Who Am I?

Pondering a difficult question...

I was cornered recently and asked a difficult question.

It was my guitarist's birthday, and he'd thrown a party. It was about 11 pm, and the evening had just tipped into that sweet spot between awkward sobriety and boring drunkenness, where conversation gets lively and disinhibited.

My guitarist's girlfriend, a talented yoga instructor, had a friend visiting. Her friend taught Pilates and had sharp, crystal-blue eyes.

I'd been chatting with them for a while when they suddenly started asking me who I was.

It wasn't because they'd forgotten, and they weren't trying to make me feel small or insignificant—quite the opposite.

It felt like the question had been prompted by a combination of curiosity and care, which made me all the keener to give a decent answer.

A couple of years ago, I was experimenting with Koans. A Koan is a seemingly bizarre, often paradoxical statement or question that somehow prods at a deep, unsayable truth.

The idea is that meditating on a Koan - not necessarily searching for an answer to it, but simply rolling it around in your head for twenty minutes a day - can lead to some interesting insights.

Examples I played around with included things like the now very famous 'listen to the sound of one hand clapping' and the less famous 'what was your original face before your mother and father were born?'

One of the teachers of the Koan meditation course I had been listening to used to boil down this second question into a far simpler one; one I subsequently found myself trying to answer in my guitarist's kitchen.

Who are you?

There are ways to answer this question, but almost all of them are unsatisfactory.

A biographer (in the unlikely event I ever qualify for having one) might describe me as a 33-year-old Englishman who dreams of being an acclaimed singer-songwriter but is, in reality, a semi-acclaimed wedding singer.

But this definition is entirely relative.

It could even be describing another person altogether, who just so happens to be in a very similar contextual boat.

It's also (hopefully) subject to significant change

My age changes slightly with every passing moment, for example.

My nationality barely tells you anything about who I am, other than the fact that I live in a country of nearly 70 million other unique individuals (and I probably drink tea).

My dreams may or may not be realized.

Three years ago, my hypothetical biographer would have described me as a 'disorganized English teacher.'

Maybe it'd be more fashionable to describe myself as a white, cisgendered, heteronormative male.

But I've always found that race, sexual preference, and gender are usually amongst the least interesting things about anyone.

They rarely communicate anything about who they are at their core; that essential 'themness' that we quickly seek to generate an idea of.

It turns out that explaining who you are is very difficult.

You start realizing that identity is a little like the black hole at the center of a galaxy: your decisions, actions, and relationships tend to revolve around it in some real sense, and yet you can't really make head nor tail of what it actually is.

It's an absence - a strange nothing at the heart of everything we are.

My guitarist's girlfriend seems to think that identity is more a verb than a noun - it's something fluid, which changes.

I agree - I think your identity is in a state of constant regeneration and evolution. It's a non-stop negotiation between who you think you are and how other people see you.

We all do our best to project a certain image of ourselves to the world, which can never hope to convey it in sufficient complexity.

Simultaneously, we all walk around with 2D images of other people in our heads, based on superficial evidence: their clothes, their body language, the vague things we've heard about them, the half-remembered experiences we might have shared.

In the world of music, my favorite artists have always been chameleons: capable of shifting and experimenting with identity in order to explore different avenues of creative expression.

Bob Dylan, for example, has variously been a fresh-faced folk darling, a drug-addled spidery poet, an ear-ringed gypsy-rocker, and a born-again evangelical Christian.

This also explains why I have a strange respect for The Arctic Monkeys - a band whose music I've never really been able to like (I'm sure they'll be devastated when that news eventually filters through…).

It's because of their willingness to move and change, and release lounge-Jazz albums about the moon which nobody likes (though lots of people insist on pretending that they do).

When I began this odd adventure in independent music, I suddenly found myself tasked with creating my own musical identity. One that, ideally, is engaging and communicable to others.

Which is tricky, when, as demonstrated, your own identity isn't even really communicable to you. Or to yoga/pilates instructors, with or without crystal-blue eyes.

It started laughably blurry - an idea of the lowest resolution - but I do feel like it's coming into sharper focus with every passing month.

I imagine, like everything else in life, at the moment it becomes what I think I've always wanted it to be, I'll probably just decide to rip it up and start again.

At which point my guitarist's girlfriend and I will be back to square one.

Keep dreaming,


Rob Jones & The Restless Dream

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