Searching for identity

Last week, one of my friends who came to visit picked up a gift for me: a book, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and last night I devoured it whole.

Devour is the only word I can use here. I had read the first chapter a few nights ago, but I finally had a night to myself, and curled up on my sofa with a cup of tea and music in the background, I got back into it and I didn’t leave it until it was done, four hours later.

It resonated with me because so much of the book is about a search for identity. Identity for oneself, how you fit into – or don’t fit into – a community, a family, a country, what makes that real or less real or more than real, and how that plays into all facets of your life. What will you become? How will you get there?

I most enjoy that some threads are just snipped off, some of them remain unresolved, and some paths are unknown, unknowable, and even as you think you know how your life should go, how it all ought to work out, you cannot. No one can. Uncertainty is with us from the moment we are born until the moment we die.

I love books of all kinds. Academic and non-fiction books teach me knowledge about the world, but fiction gives me knowledge about people, and I think that is where we find wisdom, because for a few hours we can step into someone else’s shoes and attempt to see through different eyes than ours. We need to do more of that because when I look around the world, most eyes are on those screens in our hands and those screens tend to display things which force us further and further inward.

Looking inward is not a bad thing, in and of itself. One should get to know the measure of who you are and while external observation and advice is great – feedback is good! – I do think it’s important that someone has a solid sense of who they are.

It’s not easy getting to that point; I know I struggled / struggle with it. It’s a constant battle because there are forces in this world – family, friends, society, the media, etc. – who will keep trying to tell you who you are, how you should be, what you should want, what you should need… Unless you want to retreat to live in a tiny cave far away from humanity, a la Luke Skywalker The Last Jedi, it’s not going to stop. Learning to listen, but not overwhelmed; to hear useful feedback, but not be unduly influenced can be hard, but it’s worthwhile.

This book really opens up about the Zainichi – permanent ethnic Koreans in Japan who emigrated prior to 1945. It attempts to explain this thing about fitting in versus attempting to find your tribe, and that goes hand in hand with having a sense of who you are. We do find ourselves in others, right? There is this looking glass aspect to being part of a community, part of a group, part of something and the questions that come to mind:

  1. If who I am is unacceptable to the group I’m in or want to be a part of, is there something wrong with me? Or is there something wrong with them? Or, are we just different and that’s okay?
  2. How much of who I am is set by who I came from? What is in my “blood” and what does that matter? Does it even matter at all?
  3. Can I be part of more than one community? Must one always overwhelm the other?

A number of friends have made the observation that I talk to everyone from chatting up the attendant the grocery store to conversations with my Uber drivers – if someone wants to talk, I’ll listen and engage. I’m curious.

I’m curious because I never felt like I quite fit in to any one bucket and when I see people that seem to have that, I want to know how or why. I’m fascinated by this idea of someone being so sure… and I’m finding out that, for the most part, that’s bullshit.

I don’t say that in any sort of mean fashion. Instead, I have started to learn that it is less about a sense of surety that they are in the right place and living exactly the life they should, but rather a lack of curiosity about the broader world and/or a fear about their ability to get on in a world different than what they’ve already in.

All this time, for so many years, I just thought I lacked some sort of gene or ability to just be content. I’m not lacking anything, I’m just insatiably curious! And while I do sometimes get afraid of how things will turn out, and I’ll delay a bit (or a really long time), eventually I’ll just get on with it because I do believe I can see my way through any obstacle.

It’s how I raised.

How about you? How were you raised? What are you curious about? Are you willing to conquer your fear of new things?

Anyway, I loved this book and I highly recommend it. Obviously, it stirred up some things for me, and that’s good, because a pot needs to be stirred regularly for things to come together right, and as my life continues to come together, I’m not going to stop stirring.

I can’t.

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