"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, February 8, 2015

“Who Am I?”– Absolutely Nothing To Do With Race, Gender, Or Ethnicity

Felicity Martin was a vegan and women’s rights activist, turned her heat down, took the subway, wore cloth coats, and gave to the poor; but who was Felicity under that progressive veneer? Was she for real, or was this simply an expression of her theatrical bent and melodramatic personality?

Felicity had been brought up Catholic, and she played the part beautifully. She was sweet and ingénue in her white communion dress and even at seven had a flair for ecclesiastical attire.  If she couldn’t dress like Father Brophy in his silk, gilt-edged robes, red slippers, humeral veil, and manipule; she would look as fine as the picture of her grandmother when she made her First Communion.

She insisted on the long veil, Victorian crinoline dress, and white gloves of her grandmother; and asked for only one modern accessory - tiara of lilies-of-the-valley.  Felicity dressed up every day for a week.  She practiced her smile, adjusted her veil just so, and walked towards and away from the mirror in small, demure steps.

She was just as attentive to her school uniform, her Sunday finest, and her summer frocks. There was nothing new or original in her dress, nor did she want there to be.  She was happy to look like everyone else, to fit in, to accommodate to others.

By her high school years she was uncanny in her ability to choose the right dress, the right extracurricular activities, and the right friends.  She became practiced at gesture, tone of voice, and comportment. She was identical to the girls she wanted to be – not the individual girls, but the collective cluster of girls which represented the image she sought. She was indifferent to Jessica, Lourdes, or Sandy as individuals  She was neither critical nor admiring; and never spent the time or effort to get to know them.

Each year she adjusted her persona to a new clique.  She was so adept and skillful at this social role-modeling that no one noticed that one year she was a cool girl, the next an intellectual, and the next a passionate believer in causes.

This rather unique behavior – ‘affective displacement’ as psychiatrists called it – continued through young adulthood. Felicity wanted to be liked more than anything; and if there was ever a social chameleon, it was she. She immediately picked up on the latest fashions, hip trends, music, and political issues. Everyone with a cause could trust Felicity to be there at the barricades, on faux oyster boats on the Bay, in front of Goldman Sachs, and on environmental picket lines in front of America’s worst polluters. For years she had defined herself by the causes she had espoused, the catwalk clothes she bought, the friends she kept; but she was not happy.

One day at her office – a non-profit agency whose humanitarian mission was well-known –senior management organized the first ‘Diversity Seminar’ of the year.  On the stage of the auditorium were students holding large signs on which was written in large block letters: GAY, STRAIGHT, BLACK, WHITE, ASIAN, HISPANIC and a number of socially distinguishing characteristics. “I am none of the above”, she told the Senior Vice President as she walked out of the conference room.  This day of epiphany was only the beginning of the long road back to herself.

At first she felt adrift.  She knew that she had cut an important ligament and no longer had the same hold on her life. It took her days in fact to realize the importance of what she had done. Most of her colleagues dismissed the company’s obvious, mistimed, and reflexive attempts at social relevance as nonsense; but only Felicity it seemed took the firm’s blatant correctness as existential.  There on the stage was the vaudevillian hyperbole of her life to date.  The firm had only codified the phenomenon, made it obvious and ridiculous. She had never asked herself who she was before, but now the question was inevitable.  Unfortunately, as she looked at her computer screen, she realized that she had no idea.

Not surprisingly, she first turned to religion. Father Brophy had been very clear on the existence of the soul, the individual spirit which longed to be with Jesus Christ; but the more she had read about the early Church, Origen, Tertullian, the Montanists, and even St. Augustine couldn’t agree on what Christ had meant.  Some Christian offshoots said that soul and body were distinct.  The spirit was of a higher order, and one’s salvation depended uniquely on proper tending of the soul.  Mainstream orders decried this as heresy. Such dualism encouraged fleshly abandon and promiscuity.  Augustine pondered another dualism and concluded that a truly beneficent God could never have created evil; so there is no such thing as evil, only the absence of good.

Nietzsche believed that the only validation of life was the expression of individual will; but he never defined what that was.  Tolstoy dismissed any talk of the value of the individual or individual action.  We are all billiard balls, clacked and banged along the felt with no purpose or meaning.

This was getting Felicity nowhere.  Intellectual sophistry at its worst; academic posturing and self-serving logic. Tolstoy had it right in the end when he wrote A Confession. Neither logic nor blind faith could answer the questions of being.  No one could tell you what’s what except yourself.

Despite her existential angst, Felicity knew one thing for sure – she was sexually insatiable. The sexual juices in her veins had not been attenuated or diluted in the least by her philosophical dithering. She made love with passion, abandon, and feral excitement.  In fact her sexual episodes were the closest thing to wiping moral slate clean.  Before sex her mind was like a mathematician’s blackboard, all squiggled equations, curves, and determinates.  After sex, her mind was clear, questions about personhood, identity, will, purpose, and individuation were gone.

Gracie blackboard

“Tantrism”, she said.  “That’s what it is”, and once again Felicity began to over-intellectualize her nature.  Kundalini, chakras, spiritual union with the One through sexual congress, elevating the soul through the powerful, forces of the universe. “Finding oneself by bathing in primal waters.”

“Who am I kidding?”, she said to herself, feeling exhausted, depleted, happy, but definitely not spiritual as she left Brandon’s bed, dressed, and walked back to Adams Morgan. “I have only realized who I am not, not who I am.”

Her company organized another diversity workshop, but she asked to be excused on grounds of religious convictions. “I cannot be asked to accept the legitimacy of homosexuality when the Bible considers it an abomination”.  She believed no such thing, but felt there was nothing wrong in gaming the PC system.  The Dean of Students was flummoxed and flustered at Felicity’s request. As far as he knew there were no evangelical Christians in the school which is why there were no indicative signs on the stage at the last session. He stuttered and hesitated but, as Felicity knew he would, he agreed to excuse her.  That was one thing she had learned about ‘progressives’ – they are as easy to con as marks at a freak show.

As time went on, Felicity simply wore herself out with all her philosophical inquiries. She had gone from the Darwinian (she was no more than ganglions, neural networks, and muscular response devices) to the Essene (mythical, proto-New Age mystics), to Platonic and Montanist dualist, to Kierkegaardian nihilism, to Sartrian existentialism.

She ended up after this long and tiring voyage back where she started. “Sex and environmentalism”, she concluded, although the two were mutually exclusive. She had never met a Global Warming advocate with any balls or sexual passion; so she bedded on the Right and hung out with the Left.

She was a boon to The Movement.  She, in her theatrical and melodramatic way, was the perfect prophet of doom. 

She was eloquent and convincing. She wove parables about Christian universalism, Jewish moral rectitude, and Hindu pantheism to make a point.  She not only felt like Martin Luther King as he gave his mountaintop speech, she was MLK. Her delivery imitated his tremolo, his gospel-driven pulpit ecstasy, and has absolute command of the English language.

To Earth Mother types she was appropriately deferential to Gaia and venerated the miracle of a responsive, sensitive planet. To businessmen she was bottom-line, ‘what’s in it for me’ practical, and no-nonsense decipherer of arcane tax laws.  She was a genius.  She thought the whole enterprise was horseshit; but she reveled in her own magnificent Elmer Gantry evangelism. “I can convince anyone of anything”, she said.

So, Felicity had figured out what’s what after all.  Both the Left’s hectoring insistence on good works; or the Right’s equal conviction on the essentiality of the human will were off the mark. “Image and orgasm”, she said. “Not a bad combination.”

As she got older, her theatrical performances and her libido fell off somewhat; and she was surprised to find that in her later years the same old questions kept popping up. “Who am I”, asked Konstantin Levin, “and why am I here?”.

“Tolstoy again”, Felicity muttered; but didn’t fight The Great Man.  “Image, orgasm, and facing the facts”, she said. “So what? I’ve only got a few years to go with not much else to do other than consider my end.”

Felicity has always been my hero.  She gave a shit, then didn’t give a shit, and then gave a shit again.  A great life. .

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