Identities

Today’s post was inspired by a porn star. Now that I have your your attention I should disclose that this piece is NOT about pornography. I apologize to anyone who stumbled here looking for videographic stimulation, titillation, or a prurient sense of moral outrage; I can refer you to some speedier corners of the internet if you would like. Today’s topic is: identities.
I was inspired to write this post after reading an opinion piecein the Sunday New York Times by the adult entertainment star Stoya. Stoya wrote about why she chooses to use a stage name, despite the fact that, in this information age, a pseudonym for privacy protection is about as effective as a pair of groucho Marx glasses. 

They’ll never see through THIS clever disguise

She makes the point that the pseudonym isn’t so much about hiding her identity, as it is about separating her work life (i.e. performing sex acts on video for other people’s enjoyment) from her personal life (i.e. all of the things she enjoys doing while she isn’t busy being a porn star). It really is a wonderfully written piece: humorous, self-reflective, and poignant. For Stoya, her work is a role she slips into: she is a porn star from 9-5 to pay the bills, but when she’s shopping at Whole Foods, she is Jessica, just another attractive white lady in the produce department. This got me thinking: most of us are NOT porn stars (as far as I know, and if you are, awesome! Marathonsam doesn’t judge anyone their chosen profession); however, we do all play multiple roles in our day-to-day existence. How do we reconcile our identities into one cohesive individual?
 For Stoya it seems so simple: she literally has an alter ego, like Clark Kent– although her superpowers are a little more specialized.

Truth, justice, the American Way! And orgasms. 
For the rest of us it is slightly more complicated.  We certainly behave differently at work than we do when we are at home. We are also influenced by the people around us. We tweak our vocabularies and our mannerisms depending on who we are interacting with. Think of how you would react if your computer crashed and took with it a very important document that you had spent hours working on. Think specifically about what words you might use to express your frustration. 

Oh fiddlesticks!
Now imagine the same situation, but your dear, sweet, 90 year old aunt Edna is sitting right across the table from you; unless Edna was in the Merchant Marines I bet you would make much more of an effort to leash in your language. 

I don’t know Edna’s life
Think about your favorite story from college, the one that always gets a laugh at happy hours. Would you tell it to your boss? Does this mean we are all phonies, changing our personality to suit the situation at hand? I’m going to kick Holden Caulfield to the curb and argue that this personality-plasticity is not only normal, but one of the best things about human beings in general. I think that our inconsistencies serve to make us more interesting. I also think that the differences between the distinct identities we slip into in our day-to-day lives can serve as a tool to identify our truest, most consistent selves.
When I was in college I took an introductory sociology course. One of the concepts that resonated with me was the Dramaturgical Theory of Sociology, posited by Erving Goffman. The idea behind this theory is that every single social interaction is a “scene,” and therefore the people within the scene are actors slipping into the necessary roles for that particular scene to move forward. Everyone’s actions should be evaluated based on context. This theory maintains that every person has both a “front-stage” personality, which is malleable (to a point) depending on the requirements of the scene. Everyone also posses a “back-stage” personality. This is fundamentally unchanging. Sometimes the front-stage  and back-stage personalities are the same. Sometimes, they are not, but the back-stage is kept hidden so that the scene can move forward. Some people are worse actors than others, and have trouble keeping the back-stage safely behind the curtains– interacting with these people can feel like watching bad community theater: uncomfortable and unconvincing. On the other hand, sometimes you get a rare glimpse into a person’s back-stage persona and it is like a great episode of “Inside the Actors’ Studio,” illuminating, revealing, and emotional.

James Lipton not required. 
I like the Dramaturgical Theory. There is no value judgement attached to the different roles we play, this is a distinctly human behavior. All of our actions and interactions are in service of moving the scene forward–it isn’t phoniness, it’s the pursuit of social norms. I think that it is fascinating that everybody has a whole cast of charcaters within them, ready to take center stage. For Stoya, with her work alter ego, the identities she adopts may be more drastically different than for the rest of us, but we all wear many hats.
Sometimes we wear cowboy hats
Now here’s where it gets really interesting. We are each and every one of us a teeming hive of inconsistencies and contradictions. This is a good thing. Society as we know it would likely grind to a screeching halt if everyone said what was truly on their minds 100% of the times. 

If we accept the fact that we all are capable of being different people depending on what is required of us the question is: can we use this as a tool? Can we use our personal paradoxes to identify what within is constant and fundamental? Is back-stage persona the SUM TOTAL, or the AVERAGE of all of our sundry front-stage facades? Do we need some more complex math to answer this question?
Is the Riemann-Zeta function involved?
I don’t have an answer. I only took one quarter of Sociology. I’m just a blogger who likes to indulge in some navel-gazing and seriously hopes that he doesn’t end up with his head up his ass. But I have been thinking about my own identities:
I am a scientist.

I am an endurance athlete.

I am an environmentalist.

I am an explorer.

I am an animal lover.

I am an American.

I am a yogi.

I am a reader.
I am a foodie.
I am sarcastic.
I am a feminist.
I am a blogger (I think?)
I am running out of space in this blog post. 

The point I am trying to make is that even though we slip into different roles, I believe we can find a common unifying thread. We all wear many hats, but in the end our heads don’t change much.
Sorry for rambling on. I would be delighted to hear if anyone else has any further thoughts. How do you define yourself? What do you think about Dramaturgy Theory? Did anyone else take sociology in college? I thought that it was a completely easy A, and also one of the most interesting classes that I ever took. 


10 thoughts on “Identities

  1. Even our identities have multiple identities! We're all nesting dolls.

    I was trying to save room, and “endurance athlete” encompasses many of the things I like doing. “Border Collie” might be a good descriptor as well (as in, I need an hour of vigorous exercise per day or I start chewing on the furniture :P)

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  2. What is the difference between “endurance” athlete and “athlete”? Is the focus more on setting a pace for a long period of time, whereas another sort of athlete might just be in for the flashy-trashy short burst? I am trying to define myself and looking to you for definition. See what power your blog has? SAM RULES THE UNIVERSE. :0

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  3. Oooohhhhhh man. Fundraising was my original goal, domination of all media came second :).

    Here goes (warning- we are entering into rambling territory) I'm wondering if there is a difference…athleticism and endurance go hand in hand. I'm not sure that defining it by time and/or pace works: a sprint triathlon and a half marathon take comparable amounts of time to complete, and would both be called “endurance events,” but the type of effort and pacing required for each are SO different. The half-mary is totally slow-twitch, and the sprint is all fast-twitch. I think a leisurely 60 mile bike tour is way easier than a 45 minute session of hill repeats (but I incorporate both into my training….except for when I can think of an excuse not to do hill repeats….which is 90% of the time). It would sound slightly strange to my mind to call a basketball player an “endurance athlete,” but I would argue that the amount of effort and endurance needed by basketball player over the course of a game (even if it is in fits and starts) is comparable (or greater than) the amount of exertion needed for a half marathon.

    I think the more interesting question is when an activity becomes “athletic” rather than just “exercise.” I don't have a great answer for that one either…but I've been thinking about it. I think it gets down to the motivation: exercise is an activity you do because you feel like you have to, athleticism is an activity you do for the sake of doing it as best as you possibly can. You don't have to be the fastest or the bestest to be an athlete, but you do have to be committed. Does that make any sense at all? What do you think?

    I think I need to sort out my thoughts and write a full length post on this. Thanks for the inspiration Lori!

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  4. Did you inherit your dad's dislike of riding bikes on hills? :) Or is it the “repeat” part of riding that you like to avoid? You bring up some interesting points and observations about classifying athletes. I guess we can break it down further to compare “athletes” vs. “active people.” I guess I would consider athletes people who incorporate a specific skill into a sport – whether they compete in that sport, or just have fun. Cycling, running, swimming can all be competitive — but a general cardio class at the gym is not. However, apparently yoga now has some competitions, which i personally find very WRONG. I do like your analysis of basketball players – they run, they sprint, and they are darned skilled. But for our purposes, I guess I would consider an endurance athlete someone who finds satisfaction in moving forward for quite a ways, not just a spin around the block to look at the neighbor's landscapes. Or someone who finds joy in the length of time spent moving forward – not happy to just do a crit here and there. Personally, I think being fairly comfortable with both would be ideal. I see so many people who pass me on the flats, and then can't power up the next hill and turn into total doorstops. So I pass them, point, and laugh. Just kidding. But I do think being well-rounded has benefits. We have all seen the studly guy charge ahead, passing everyone, and then blow up at the next turn. And we have seen the slow and steady cyclist who can't pick up the pace enough to power through a hill. Also, I think there is a huge benefit to incorporating both to your runs/swim/cycling, so when you need that skill you got it!

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  5. This is such a juicy discussion! I love the “love of moving forward” aspect that you incorporated–which does serve to differentiate “endurance sports” from sports that simply require endurance. Not to get too hippy-dippy, but (riffing on your brilliant comment) endurance sports are about the JOURNEY rather than the destination…man.

    I seriously am going to have to do a whole post on this (and give you some much deserved credit. Think about it has been fun!)

    OK- busted…I like hill repeats while I'm running. On the bike I'm less of a fan, but I think it's because my daily commute is a giant hill repeat. Ether way theres something satisfying about a good, hard, push-yourself-till-you-puke workout, even for a slow-twitch athlete.

    Competitive yoga makes me puke, too. But not in a good way.

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  6. Is there a good way to puke? Yeah — that competitive yoga thing is just plain weird.

    I can see why cycling uphill is not really your favorite thing after that being a commute for you. When I have several hills to power up, I make sure to relax as much as I can—especially feet and lower back, and focus on trying to control my heart rate. It takes my mind off the pain! Also, making sure to use a full spin…pull back on those pedals in a full circle, not an egg shape. Those are my tips, for whatever they might be worth on your commute. But even if you never enjoy cycling on hills, you have enough enjoyment in other things! You don't have to love hills, it is just helpful when you live in a hilly place.

    I think of the forward movement thing as “gusto.” You can put so much into it – wild energy, mellow contemplation, active competition. And feeling faster is so rewarding. I remember watching your progress as a runner that summer on Magnolia. You started out dedicated and steady, and then within a couple months you were FLYING. Very, very cool.

    I wanted to ask you then what was motivating you, but you were moving too fast.

    I am trying to find a balance between becoming a better and stronger cyclist, while not “training.” I find that when I look too hard at the science of becoming a better athlete, it loses some of the magic. But, that does not mean that I don't like hearing about other people's training! Obviously training works, as you have become such a mega-monster runner.

    What I do truly know, however, is that some forward movement at a quick pace makes me feel darned good, and helps fight whatever demons the world throws at me.

    Thanks for helping me articulate this, and for your inspiring stories of your adventures.

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  7. As Lori knows (and Sam probably knows) I used to keep a list of the World's Stupidest Sports to track events that I felt just didn't count as sports. I've since abandoned it as the World's Stupidest Idea, because I kept having to remove sports from the list once I had figured out that they were totally awesome. Like the time in 2010 that I spent two days holed up in a Phoenix hotel finishing a report for a client with only the Olympic curling tournament on MSNBC as company. Curling: awesome. Curling in Norwegian colored argyle pants: doubly awesome.
    Now here's the question: are curlers (curlicues?) athletes? Are target shooters athletes? Are bocce players athletes?
    And here's the corollary: figure skaters are amazing, incredible, awe inspiring athletes. But is figure skating a sport?

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