Dispatch #2

My friend,

I don’t think I'll ever escape it, you know—this relentless urge to bleed my soul out onto the page. Words turn me on like no other medium. I like reading them. I like listening to them. I like playing with them. It’s like Sigmund Freud said:

“Words have a magical power. They can bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.”

What’s not to love about that? It's addictive, like heroin or cocaine. A few hits and you're hooked… 

and I’m told my addiction will never go away…

there is no cure for it. 

I’m doomed. 

This is my third day sitting at this desk. I’ve been meaning to go out and spend time around other people. Apart from going to the gym, I’ve been taking this urban hermit thing too far. This is when I have no faith in my Myers Briggs profile, which has me pegged as an extrovert, which in theory means I vibe better in the company of other people.

And yet, I can go days without interacting with people. It turns out that my cognitive function is extroverted intuition, which means I favour ideas over people. And that’s true. Where a normal extrovert needs to be around a lot of people, extroverted intuitive types need the stimulus of lots of ideas, which probably explains my book-buying addiction. I’ll talk some more about that in a minute.

Yesterday, I ended up re-reading “So Sad Today” by Melissa Broder. She is the reigning queen of sad girl lit. I’ve never understood how someone who trades off of anxiety and depression could be so happy. She’s meant to be sad. Maybe I just don’t understand depression. She’s not the only one, hence why they have their own category of literature. I guess, in some ways, it keeps my faith in capitalism alive. If you put a price tag on it and create some hype, people will buy anything, even depression.

Anyway, a few essays into re-reading her book, I found myself scrolling through Twitter to see what she’s up to these days. Not much has changed. She’s still peddling the sad girl stuff:

OK, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but after drowning in her Twitter feed, I ended up watching a 1.5-hour video interview with her on the "Going Mental with Eileen Kelly" podcast. If I keep this up, I might have to start a sad boy account. To be fair, the interview was actually enlightening. She’s a lot deeper than I thought.

Are you ready to go on another tangent? I’m not even sure what triggered this. It was probably reading Phillip Lopate’s book, The Art of the Personal Essay, that did it. He’s been planting seeds in my head about the personal essayist’s M.O. as a drive towards candour and self-disclosure that allows readers to eavesdrop on a mind in solitude. Honesty and confession are two words the personal essayist thrives on.

Speaking of confessions, here’s one for you: Clay isn’t my real name. That’s probably all you’ve ever known me as. It’s the name I’ve been using since about 1980. Before that, I was Clayton, and before that, I was Lamont.

Let me explain. My parents wanted to name me after my father, Coalet Jon Lowe. They wanted me to be Coalet Jon Lowe the second. But, going through the school system and being subjected to the cruelty of kids, my dad got into a lot of fights over his name because Coalet or Colette can be a girl’s name. I guess my mom wanted to spare me that trauma. My dad would go on to get his wish through a third son in his second marriage. I’m not sure how they derived Clayton from Coalet, but that’s what they went with. I guess, in the end, they didn’t like the name Clayton because they never called me by it. They used my middle name instead, Lamont.

Growing up, I had two identities. At home, I was Lamont—rambunctious (according to my dad), adventurous, and independent. At school, I was Clayton—quiet, studious, and reserved. This duality began when I started school, with my classmates and teachers calling me by my first name, Clayton, while at home I remained Lamont.

By middle school, Clayton had morphed into Clay. I guess Clayton took too long to say or sounded too formal, so my friends nicknamed me Clay, and I just ran with it and have introduced myself as Clay ever since. Clay developed his own personality, separate from Clayton and Lamont. Clay became a self-possessed, non-conformist, quiet rebel who played by the rules when they suited him and broke them when they didn’t.

Clay has been my public persona for over 40 years now. But lately, I have been questioning this personal narrative. Is Clay still a useful persona? Who am I beneath the mask?

In “Beyond Order,” Jordan Peterson suggests that identity is a dynamic construct that we shape through our personal history, values, goals, and the stories we tell ourselves.

I’m wondering: if I examine, through self-inquiry, these aspects of identity, would I discover that I’m not who I think I am?

Hmm… Who do I think I am? Am I still defining myself based on the narrative I used to create Clay? Am I fundamentally not that person anymore but continue trying to be? Could this be where nostalgia comes from—trying to be the person I once was? And am I trying to shape future Clay through the lens of past Clay?

Moreover, I must consider that I've told Clay's story to so many people that they also have a hand in maintaining this persona. If I try to change my behaviour, my story, or my beliefs and values, the people who know me as Clay, especially those closest to me, will likely try to maintain the status quo and keep me as Clay. This could end up making change difficult for me.

Alright, my head is spinning a little. There’s a lot to unpack here, which I’ll do in future dispatches. For now, here are some key concepts on identity from Beyond Order that are worth sifting through:

  1. Integration of Past, Present, and Future: Peterson suggests that identity is formed through the integration of one’s past experiences, present actions, and future goals. A coherent identity allows individuals to navigate their lives with a sense of continuity and purpose.

  2. Balancing Order and Chaos: He argues that identity involves finding a balance between the stability of order and the uncertainty of chaos. A well-developed identity helps individuals manage the challenges of life by embracing both structure and change.

  3. Narrative and Storytelling: Peterson emphasises the importance of narrative in shaping identity. He believes that individuals construct their identities through the stories they tell about themselves, which provide meaning and context to their experiences.

  4. Moral Framework: A strong identity is grounded in a set of values and principles. Peterson stresses the importance of developing a moral framework that guides one’s actions and decisions.

  5. Responsibility and Purpose: He argues that taking responsibility for one’s actions and finding a sense of purpose are crucial components of a healthy identity. By accepting responsibility, individuals can create a meaningful and fulfilling life.

That’s all for now, my friend.

still sitting at this desk,
making my eyeballs square
15 May 2024,

Coventry Cathedral