Thoughts On Identity

roadSome years back I wrote an essay called Learning The Language. The piece reflected on my experiences living abroad, learning to navigate a foreign country and culture with a somewhat limited grasp on the language.

The essay wasn’t so much about learning to speak a foreign language, as it was about learning who I was (and who I was not) in the context of that new environment but also in the context of the world and my life.

I was in my twenties, recently graduated from college, recently married. I was trying to find my place in the world, as if my identity were a destination. But now I know that identity is not a destination, but rather a journey.

Identity is fluid, not finite. And that is very good news! It means we can change our minds, make different choices, and consciously move in the direction we want to go next.

In this age of accelerated change, our roles are continually shifting, sometimes without our permission, other times by choice. How much will the world change in a person’s lifetime if she lives to be 90 or 100? Quite a lot. So, in a sense, we will always be Learning the Language.

Three Artists

Since she was very small my granddaughter Evalyn enjoyed painting with me in my studio. Over the years I’ve seen her creations evolve from messy blobs of black and red watercolors to quite sophisticated sketches and designs.

One day when she was maybe four, I took her to visit a friend of mine at his art gallery. I introduced them, “This is my friend Stan. Stan is an artist.”

Evalyn gasped. “I’m an artist too! And so is grandma!” she exclaimed. The label artist was something that connected the three of us, a shared identity. Oh, the wisdom of children!

Continue reading “Thoughts On Identity”

More Thoughts On Identity. Three Stories.

Girl in water

The Child You Once Were

When I was a young girl we lived in a house with a sprawling woods out back. The woods had a creek running through it, where my siblings and I spent long hours wading and fishing.

On a hot summer day, a shallow stream meandering around sandbars and bends looks very inviting to children. But what lies beneath those sunlit waters can be somewhat different from what we expect.

Sometimes we’d step in and suddenly be ankle-deep in thick, sucking mud. When skimming for minnows, a fat black snake might slip off the bank and send us screaming to the shore. At times we’d emerge to find our legs spotted with leaches.

What does this have to do with identity? What stands out for me is this: the girl I was back then, is very much like the woman I am today. Key attributes of my identity had already formed.

The snakes and leaches didn’t keep me out of the water. Risk and excitement and the possibility of being surprised appealed to me then, and they still do.

I am comfortable taking chances, even when the outcome is uncertain. I live by the saying “You only live once. But if you do it right, once is enough.”

Over the years I’ve experimented with the “shoulds” and “should nots” prescribed by my parents, my culture, the workplace, the media. But I have found that when I’m following someone else’s plan, I am less happy – sometimes very unhappy. And happiness matters. Continue reading “More Thoughts On Identity. Three Stories.”

A Red Sweater. A Music Box. And Mother’s China.

IMG_2216The Weight of Things

Last week I was contemplating Holding On and Letting Go. If you missed that post, you can read it here.

The more I think about it, the more I realize what a huge topic this is and how much of an impact it has on our lives.

Sometimes what we hold on to takes physical form. Other times it takes the form of ideas, assumptions, and beliefs – nothing we can see or touch, but just as real.

And sometimes it’s both, physical and psychological. Can physical objects evoke emotions? What power can a red sweater hold? You’d be surprised.

The Story of A Red Sweater

I was cleaning out my closet. Not just organizing or changing seasons. Though I was doing those things, too. The task before me was this: Take everything out, and only put back in the things that 1. Fit me well and 2. Made me feel fabulous.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. It requires a lot of honesty and reflection, even a little courage.

Those Calvin Klein jeans that Lidia said made my ass look great? They’ll fit me again when I lose 10 pounds, I thought. I can zip them up now if I hold my breath. Gone!

That beautifully embroidered jacket that I bought on the shopping trip with my best friend Kathy, and have never worn? Gone!

Those expensive leather and oh-so-comfortable European mules? The very definition of frumpish! These days I only wore them to take the garbage to the curb. Gone!

Gone! Gone! Gone! The more I put in the donation box, the better I felt. Continue reading “A Red Sweater. A Music Box. And Mother’s China.”

How to be a little happier. Three things you can do today.

There are many ways to define happiness. And you are free to choose your own definition.

Emotions such as anger, hurt and sadness are temporary. Happiness is bigger and happy3deeper. It doesn’t come from the outside. Happiness is an inside job.

Perspective certainly plays a role, but we can also take action to move us toward more happiness. Below are three steps to get you started. But first, a story.

A story that began 40 years ago

If you know anything about me at all, you know that I am a fanatic about the power of storytelling. So I’m going to tell you a story that started about 40 years ago, and still isn’t finished.

Once upon a time I was a college student and I had a boyfriend. He was older and wiser (at least in my eyes) and I admired him a great deal. One day the boyfriend asked me a seemingly simple question: what did I want out of life. I thought for a while, and then I answered, “I want to be happy.”

He scoffed and told me that was a pretty shallow answer. I tried to protest, explaining that he didn’t know what being happy meant to me. He wasn’t interested. I guess he’d already decided I was “shallow”.

I remember thinking that the concept of happiness seemed vast to me, not shallow: mysterious, certainly intangible, and I wasn’t at all sure how to go about getting it.

I don’t remember what came next. Maybe we went out for pizza. Continue reading “How to be a little happier. Three things you can do today.”