Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Chameleon

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Last week I drove from Sheboygan to Milwaukee on Christmas evening, and I drove through the town my parents live in on my way to the highway. I've done this before, and it affected me last time I did it. There's something quickening about solitude.

As I drove through Sheboygan Falls, I noticed something: I was changing.

I am one person when I am with my family. I laugh at our inside jokes, I adhere to certain standards of behavior and interaction integral to the family-community, I am Ian-At-Home.

When I am in Milwaukee, I am another person. I am different. I find different things amusing; my discourse is different. I am Ian-In-The-World.

Of course, this change is illustrative of what I taught my Rhetoric and Composition I students last semester. I told them about discourse communities, different bubbles of relation with different standards of interaction. I tried to communicate to them the importance of facilitas, Quintilian's conception of community-jumping--intellectual agility--the ability to switch between discourse communities with self-aware grace.

That's all very well, but I'm gradually realizing that I am what I say. My identity is determined by my interaction. Does that mean that when I pass through Sheboygan Falls, morph from Home-Ian to Elsewhere-Ian, my identity is shifting?

Or am I a chameleon? Am I the same person beneath my ever-changing skin? Do I alter my outside to fit in? And if so, who or what is underneath?

Is there anything underneath? What if my cyclical skin is all there is?

Long live the cold sweat.

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