may also be artificial. And yet there’s value in imposing order on chaos. It’s not just a matter of self-soothing: the future looms, and we must decide how to act based on the past. You can’t continue a story without first writing one.
Although I still clearly work within ‘education’, a lot of my work has morphed to working behind the scenes. My title is ‘subject matter expert’, whatever that means. Really I find myself doing the work required, whether that might be. This is not the job of a ‘teacher’, but it is also not the job of the admin either. Strangely it is a continuation of what I was doing in school, but out of the classroom, whether it be timetabling, daily organization, academic reports, data management etc … These are legitimate activities with clear outcomes that need to be done, just not sure they create a very clear narrative.
Who do you model your career after?
Oh. Willy Wonka. That’s the world I like. You have your factory, you make something, put it out, and then close shop to the public for a while.
Is that why privacy is so important to you?
I don’t think life is real unless some things are just for you. Things that should not or cannot be shared. I think the younger generation is going to have a hard time distinguishing whether something is for them or for others, and I think it could play out as a diminished sense of self. You really have to know what you would do if no else was watching.
Like the story about Robert Redford when the elevator door is closing and someone asks him, “Are you the real Robert Redford?” And he said, “Only when I’m alone.”
Exactly. I mean, how do you know otherwise?
What remains more difficult to predict are the qualities that make you truly distinct: your thoughts and beliefs, your personal history, the unspoken nuances of the relationships that have made you who you are, and the unbounded expanse of moral and imaginative possibilities that constitutes your own mind. Attending to those aspects of yourself is the work of a lifetime—and far from boring.
When editors ask you to be vulnerable, what they really want is for you to be permeable, for the windows you place in your defenses to offer a sense of the area beyond. The walls don’t need to be breached, and they don’t need to come all the way down in a way that puts you in danger. Hence our guiding light, the cow with a hole—who is in no danger at all, but whose innards are in easy reach for those who need to understand them. Putting a cannula in a cow is not opening the cow up to further damage; it’s surgery-level safe, unlike all usual ways of putting a hole in a cow, and it only reveals what it needs to reveal. But it makes the cow penetrable, so that some things that might otherwise be mysteries can be investigated directly.
there’s a limited amount you can learn about cow digestion from (sorry, gruesome image follows) just cutting a cow open and letting its guts fall out. Even if you then proceed to look at those guts with a microscope! The structure is gone; they stand in no relationship to each other, or to the cow as a whole.
It is interesting to think about this alongside.
The truth is that I’m absolutely fine. I needed to come to terms with some skeletons in the closet. The funny thing about skeletons in the closet is that when you don’t deal with them…they not only stick around, but they start lifting weights and getting stronger.
I’m fine. If I wasn’t…I wouldn’t have written that post.
While talking with a friend after my last post, we both agreed that I’m not truly myself in my writing in these spaces. I’m a facsimile of what I think others want to see from me.
This had me thinking again about Chris Wejr’s post about not always being able to share who you are.
I was going to write another post about the importance of sharing who we are… and I still believe this is important; however, it is much easier for people with a life that is more acceptable in society.
Although blogging allows you to step-away from the templated self of social media, there is still the contraints of society. As Edward Snowden touches on in his newsletter:
From the blue checks to the red pills, we all want to be free to speak as ourselves, and to be recorded as ourselves, without fear of persecution, and we all want to be able to decide what that freedom means, to ourselves and to our communities, however defined. My family back home in the States, along with many of my friends in the States and in Europe, are lucky enough to now be going around unmasked, but millions — mostly in the world’s poorer countries — have no such privilege. It’s here that the analogy with speech freedoms comes into starkest relief: until the air is clear for all, it’s clear for none.
I was also thinking about your point about speaking to an audience.
Identify one person that you know would value or connect with your words or content. Find one specific person that your message would resonate with. Your words and content should be directed specifically to them.
What then does th being truly yourself means for your audience?
Physically speaking I’m attracted to women, but that’s not usually what drives me when I’m rooting through my virtual skin closet to decide what I’m gonna wear to the big bash.
If our ideas are equated to our identity, then talking about ideas is very much the act of talking about yourself.
One way to define our identity is to fall in love with an idea (often one that was handed to us by a chosen authority). Another is to refuse to believe our identity is embodied in an idea, and instead embrace a method for continually finding and improving our ideas.
This reminds me of:
Don’t say “I’m right, and you’re obviously wrong.”
Say “at this point, given all the evidence I’ve considered and having made a genuine effort to try and see if from the other side (point to some examples), the balance of the argument seems to rest on this side for these reasons, so for now that’s what I am going with. If new evidence, or a better argument comes along I am totally willing to change my mind about this, and I’ll also be pleased because it will mean I’ve gained a deeper understanding about the world.”
You see, my whole identity is wrapped up in the world of APIs, and while most of the time I am fine with that, I find myself in these moments feeling that I need much more than just performing in this online production, and where I always get stuck is with the reality that other than API Evangelist I really haven’t been good at anything in my life—I have been pretty much stuck in mediocre white guy mode.
Some time ago, I had a reader send me a very curious e-mail. It was an interview that they had conducted. In fact, they had interviewed themself! At first, this was very puzzling. But, on some reflection, I realized what a gift this was! I don’t like my part of the interview very well anyway. This is the answer!
This is an insightful exercise. Alongside #DigiWriMo alternative CV, Doug Belshaw’s letter to the past and Seth Godin’s letter to the future, these prompts offer a range of approaches for unpacking our sense of identity.
Strive for honesty, not truth – Don’t lie to your audience. Don’t lie to yourself. Dishonesty and performative actions will stick out for all to see. If you have trauma, neglect, or sorrow to contend with, be a human and reckon with it.
I have also been thinking about identity and memoir while digging into the work of Beau Miles.
Facebook and Twitter represent the v1 of Social Networking; it’s a bad copy of the analog world, whereas v2 is something unique to digital, and a lot more promising.
To the extent that v2 social networking allows people to be themselves in all the different ways they wish to be, the more likely it is they become close to people who see other parts of the world in ways that differ from their own. Critically, though, unlike Facebook or Twitter, that exposure happens in an environment of trust that encourages understanding, not posturing.
It is interesting to think of alongside Ian O’Byrne’s discussion of building up your digital identity and Kin Lane’s exploration of personal API’s. It also seems in opposition to Dave Eggars’ TruYou. I wonder what this means for the notion of a ‘canonical’ self?
For both full timers and independents, career growth in a permissionless world is increasingly going to be a modular and iterative process vs the step-change enabled by the old world of gatekeepers.
So don’t wait for permission. If you’re unsure about the future of your career – don’t look for answers, don’t look for validation or labels – look for experiments, new networks and narrative air-cover. And remember that this networked permissionless world has enabled the opportunity to simply write your way into a new way of thinking and being
Big futures are permissioned. Little futures are permissionless.
One way to create narrative stability is through creating “narrative institutions” – these are projects, websites, businesses, side projects, hobbies or activities that you can lean on for stability. While formal things like career, job description or professional label are in flux we can rely on our narrative institution to provide stability.
I wonder how this relates to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s discussion of anti-fragility?
Each year, some choose to ‘disappear’ and abandon their lives, jobs, homes and families. In Japan, there are companies that can help those looking to escape into thin air.
So I’m considering this time as a gestation period, as a time when I’m still in the chrysalis, waiting to emerge. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like in practice, but instead of looking back to being a caterpillar, I’m instead going to focus on turning into a butterfly.
Unlike the physical transformation that the caterpillar undergoes, my metamorphosis might be less obvious to those around me. Shifts in worldview and outlook sometimes are. But it’s an important thing to note for me: to give myself permission to let go of my pre-pandemic self.
It is interesting working in project which has the intent of making my work obsolete, that is creating resources and building the capacity of others so that I am not depended upon so much. The challenge I am finding is that you can make something ‘reproducible’ however if the person in question does not actually want to reproduce it and follow your recipe then you are in trouble.
On ‘Doug-shaped’ things, I have recently been engaging with a few things from. He talks about continually recentring around what matters. It kind of left me wondering, to borrow your point, what is ‘Aaron-shaped’? I do stuff, but I am not always sure what shape it really is.
I remember thinking early on that there could be a divide between our identity and our ideas. However, I often think back to your comment which challenged me:
As connected learners we are not just curating ideas and resources, we are creating relationships, some are just ‘weak ties’ but others are very meaning, rich and strong. I don’t just read Dean, I hear his voice, I connect to previous things he has said, and I pause just a little longer if he says something I disagree with
However, it is also important to remember, as Chris Wejr captures, is that not everyone is able to be who they are online.
I sometimes wonder if the issue is not who we are ‘online’, but who we are offline? I really like Austin Kleon’s point about keeping a diary as a private space.
I find that my diary is a good place to have bad ideas. I tell my diary everything I shouldn’t tell anybody else, especially everyone on social media. We are in a shitty time in which you can’t really go out on any intellectual limbs publicly, or people — even your so-called friends! — will throw rocks at you or try to saw off the branch. Harsh, but true.
Although I could always do more about communicating who I am online, I do not think I spend near enough time stopping and considering my offline space.
We have to get to work fixing our broken foundation, and making sure future generation won’t have to deal with all of our baggage around race, gender, and the environment. Allowing musicians like Shannon to make music without slowly killing themselves, and providing opportunities around fashion or cooking for people like the kid, giving our children the opportunity find themselves while centering their lives around something they love to do.
Writing is my virtue: it is the right thing to do; it gives me strength, it provides the courage to say things, admit things, I might not without it.
But writing is also my vice. It is an obsession, all consuming, something that I can’t stop thinking about even when doing other things. It is a habit I cannot shake, one that I must live with, am more than willing to do so.