Purpose & Identity


Maybe some of you read here for honest, emotional exploration, for that strangely isolated intimacy and voyeurism you can experience from reading 'blogs. Maybe some others of you read here more for those posts in which I do something unconventional and, for some people, humorous, like, say, have a conversation with mine own testicles. I'm sure there are as many motivations to read as there are readers (AN DOZEN), but today the two groups I've named are in especial luck for, today, I'll be dividing the entry into two formats. Those seeking warm, cozy emotional voyeurism (and no balls), read (A). Those seeking a more humorous eschewment (is SO a word) of convention, read (B) (no promises about my balls [ever]). And, far be it from me to tell you what to do, it's your life, be your own person, but maybe, JUST MAYBE, you could mix it up. You know, if you're into that kind of thing. Now I'll begin as I often do, with a mini-narrative that may not immediately seem to apply to the title of the entry, yet will most likely contain the thematic twisty-tie that lets me sum up our little walk together. And so:

A1 - As we were growing up, my sister and I occasionally got into "why" conversations with my parents (Why is the sky blue? Why don't we go to church? Why is that man wearing a dress?) and, to their great credit, my parents always tried to carry through the conversation with something more than a "Because." Probably because of this, my sister and I knew from a very early age onward that a lot of my parents' decisions before and after we came along were based on a priority for having children and being good parents. This was their direction, their purpose in life -- all roads were charted to that course, from their choice of careers to the little every-day decisions. "Having children," was the answer to a lot of our Whys.

B1 - You know that feeling you had when you were barely sitting there in the movie theatre, full of enthusiasm, as the first half hour or so of The Matrix Reloaded rolled on by? OF COURSE YOU DO. It was just so exciting, so rife with possibilities. One thing was certain about this movie -- it was going to in some way be gratifyingly unconventional. I mean, the first one gave us a messianic hero-story action movie with philosophy in-jokes and a permeable sense of reality. What couldn't the second be amazing about? I clung to this as I sat there, picking it apart with a growing sense of dread, and just as the movie approached its most orgiastic CGI-enhanced puffery in the so-called "burly brawl," I thought I spotted a hopeful light of philosophical promise. Smith begins to discuss purpose. Ah ha! Here is an interesting point of contention! I wonder how the movie will play this out?

A2 - I envy my parents their dedication, their seemingly unquestioned priority. I'm sure they questioned it along the way, and perhaps especially after the fact, but they seem pretty happy with it and I have to say that -- some bias understood here -- they made a good choice and did an amazing job of it. Perhaps because of this lesson, I can't help but define myself by my sense of purpose. This probably isn't the only way to having a sense of identity. You could, I suppose, base it upon heritage, or beliefs, or simply a decision. Yet I can best perceive and understand myself as someone who has a specific goal. That's what makes me productive and decisive and true. (And neurotic and insecure and overwrought, but that's for another time.)

B2 - Of course, we now know how The Matrix Reloaded worked out for us (for an illustration of this workout, please view Speed Racer) and even what sweat The Matrix Revolutions drew from us. That wonderfully promising set-up for exploring a sense of identity and purpose fizzled into a lot of Thomas Anderson waffling about (no doubt drawing quite a bit on his Winnipeg experiences there) until getting whipped into shape by his oracle. I guess I have a habit of rather retcon-ing disappointing movies, and whenever TNT offers up that first scene between Smith and Neo I wonder a little over the direction the next 3+ hours of Hollywood magic might've taken. Imagine, for example, that the movies drove these questions through every character so that by the end the struggle is not about war, but the existential side of things. Such a movie would never bust blocks, but it would be unique and unpredictable if, for example, Neo and Smith fight themselves to exhaustion with no clear winner and then echo their lines from the first film, "You're empty." "So are you." Their sense of purpose lost. Now that would scare an audience.

A3 - Purpose is a terribly abstract notion, but one with tremendous influence on action, and I suppose I like to define myself by my actions (and, it must be confessed, my imagination). Purpose and identity are for me inextricable from one another. As I've been writing a bit about of late (see 5/5/10) I'm at something of a point of contention regarding my purposes, which means I don't have the most solid sense of identity. Some might think this is pretty normal for an actor, and it is, but I've always valued the ability to distinguish between myself and a character and that requires a strong personal baseline. So I'm bothered. What it comes down to, really, is letting go of the definition of myself as an actor. Not refuting that I'm an actor, but learning to define myself by other means, since I want more things now. Including: having (a) kid(s) and being a good parent.

B3 - If wishes were horses, they couldn't let me into movie theatres (because of all the horses). I may as well have hoped for Keanu to suddenly transform into a vulnerable, emotive actor when he was pulled from the matrix. (Wow - how many minds would have been blown by that? [A: At least one.]) Hope, though, is an important part of a sense of purpose. And an important part of Hollywood movies. They come from a tradition of fomenting hope in their audiences, and pure, blockbuster escapism is founded on the promise that all that is good will vanquish all that is evil. I just wish the Matrix films had pursued a different identity, and had challenged the programmed, automatic hope that is engendered by the tropes of movies. C'est la vie -- that wasn't their purpose, after all.

A4 - Maybe the solution to the current dilemma lies in not defining my identity by my purpose. That is as much as to say, by becoming a little more assured in myself as myself, whatever that may mean from moment to moment, I'll have a more rooted sense of identity. Clown, husband, writer, compulsive organizer, athlete (ha-ha) and maybe someday a father. I'm a big one for questioning everything, so the quest for securing a thing or two, being content with an answer, even for a little while, is a strange one for me. Not unwelcome, however. The world doesn't get any simpler or worth any less by way of decision. Maybe the only answer to all our questions is "because," but that doesn't mean I have to limit myself to being my cause.

B4 - Before I get myself into another unintentional writing assignment, I'll just say that I'm not holding my breath for Hollywood to change its sense of purpose. It's just that neither will I soon let go of that sense of hope when it comes to big, spangly action movies, any more than I will for my own perilously un-Hollywood journeys. Hope is a pretty great lifeline when all other directions and definitions lose their meaning and, moreover, every so often, the hope pays out. And sometimes, it even does so with freaking bad-ass kung fu sequences.
 
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