The short bio on my personal Facebook page reads:
Husband, Father, Listener, Walker, Writer
It has taken me a long time to get down to those five words. As I have written before (see ‘Redundancy‘, actually written in 2015 but slightly revised for this blog) I have struggled with the idea of my identity; and I’m sure that I am not alone in this. I am also sure that most people have existential crises where they wonder just who they are and what their purpose in life is. If they do not maybe that is because they are so busy that they just do not have the capacity to stop, look round and consider these questions.
Before my redundancy (I still do not like the word but I think I have finally come to terms with it) I felt like I was on that particular path; convinced of my own importance in keeping projects and organisations together… convinced, that is, until it began to dawn on me that perhaps I was not as indispensable as I thought. As the end date of my job loomed I applied for another job in the organisation in which I worked. I put my heart and soul into that application and was convinced that I was the person for the job…
I did not even get an interview
All of a sudden I felt penned in, but in a pen that was shortly no longer going to exist. Stress, annus horribilis, the end; but most of all a massive brick wall blocking my future. I could not see a way forward and what seemed to be the comfortable equilibrium of the previous decade all of a sudden looked to be considerably more fragile.
What was behind the brick wall?
How would I get through/ under/ over/ round/ past it?
It felt like starting again, something that was amplified by the fact that my Father died at the same time (as I said annus horribilis). There was an emptiness there, a lack of centre. But also, gradually, a sense of potential… a sense of becoming, a sense of regaining my balance. It felt like I was moving away from something, but what I am realising as I write this is that I stopped thinking that I was moving towards something. There was no longer a focussed goal or target. I no longer needed to get to grade x or achieve this or that title. My priorities shifted and, in some sense, became more opaque. Actually that is not exactly right. The priorities that I had became more opaque, then my sense of time and life as something linear began to fragment. I was no longer aiming for a single point or a single achievement, but more a sense of being.
One of the moments of crisis I had during that year was suddenly breaking down into floods of tears as I tried to be a good husband, father, son, boss, employee, person… the list could go on. I was scared, though, to upset the balance I had. My lack of future perspective meant that I could not really imagine what life would be like without all these different things that made up my identity. What I now see is that by shedding some of them I have been able to focus more on what is important to me. Prioritise if you like.
Those words again:
Husband, Father, Listener, Walker, Writer
The first two are perhaps self-explanatory, and I value more than anything else the relationships that I have with my wife and children. I consider it a valuable gift that I am able to be there for them and hopefully allow them to be the people they want to be too.
Being a listener is also important. I like listening more than I like talking, and although I really do not do small talk I love to hear interesting ideas and help others work issues through. I also like listening to music and cannot imagine life without it. Another passion of mine is walking, in any sort of environment, and I will usually be listening to a podcast or music as I do. Then there is writing. This is my main creative output and similarly I could not imagine life without being able to write these days. I have a more established music blog which has not only enabled me to appreciate what I listen to more profoundly, but when I do not write I somehow feel malnourished and get a bit jittery. So all these things are interwoven in one way or another.
Thinking about it though, those five words do not quite cover it and the word ‘walker’ seems to be a bit limiting. Since coming back to the idea of the flañeur with this blog I have really started thinking more about the idea of ‘wandering’ through life. In the past this may have had quite negative connotations for me but, actually, that feels much more like where I am. To wander seems to add that idea of freedom that I am trying to express with my writing here.
What then, in the final analysis, is wrong with wandering?
Well, nothing as far as I can see, as tomorrow there will be somewhere else to go, both in the world and in my mind. After all there was never really a time when I did not feel that I had some shortcoming or other that I had to fix. So instead of powering towards the next feeling of imperfection, why not wander there and think more about it on the way?
So, ok, that is who I feel I am. Five words. Not the same five words as when I began this piece, but surely that is the idea I am trying to get across here. That I do not want to get too hung up on an identity that started defining me rather than me it. That, it seems to me, is the right way round.
So who am I? Well I am:
Husband, Father, Listener, Wanderer, Writer
Who are you?