The ’45: Considering Complexities – On Plasticity of Identity

floyd merrell diagram

On Plasticity: Being Ourselves, Able to be Ourselves

 

My birthday recurred.  Post-40 in a thriving family of 6, there are not many days deemed “special” that end up being about oneself as the father, caretaker, partner, provider, no matter how small the scope of the surround.  Soccer games and music lessons; feeding times and laundering; all keep going on – birthday or no.  The exhaustion continuous activity and felt responsibility breeds seems to increase in proportion to the numbers signifying one’s years upon earth.

But there are flourishes and touchings – like small miracles – proffered patience, generosity and deference gifted one’s way as the children mature.  I received momentously considered and thoughtfully creative presents and offerings from my brood, including the effort of travel (a 5-hour drive for a 3-hour meal), some self-deferrals of wants and demands for a day, shared and repurposed objects and much love and affection.

In the midst of which my brother-in-law texted: “And what have YOU done for YOU today?”

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Isn’t nearly everything we do for ourselves in some way? I thought.  Caring for those we love, providing for their needs and responding to their living feeds our hope that we might be valuable partners and parents.  Enabling others’ satisfactions or play, achievements or events provides a goodness and gladness to our sense of identity.  WHAT DO I (or would I) WANT?  [If things revolved around ME? – What would I select for MYSELF, my TIME, my ACTIVITIES, were my surround and environment conducive, supportive, adaptive and compliant – attuned to MY wishes and feelings, desires and preferences – as its Center and Hub?]

This engendered heavy pause.  Followed by weeping.  Since my youth I’ve pleased people.  Especially those I crave being pleasing to.  Ever considering: if I find them, serve them, fuel them, tend to their whims and their moods and their wants and don’t fail them – they’ll have NO REASON not to accept and acknowledge me, enjoy and delight in me…perhaps even come to NEED and to LOVE me!

Still most of these persons have come and then gone – not needing an enthusiastic audience-of-me, my support systems or enthralled amour, cooking skills, cab driving, housekeeping, therapeutic attunement, nursing or cock…so much as an “Other,” I suppose.  An other alike with mixed needs, wants and cares, fears, doubts and preferences…uncertainties.

WHAT WOULD I WANT?

Being malleable, self-deprecating, at-your-service and adaptive in order to eventuate my longed-for (but not fully realized) purposes of belonging, chosenness, appreciation, acceptance and love, predisposed me to the Phenomena of Plasticity.

That organisms jostle and interact, adjust, emerge, revise and alter in accord with their environments and one another toward an imagined maximum survivability came as no surprise to me.

That my brain and body bend and twist, reconfigure and rework themselves toward perceived pleasures, building likewise to avoid potentially death-dealing pains, forms an accurate metaphor of my experience.

Do this, try to be that, retrain the brain, assimilate languages, nuances, behaviors and tastes, become parent and scholar, musician and lover, friend and coworker to an enormous variety of persons, places, and things (or situations).

Sounds desirable!  After all, we’re fascinated and entangled in networks and viruses, Renaissance-personages and extensive applications and sites – world seems participatory, fluid, collaborative and self-responsive – play-doh, silly putty, plastics, rubber and earth.  Water, air, flesh and fire.  Living would seem to be a plastic rather than static affair – examine a corpse! (and observed long enough, even then we’re not done and prove pliable and transforming).

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Yet for me came a hitch as I pondered all this.  A lifetime spent adapting, responding and recursiving change for results that never quite arrive in a reality where even those chances will cease…

WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR YOURSELF?

When the question is put to me:  “What is it, right now, you prefer?” it turns out, among many acknowledgedly diverse and contradictorily complex cognitive-affective responses – I USUALLY KNOW WHAT I’D PREFER.  Very few options taste best to me in any given moment, and their range and scope are slim!

And then there’s the fact that I feel great admiration towards those who speak their mind and express their desires in a direct manner!  They still may compromise and adapt, but both adults and children who proclaim what they feel and want, prefer or need, ever impress me.  I (on the other hand) tend to try constantly to guess and anticipate what those around me prefer or desire before asking into my own – as if to say – if there’s room or time after all of you…I’d sure like to…but by then I’m too tired.

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So how plastic are we?  How multiple, really?  Since age 7 or 8, 12 or 15, my core desires have been pretty consistent:  Read.  Write.  Love.  Sex.  Explore.  Make.  At any given moment, regardless of conditions or surround, regardless of the options even, my litany of WHAT I WOULD DO FOR MYSELF usually boils down to this brief list.  In addition to which, I usually have a good idea of who, where, what, when, and sometimes how I’d go about each of the same – if conditions, environment and possibilities were dependent on ME.

I’ve definite tastes and predilections, ways I like to feel in what venues, activity-biases and condition proclivities (even though those nearest me often say they’d never know it by my choices).

Maybe the Phenomenon of Plasticity hypothesis runneling its now-scientific way through the cosmos and further than cells is a living CAPACITY but not necessarily a QUALITY?  Accident not essence?  Perhaps plasticity suits the powers-that-be, our politico-socio-cultural nowthen (STEM disciplines, Markets, Politics & Capital, Networks & Technologies) that would love for us adapt and adjust, go-along and “flow” as if its “natural,” “observable” and “scientific fact”?  (At the moment).

I’m not disputing it’s COOL – our abilities to change and flex, evolve and habituate, refashion and conform – and indeed it’s often necessary for our survival – but there’s a gap, hesitation, incompleteness to the story.  It doesn’t “FIT” to experience, or only partially so.  Something’s being assumed underneath.

And what is that?  Why have I preferred preferring others to my own, yet not ceased having my own all these years?

How would I be if I believed ALL were equally plastic?  That it wasn’t my job to adjust to everyone, remake to everything around me, instead insisting upon their/its relative capacity to reshape and orient to me as well?

WHAT WOULD I WANT if I could “be myself” (express my consistent biases and longings, behaviors and thought-trajectories, mood-palette and drives) in environments in which I was enabled/able to be/do so?  A surround that exercised the capacity of plasticity in relation to ME?

NOT EITHER/OR

Granted, some do, (those that stick around or don’t realize a choice) and in varying degrees, but I seldomly bank on that and announce or convey myself…usually I hedge against abandonment or rejection – fear of pains winning out over hopes of pleasure.

That’s “natural” too, the disciplines say – but there are so many counter-examples: ones who openly state their “I would prefer not tos” or “I would prefers…”  What have they got on me in this plasticized universe?

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There’s expression:  I prefer finding questions.  Ferreting unknowns.

FOR myself – there, I’ve done it.  At least once today.

09.22.2015