1. of the same form, appearance, kind, character, amount, etc.
2. corresponding or agreeing in general or in some noticeable respect; similar; analogous: drawing, painting, and like arts
3. bearing resemblance.
I sometimes wonder what kind of person I would be if fate dealt me a different hand. Not necessarily better or worse, mind you, if there are really such degrees of comparison, just, well, different. I (like to) believe I have outgrown the tendency to force my so-called individuality down everyone else’s throats, thinking that the human psyche, our basic human-ness, if you may, is more of a mosaic than a portrait, a chain of impressions made permanent as if ink splattering on an empty page. Who are we to proclaim our uniqueness, such illusions of grandeur, when truth be told we are nothing but by-products — physically, the accretion of stardust, of infinite nuclear fusions and protein syntheses; else, the sum of incidences not even ours to trigger?
Nature versus nurture — I have long sided with the latter, thinking things would be awfully different if I was raised under another set of circumstances, and that, obviously, being wired up this way is no accident either. These days, we speak of alternate dimensions half-jokingly, wondering about our identities in a parallel universe, when we have yet to understand the one in this version of reality.
But then again, why should we? We are constantly changing, fitting in and out of shells we have built and grown accustomed to. A friend used to tease me about my ability to don masks, depending on the company — bourgeois snob today, hearing out a vendor’s lamentations about K-12 the next afternoon. It is not even a conscious effort anymore, and I guess it is just a biological preset, a survival impulse. Wittgenstein overlooked the fact that the games we play go past speaking in tongues and playing infinite language games. The truth is, we are all chameleons.
And so we seek those who we think know flux as well as we do, acknowledging this as the sign of maturity, the acceptance of how things really are – complex, uterly confusing. One way or another, however, we simplify by longing to be like them, and this ultimately is how we change. We are configured in one way, to someone else’s specifications made explicit or not, then another comes along and we deem ourselves in need of modifications, so we shed our old gear and put on a change of clothes. For days, weeks, months, years, it depends, once again, on circumstance, we strive not to keep up appearances, but to foster resemblance.
We start listening to the soundtracks of 80’s movies, or tune to the sole jazz radio station in the city just before they plunk down the passenger seat, or start collecting vinyl records because their collection if sold online can feed a family of twelve for a month. We develop a sudden appreciation for absurdist stories because we saw them reach for Kafka in the library once, or in some cases, we just start lugging random books around because they pointed out how they have never seen us with one before. We start watching the food channel on late nights to impress them by pronouncing an Italian dish correctly, or we suddenly become fitness buffs and blow thousands on new running shoes. We start crying out for the same causes, finding ourselves standing on a scorching Friday afternoon outside Congress fighting for a higher education budget or for minimum wage to increase. We convert and start worshipping the same gods — we start going to prayer meetings or chug beers while watching a Lakers match. Other times, we just relinquish faith.
All this, when a lifetime ago we can never really understand why six minutes of someone playing the sax is better than a guitar solo, preferred films to paperback and believe the last time we tied our shoelaces was in high school.
From my first boyfriend, I learned how to like cursing. He spewed expletives and used them in every other sentence as nouns and adjectives. Two years after we broke up I am still deeply thankful to him for introducing me to weekends spent in bed watching action flicks with predictable plots but amazing stunts, expanding my profane vocabulary.
From my second, I was contaminated by a sudden desire to change the world order. He spoke about Marx and Engels and DHM and travelled sixty kilometers to see me every week. It was worth it, he said.
I used to like someone a lot and just stared at him while he spoke of dada poetry for hours on end. I dated someone for a month and was left a John Mayer fan. I am currently getting over a foolish crush which left me with a hankering to go out and see the world, conquer it on foot.
And of course, I am left wondering — what did these people get from me? Aside from my emotional baggage, hissy fits whenever I find myself unable to write and the smell of cigarettes, what else of me rubbed off on them, forever imprinted in memory?
Last semester, I was in awe when a professor explained how the mind accommodates new information by fitting them into preexisting marks, units of thought called schema. This is how come to know things, not too different from a jigsaw puzzle, fitting one by one until the picture is complete. A sea suddenly acquires a name, a word supplied with a definition, a place now to be called home. Meanwhile, I resign myself to this fate: of pulling pieces away from each other, of scrubbing them clean of color. This is why hurt. We have long stopped seeing ourselves separate.
Do we ever really forget, when another’s nature has become so closely associated with ours, we cannot wrestle ourselves free from it? We long for likeness, but when they are gone and we are thus stripped of a reference point, with whom are we ‘alike’? The lines of demarcation have ceased to exist, we have successfully transformed ourselves, until significant differences rise to the surface and we are foreign bodies once more.
What do we do, then, but declare the changes final and irreversible, lest someone else waltzes into our lives to provide us with another cocoon we can wriggle into?