The Women I Wear

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” ― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

To me, forging one’s identity is a life-long project.

The subject of identity can be explored as physical identity, gender identity, sexual identity, racial identity, or family identity. There are also religious or spiritual markers for identity as well as our tendency as human beings to label ourselves as members of a particular brand or tribe of people: artists, nerds, academics, book geeks, botanists, teachers, or freaks, for example. In fact, from the moment we are born, we are seeking answers to those burning religious/spiritual/philosophical questions that humanity has wrestled with for thousands of years:

Who am I?

Why am I here?

What will I make of my life?

It seems that everything we do is pointing us toward finding solace, direction, and a discernable sense of self. Much of what we choose is due to what we are shown by parents, partners, and siblings as the expected norm of human life. If you are like me (definitely a square peg in a round hole) the world I saw when I arrived did not match my sense of who I was. At all. I felt different. I felt, frankly, just a little bit like a freak. I laughed at things that others didn’t find humor in. I danced for my parents every time The Man from Uncle’s theme played on television. I read about maverick women like Amelia Earhart and Helen Keller, wondering if I might fly around the world one day or learn sign language or write books. My dreams of travel, my quirky sense of fashion, my taste in music, and my striving for perfection, even as a small child — all fostered my unusual sense of self.

And this happens to each one of us. We read a book or cross a desert or plan a party, and something invisible shifts inside us. We meet a boy who breaks our heart open. We risk; we run; we fall. The whole while we grow into this ever-changing body we inhabit from birth onward. It carries us and houses our spirits. It breaks and bleeds and seeks shelter — sometimes in food, in making money, in forging ideas, in deconstructing life as we know it. Sometimes it wants us to hide, sometimes to seek light.

Our identity is not static.

It never settles.  Instead, it shifts as the years pass.

“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

When I was in my twenties the accoutrements of a rich or famous life seemed to be of paramount importance. I saw myself as someone who needed the lime light. Now, that seems silly, knowing how insanely private I am. By the time I was thirty-five, I preferred being able to blend in, in order to observe others without being noticed. Invisibility had its perks. It was a quality that made me a good writer. By forty, I lost all sense of giving a damn what others thought about me. As far as I was concerned, their perceptions were about them, not me — and I couldn‘t worry about them.

The point is, I changed.

And I changed.

And I changed.

This year, I turned 52.

Now, I identify with a whole cast of characters. I am still the seven-year-old girl riding her bike past fields of alfalfa and onions outside Walla Walla, Washington in 1967. At the same time, I carry my identity as a woman, a writer, a songwriter, a raconteur, a Buddhist, a singer, a college graduate, an artist, a sister, a daughter, a cat/dog lover, a poet, a depressive, an empath, a healer, and a teacher in my very DNA. I‘ve been a lover and a loser and a traveler and an outcast.

Over the intervening years, I added to the motley crew I carry with me.

I expect that until the day I die, I will be discovering alternative personas and new faces when I look in the bathroom mirror.

For me, one of the most important things I can do with my life is to willingly take that journey, every day.  If I know myself, I know what my capacity is. I know what I have to give. I know the ways in which I can move through the world. With everything around us changing so drastically right now, having a sense of our own center is absolutely crucial.  In the end, it may be the only thing we have control over.  That, and our reaction to all this change.

© 2012  Shavawn M. Berry  All rights reserved

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