Who Am I?

who am i2

Why should anyone want to answer this question? I was asked, then immediately told no answer was expected. It’s not a rhetorical question.

When others ask my name, that’s easy enough. What do I do? Also simple. What are you? begins to get more personal. Who are you? Who am I? In terms of what? Our relationship? Am I your friend, enemy, son, father, or husband? I’m the son of, the father of, the grandfather of; but is that who I am?

I’ve always been willing to allow my pastimes to wrap with my identity. For example: I am a runner, artist, writer, dreamer, reader, etc. I’ve been less willing to do that with my profession. I know people who took their livelihood as an identity, only to feel lost when they could no longer perform at their vocation. I no longer run. When I was forced to stop, I was mildly depressed for two weeks. After that, I was fine.

Do I need all the answers?
Do I need all the answers?

Apparently, some folks think going public as an atheist raised my IQ, my awareness, and my general knowledge—all by some large measure. Other atheists and believers alike seem convinced that I now must provide answers and solutions, understand deep metaphysical mysteries, and know myself better than ever. It changed nothing about me—certainly not who I am.

Admitting atheist does not inflict anyone with knowing the source of the universe–certainly not me. Of this I am certain: if there is a god, I am not him, her, or it. On that, we must all agree. There is scientific evidence to show that my intelligence is now less than it was in the past. Admittedly, I know more trivia and I should have greater wisdom than when I was younger. My answer to life, the universe, and everything is: 42. (You get bonus points if you know why.)

I am two things. I’m the biological result of generations of genetic selection. The other thing I am is what I’ve become (maybe you’re becoming) as a result of the past 70 years of life, social and physical interactions, and learning. I have no idea why I’m male, bald, mildly pudgy (okay, the beer), or have blue or green eyes (depends who you ask). I’m also one of y’all. We’re exactly the same, yet completely different. And we both know it. But that’s not who I am.

Who do I think I am?
Who do I think I am?

As a writer of stories with human characters, I know more about my characters (everything) than I do about any other person. I understand them better than I get myself. I’m their god. I give them life, and sometimes death. I give them pain and pleasure. I know what they’ll do tomorrow. I know what happens when they enter those secret places where they don’t tell others what happened–I know their secret thoughts.

Last night, before going to sleep, my wife asked, “Are you going to walk in the morning?” I said, “I don’t know.” I walk virtually every morning. Today, I did not. My characters are much more dependable.

Some answers are simple
Some answers are simple

I am who I always was, and who I will be. I’m the sum of the past. I am part of you, as you are of me. I know who I am at this moment. Right here and now, I am who and what I am. If any deeper, more esoteric, philosophical, theological, sociological, or scientific answer is required, then my answer shall remain forever insufficient.

I don’t know everything about me, but I know enough. We’re gunna have to live with that.

To you, you are who you say you are, what you believe, and what you do. To me, you are who I say you are—it’s my opinion–subject to error and change.

But, is “who am I?” the critical question? I think the most important question is: who are we? How do we define us? We may add layer upon layer of humanity, and layer upon layer of nature, then layer upon layer of the universe. We are still in this together and we need each other.

As me dear departed Irish fadder often ass’d meh, “Whoda hell d’yeh tink ye’re?” Since that usually precipitated me being in a jam…Exit stage left!”

Who am I? Look both ways.

Snarkastic (Frat Friday)

“A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Snarkastic and Proud

Snarkasm2

I like that quote by Oscar Wilde. Over the years, I’ve noticed that it gets more difficult not to cause hurt feelings with what I say. Today, if I say anything about sex (as in gender), someone’s religion or political opinions, nationality (though most of us really don’t know), hair (or lack thereof), you name it; somebody gets offended.

 

snarkasm3I do my best not to ‘unintentionally’ hurt somebody’s feelings. However, I’m unopposed to stepping on an emotional toe when I hear the call. As a senior citizen, I sometimes feel a sense of entitlement to do that, but I usually refrain. I once knew one guy who was so Cliff Clavin (from the TV show Cheers) that I started calling him Cliff. He never figured out why.

 

SnarkasmSeveral years ago, my daughter-in-law said that I was snarky. I appreciated her honesty and courage. I also liked it. She was right; I am snarky. I’m also sarcastic. In fact, being both makes me snarkastic. I enjoy humor, but sometimes I don’t get it. I really enjoy ironic, skin-ripping, hard cutting, sarcastic snarkiness. Here’s a few short lists to help understand what I’m talking about.

Movies and actors

Robert Duvall and Michael Caine in Secondhand Lions (loved it)

Duvall in Apocalypse Now (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning”)

snarkasm7Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets (and other movies of his)

Many children’s animated flicks (i.e., Rafiki the baboon and Timon the meerkat in Lion King)

Male Comedians (Pick virtually any)

George Carlin, Bill Murray, Ron White, David Cross, Daniel Tosh

 

This is not a guy thing. Woman are wonderful at snarkasm. Some folks may say funnier. Watching a witty lady catch some Neanderthal off-guard is a treat. Snarkasm crosses all race, creed, gender, and economic status barriers. My current favorite snarkastic ladies include the following (and so many more).

snarkasm10Female Comedians (Yes they are)

Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, Joan Rivers (good grief, the queen), Chelsea Handler, Melissa McCarthy (brought me to tears in St. Vincent, The Heat [w/Sandra Bullock], and Identity Thief).

Writers

Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain

Cartoons/Comics

Maxine or The Boondocks

Now you know

snarkasm9Not everyone has been introduced to my brand of snarkasm. After a while, when most people get to know me, they agree that I can pull it off. Many find it humorous. In fact, that’s the point – humor. I’m not on some kind of anti-PC* crusade here.

I recall watching Archie Bunker in the 70s and laughing so hard that I was sure I was going to wet my pants. Since then, I’ve often referred my father as a mix of George Burns and Archie – all three funny, snarkasticly-gifted guys.

So HELL YEAH! I’m a proud, snarkastic old fart. Deal with it, Junior.

snarkasm6

Because I like you so much, here’s some good advice if a cop pulls you over today. Try any of these.

snarkasm15Are you Andy or Barney?

I thought you had to be in good physical condition to be a police officer.

You’re not gunna check the trunk, are you?

And then when the officer says (cuz you been tippin’ a few), “Your eyes look red. Have you been drinking?” You should respond with, “Your eyes look glazed. Have you been eating doughnuts?”

So snark-up before it’s too late. Have fun!

*politically correct

Frat Friday (Ego)

The Paradox of The Writer’s Ego 

EGO: “Noun. A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. Synonyms: self-worth, self-respect, self-image, self-confidence.”

 

Ego4Some people think that ego is a bad thing. In a way, they are right. In a way, they are wrong. A wooden plaque (given to me by a friend) hangs in my room so that if I (ironically) hold my nose up, just slightly, I can see it. It says, “Humility is not one of my faults, but if I had one, that would be it.” Before you attack my lack of profundity, my friend made and gave the plaque to me as a bit of an ironic joke (I hope).

I recall my father using descriptive phrases like “too big for your britches” and “Who the hell do you think you are?” One might think such comments  damaging to my ego or creativity and may have hampered my development. My ego survived and my limited creativity seems fine.

In my thinking, ego has little direct effect on creativity regardless of its health or condition. We writers (all artists?) are diverse people. But we are people. All kinds of folks paint great landscapes. George W. Bush paints, and he is better at it than I am. Who knew? The former Prez was hiding an artist all that time.

There are many web sites and books to help us write better. Most of the tidbits I learn from them are helpful. However, I often wonder if Stephen King isn’t right — they are all BS (from somewhere in On Writing). My point is that while we’re all different in many ways, we seem open to writing better.

I spent my entire life preparing to do (and doing) something else. After I gave all that up and retired, I woke up one day and declared that I am a writer. It was not who do I think I am? It was what I am – a writer, because I said so. That is ego. But is it evil or bad? Am I egotistical? I said nothing of quality, and I am a QA professional. I am as good at writing today as I can be. Tomorrow I want to be better. I am also as good as I can be at spelling, and my spelling is horrible. My writing gets better each day, my spelling does not, and my ego is managing.

Ego1

 

Most of the be-a-better-writer advice I’ve read says we need to dump our ego to write (or do anything) well. Other things say we should believe in our abilities and work hard at it. Unfortunately, changing who we are is more difficult than changing the tire on the family Ford. I think that if I work hard on this blog and do the research, it should be good enough. My ego tells me that I can do this. I can do it. I can get my point of view across. That is self-confidence – ego.

Ego3I’m making the claim that ego is mostly good for writers. I presume that it is good for artists who work in other forms of artistic expression. I also think that being humble is good and being courageous is good. I also think that each of us should do what works for us. We’re unique individuals who share a passion (if you want to call it that). I admit that an out of control ego is a problem for more than just the narcissist, and egotistical people have their issues. But over-blown personalities write and sell books too.

Narcissism: “Noun. Excessive or erotic interest in oneself. Synonyms: vanity, self-love, self-admiration, self-absorption, self-obsession, conceit, self-centeredness, self-regard, egotism, egoism. In Psychology, it’s an extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.”

 

“Egotistical is excessively conceited or absorbed in oneself; self-centered. Synonyms: self-centered, selfish, egocentric, egomaniacal, self-interested, self-seeking, self-absorbed, narcissistic, vain, conceited, self-important; boastful.”

Then there is the paradox. I like to refer to myself as a “wannabe” and I see no reason to reject that. I think my skill and my work improves each time I make changes or corrections. My writing improves every time someone reads it and tells me what they think of it. My ego can, and often does, take a beating. At some point we stop all of that. We are ready for what is the painful process known as “getting it published.”

Ego2We need our ego to launch the work to readers. We need to believe that we can and want to do it. We also need to deal with whatever criticism and rejection we encounter.

Our poor egos. Our old friend stands ready to push emotional pain buttons with every rejection or criticism. It happens. And it happens most often to wannabes. But it’s part of the process, if you want to be published. After enough of this ego pounding us with emotion (can our egos survive all of this?) we may want to stop writing.

sad6To quote from Poe’s Preface to a republishing of his poems: “These trifles are collected and republished chiefly with a view to their redemption from the many improvements (made by publishers)…I am naturally anxious that what I have written should circulate as I wrote it….” He goes on to say that it is not that his work is that important, but the people who read it are. Ego?

The writer’s ego is a good thing. From day one, it is at the core of our being able to do what we want to do. But ego is not good at dealing with the humbling experience of rejection. I am sure the damage done too often leads to quitting. But, if we quit, do we say, I am not a writer?

If you want to read more on this topic, check out the following.

Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG). This looks like a good site for all writers, insecure or not. Two other interesting blogs on writer’s ego are here and here.

Dark Side

DThis may be the most difficult topic for me, but it’s early in the A-to-Z Challenge. I may find subjects that are greater challenges. Regarding the dark side of human nature, I would simply prefer to accept it and move on. My research of our dark nature has revealed that we humans actually want to deal with it in reality, art, life, drama, poetry, fiction, behavior, and nature. Many of us admit to a duality of human nature, but even more of us reject the dark truths.

Dark PoetryMy dark side calls to me. I ask, “What do you want?”

It calls again. “Stop!” I say, “You’re bad. Nobody likes you. If I accept you, nobody will like me.”

Through art, literature, and life I feel the tug and I hear the voice. “To be fully human, you must accept and understand me. Fear me not, judge me not. Your rejection of me is ironically exactly what your fear is about—ego.”

Am I imprisoned by my own thinking? Aren’t we all? The Bard speaks to me through Hamlet, “Why then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.” Do I judge the dark side unfairly? Is it my thinking that makes the dark side so – bad? If I pursue the dark side of human nature through art, literature, or science; is that bad? Would I be bad or become less good and more evil? What do I fear?

Embrace Dark SideIn addition to Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), which I’ve read, I shall add the following.

Edgar Allen Poe
William Shakespeare (Hamlet)
Nathaniel Hawthorne (Young Goodman Brown)
John Keats (Ode to a Nightingale)
William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment)
D. H. Lawrence (Sons and Lovers)

Next week I plan to blog on Jekyll and Hyde from the classic book by  R. L. Stevenson for more on this topic.

Maybe then I can begin to learn and to eventually know. The maxim on the Temple of Apollo attributed to Socrates is “Know thyself.” It isn’t know thy good-self or thy light-self.

THE REBEL
Shaking his clenched fist at nobody
and shouting out in anger at nothing,
the proud, haughty rebel grits his teeth
and stands firm, straight and tall against
an enemy never seen nor ever heard;
crossing his arms in defensive defiance
against an adversary whose dwelling place
is in the dark, shadowy chambers of his
tumultuous and solitary, lofty and lonely mind.
[Dedicated to Albert Camus] ~ Kenneth Norman Cook

We may never know if the basic nature of mankind is good or evil, if we are fallen or risen. But we know something is there. We can hear it calling  to us. To know it. Embrace the darkness as well as the light.

I read this yesterday: “If you took a picture of your soul, what would it look like?”good-and-evil-2