For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to identity and how we discern who we are based on what we do. For some people, that might be their career. I have many friends who have pursued one ambition doggedly, and with success, for years or decades. Other friends find their passion in one cause, or maybe two. Some dabble, collecting little pieces of interests that create a mosaic of themselves.
I jump in. All in. I swim around, immersed in whatever interests me, until I realize that I’m very much over my head. Then I get the hell out of the water. Depending on when you met me, you might think of me as the girl who:
Loves to cook
Takes lots of photos
Obsessively reads about car seats
Follows the weather
Goes to more than 100 concerts in a year
Is super into Carolina basketball
Upcycles and creates
I wrap myself up in these things. They become who I am. And when I burn out – because I always burn out – who am I? I didn’t realize until recently how much I had internalized negative views of switching interests. When people apply to medical school, they say “I’ve wanted to be an OBGYN since my younger sister was born when I was seven years old.” They wax poetic about the life-long pursuit of medical knowledge. Nobody hangs their acceptance on an essay about how they realized last year that being a doctor might be sorta cool.
There is this idea that has infiltrated my brain that life is supposed to be an accumulation of interests.
Leaving something behind is failure.
I spent most of my older childhood hearing people say, “Rhiannon is smart, but she doesn’t apply herself” (If someone doesn’t put that on my tombstone someday, I will haunt you all.) So applying oneself is the goal. That was made clear to me. I’m smart, therefore it was expected that if I could do it, I should. Whatever it may be. Simply choosing not to is the lazy way out.
There is also the part of me who wants to be known for something. The part who wants to be special but loathes to admit it. I want praise. I hate praise. Still, I run headlong into something, because I want people to notice. Sort of.
This gets all tangled up in identity, worthiness, confidence, and a general desire to be seen.
When someone notices that I haven’t been holding up my end of the “who Rhiannon is” bar, I panic a little. Oh, see, I lost my camera charger and the battery, so that’s why I haven’t been taking photos.
Really, my iPhone has been good enough, and I lost those things because I already wasn’t using my camera. Why do I feel so ashamed, then?
I don’t think of these things as something I do, I think of them as who I am.
At the same time, I resist any notion of being good at anything. A friend recently pointed out, that even if I consider my interests to be central to my identity, I still don’t actually identify myself by them. I never call myself a writer. I’ll argue with anyone who does.
Maybe I feel like I’m not very good at being me?
The inverse is true, as well. I hold so many negative thoughts as simply who I am, rather than a malleable fact about me. It makes it harder to change when you feel like something is just part of your existence. It feels a bit like grieving to give it up, whether it’s something you want to give up or not.
Losing a bit of yourself in the process of growing.
Maybe, like grief, it feels like there needs to be closure. That if I’m going to walk away from an interest, I need to shut the door and never open it again. My lack of middle ground turns it into a self-fulfilling prophecy of disappointment. It is, or it isn’t. I am, or I am not.
All these thoughts were swirling around in my head this weekend as I went to see one of my favorite college bands play, twice. Going to see the same band twice in one weekend was, in and of itself, a very college Rhiannon thing to do.
Jump, Little Children stopped playing together in 2005. The end of an era.
They came together in 2015 for a mini-reunion tour. It felt like reliving the past. The same sort of feeling I got when Gilmore Girls filmed four movies. But it turns out this is more like Will and Grace — confirmed for another season. They have embraced the idea that they will never have space to tour full time as a band again, but that doesn’t mean they can’t continue to get together and make music. To play for people. To have Jump Little Children be part of who they are, but not the entirety.
Maybe it is possible to change within the confines of who you are
Picture it. Early 2000s.
My friend and I went to see Jump, Little Children at Ziggy’s By The Sea in Atlantic Beach. Random joking by the band about skinny dipping after the show. Um. Yes?
You see, there are few things sexier to me than rock accordion. Rock upright bass and rock cello would definitely come close, though.
So hell yes, we were going to be there. Even if it was at odds with my identity as not a groupie. We were totally cool and went swimming in the ocean because that is what we felt like doing. Not at all because we wanted to see the members of JLC naked. Naaaaah. No way. And I kept my bra and underwear on, so that’s basically a bathing suit.
We swam in the ocean that night, lost in a world where this was a possibility, not even fully caring if the band showed up. A few minutes later, a couple of members (heh) of the band came running down the beach, naked, surrounded by a group of giggling girls.
Sometimes, we skinny dip. Sometimes, we don’t.
This weekend, I ended up taking Lorelei with me to see JLC, when our original plans fell through. We got a hotel I could have never afforded in my 20s, and I traded skinny dipping with the band for hanging out in the hot tub with Lorelei. I was not right up at the stage because I had to consider her feelings, comfort, and safety. I spent a lot of time smiling down at her, sleeping on the floor next to her toys.
Does that make me somehow different than that older version of me, swimming in the ocean with naked members of the band?
Yeah. It sort of does.
I came across me, a version of me, when I was nineteen
She was surprised, “Do you realize your life is a magazine?”
Yes this is true but what about you, is this what you’d foreseen?
‘Cause it can be a bore, is there anything more, is there anything in between?
The question is not if it is different, but if that is inherently bad.
We’ve all changed. The band. The fans. There have been marriages and kids. Loss and love. I remember pumping in my car before the 2015 shows, which is a far cry from dousing myself in enough glitter to make it look like I sacrificed fairies in my spare time. A decade of life has been lived and can’t be ignored, yet I still had annoying woo girls screaming in my ears, just like it was yesterday.
Sunday night, Zach and I went to see them at the state fair. I was in the front row, leaning against the barrier. I danced. I felt so much more like the version of me when I was 19. Also? I was sad that Lorelei missed out.
So sure. Maybe things change. Perhaps I have to embrace a different version of myself sometimes, both in ways that seem beneficial and in ways that feel like grieving.
Perhaps someday I will be able to cook dinner, take a photo, or write a blog post without having to be known for it. I can let it be part of who I am, not the entirety.
Wibbly, wobbly, timey, wimey. We’re the sum of our experiences, and it is neither linear nor all squished together into one amalgamation of past, present, and future.
As usual, I want to wrap this all up in a neat bow. But I can’t, not yet. But maybe someday.
If I could know then what I know now
I’d hold you close and tell you how
We grew, and still, we grow
Wasn’t that a time?
Wasn’t that a time?