Identity wrangling

A hand cupping some water from a stream

Cupping the water in Spicey Gill coming down from Ilkley Moor. Photo taken a year ago today.

“You are not your emotions.” Well you are, but you are not only your emotions. And you can choose not to be controlled by your emotions.

Life is made up of micro and macro decisions, and their consequences.

I chose to move back to the US, and now I am grappling with the reality of that decision, amongst other things. It has made life easier in some respects, and harder in others. Do I regret it? No. Will we be here forever? Magic eight ball says 🎱 “Concentrate and ask again”.

The Puddle Stones on Ilkley Moor, inscribed with a poem by Simon Armitage. Part of the Stanza Stones Trail from Marsden to Ilkley. Photo taken one year ago today.

Two days ago, I had a real wobble. It was triggered by feeling like I’m failing at my work. I’m not, really. I’ve got strong projects on, with sound budgets and great people. But I haven’t been able to keep up quite as well as I would like in general, and in some cases I’ve fallen badly behind. There is just a lot going on at the moment, a lot of different entities with different needs and expectations. And such a huge, looming deadline with mat leave. (I’m so excited to meet you but also… please don’t come too early! I’ll be a lot less stressed in the early days if you can hang on.)

But I don’t think the root cause of the wobble was work. It’s the identity shift, I haven’t really reckoned with much of it yet. I’ve thought about it a lot, but more in a better-prepare-for-this-crazy-upcoming-change sort of way. Not so much realizing that this seismic change started many, many months ago, far before getting pregnant.

Corporeal form

Those slices of identity have been useful to return to, first introduced to me via this excerpt from Personal Identity and Eastern Thought by Carlos João Correia.

I can’t pretend to have a very good or deep understanding of these five facets in terms of how they are properly defined in Buddhist teaching, but it is still a useful framework when considering the self. “The insistence in any of them will necessarily lead to suffering.”

Of course my corporeal form, my body and what I can do with it, has changed a lot. That has bothered me a bit, but I was semi-prepared for it and honestly, I think I’ve been pretty lucky so far. It will continue to change, and will probably get more difficult to deal with. Particularly if I struggle with supply issues, I’m not sure I’ll react well if that happens. But I can prepare for it to a certain extent.

The perceptions shift has much more significant, and more insidious. By “perceptions”, I mean all of the aspects that form my perception of myself. Labels, tribes, objects, hobbies, habits, style, aesthetics, etc.

It started with the pandemic itself. Musarc rehearsals abruptly stopped as we saw more news reports of choral rehearsals becoming superspreader events. No more of that camaraderie and experimentation. No more feeling comfortable calling myself a singer, even though I certainly can and should. It just doesn’t feel right considering I sing so infrequently now.

We cancelled our leaving do. No cementing and celebrating those friendships. We’ll do something similar when we next visit, but it won’t be quite the same. It was destabilizing to leave with little goodbye. The closest thing we had was a quiet night in the Chesham Arms with three close friends, a few pints, and a bunch of hand sanitizer. No final drinks in Yardarm, a haircut with Dean, or Northcote drag night.

Then came the move. Whittling down our belongings, thankfully all of our plants and our most cherished furniture all went to great homes. We left so abruptly, but it had to be done. Limbo in Yorkshire really wasn’t that bad, all things considered. Liminal life. We packed away the books in watertight boxes, put the posters and prints in portfolios. Archived it all so that we know where to find it when we can finally retrieve it. We didn’t get to hug or kiss family goodbye. We should have.

Life in SF has sort of felt like an extension of that limbo in many ways. We landed and covid numbers just kept going up and up, so we haven’t made much of an effort to meet people and have both been working from home. Haven’t gotten to know the city much. So no chance to cultivate new tribes, hobbies. That’s all changing now, thankfully.

In the meantime though, I gained a major new label. “Expecting mom”. “Mom”, how can one word both be so wonderful and have so much baggage? And how does it manage to box out every other label we define for ourselves?

It’s a label I’m very happy to adopt. I think that the trouble is that I’ve lost so many other identity markers so recently (relatively speaking) that it feels a bit overwhelming. But now that I’ve recognized that, it’s something I can work on. I’ve reached out to old and new friends, am looking for groups to contribute to. I doubt I’ll be able to find a new choir before the baby arrives, but who knows.

And of course there are the other aspects. Sensations, emotions, consciousness. I struggle to wrap my head around these three more than the other two… but it may be worth placing more emphasis on them.

Better understanding my reaction to sensations, particularly pain, will probably be useful in the coming months. I’ve spoken to so many women about their experience and the range is absurdly, laughably vast. From friends who found it unbearably traumatic to a collaborator who insists there is no pain involved. I have no doubt that all of their experiences are true, but how I will react is a mystery that may be unsolvable in advance.

Better understanding my emotions… well that’s what triggered this whole spiel. I’ll never fully get there, but will keep trying.

And CONSCIOUSNESS. My goodness where to start. Reading, certainly. I need to do more of that. Meditation and mindfulness perhaps, though I’ve always struggled with meditation in particular. Walking, being quiet in nature, I find that more useful. Looking in tidepools, scanning the bushes for plants you might be able to identify. Allowing your mind to be occupied and wander at the same time.

Take two and call me in the morning. Or in this case, some time in early August.