To Be or Not to Be
"They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people there wouldn't be any you because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people. That is a very comforting thought when you are in a car in the rain at night alone, for then you aren't you, and not being you or anything, you can really lie back and get some rest. It is a vacation from being you."
-All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
Like many of you, at least according to my Facebook friends, I too have become infatuated with Westworld. Westworld is just the type of Sci-Fi I dig. The science is there enough to support the background but as all good tales of technological progression, the story isn't about the science. The story is about the ethics and humanity behind what happens when we tweak the world to our liking.
Or, of particular interest to me on this occasion, the science of being. Who are you? What are you like? What makes you you when we all boil down to A-T-G-C?
Adenine, Thymine, Guadine, and Cystosine. All of us are composed of those four base elements. And although they make us mostly the same -ten fingers, ten toes and the like- they make us vary incredibly in terms or personality and behavior. Some of us have "Restless Genes" which force us to pursue new opportunities while others stay back and keep care of the homestead. Some of us have less desirable genes offering a proclivity to depression or addiction. There are even, according to preeminent biological anthropologists, genes which determine who we are likely to love because they so well define who we are. And so you have the age old battle of nature versus nurture. Is who we are a predetermined concept set by our DNA or is it determined by our culture and the way we are raised, the behaviors we are taught? And more importantly in either case, do we have free will in the decisions we make on how we live our lives?
Especially during this time with the promise of new beginnings in a new year, I think about the things I have been. When I read my resume, I get a little lost. I have been a poet and a scientist. An Honor Council member, a Chemistry Scholar, an English Scholar, a Key Club President, a soccer player, the voted "Most Likely to Rule the World", a science museum docent, a Hall of Fame member, an Honors Program member, a Literary Magazine editor, a German exchange student, a German exchange ambassador, Pharmacy Technician, a bodycare specialist, an herbal remedy specialist, a PhD candidate, a biochemist, a nuclear chemist, a Master's student. Aside from what I have been professionally, I was a punk rock chick overachiever, pretentious intellectual, persistant feminist, and romantic. I've been a friend to many people, and a girlfriend to a few people, and a sister and daughter to even fewer with all of them having a slightly different picture of Elise.
There's a me that wants to go to clubs until 1am an loose myself in music and sound and the energy of a crowded room.
There's a me that wants to sit at home reading and writing in quiet contemplation of my own thoughts.
There's a me who wants to go on hikes and be left breathless by the beauty and magnitude of the world.
There's a me that wants to go out to restaurants and indulge in food and drink to feel the pleasures of flesh.
There's a me that wants to go on dates with suitors and return to my chemistry lab in the midnight hours to harness the energy gathered from being with a new person.
How do I keep all these selfs happy? How do I make sure all the people inside of me are fed and fed well? How can I simultaneously be all of these things and all of these people?
And then, there's the other part: what has the world done to define me? A hot topic of our day is how the media and culture tells young girls what they should be and how they should behave. Having been a young girl, this is close to my heart. But I'll tell you a secret -most of what I am probably boils down to fighting against this. I was a rebellious child, and above all things then and still, I hate being told what to do. If you've heard the phrase, "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face." oh buddy, let me tell you I'll live noseless rather than do what you say.
So you tell me girls are supposed docile and quiet and insecure? I'll show you confident and unruly I can be. Not because I wanted to be either of those things, but because I wanted to be the opposite of your definition. And when you told me I was beautiful, I decked myself in denim, banned makeup and hairbrushes, and became ferocious.
But after a while, I realized rebellion against a premise isn't escape of the premise. It's playing into the hands of the premise which is not illustrating an independent motive of being. So how does one accomplish that? How do you shut off the voices outside to be able to hear the voices in your head to follow their guidance and choice?
"The self is a kind of fiction, for hosts and humans alike. It's a story we tell ourselves. [...] There is no threshold that makes us greater than the sum of our parts, no inflection point at which we become fully alive. We can't define consciousness because consciousness does not exist. Humans fancy that there's something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next."
-Robert Ford, Westworld, Episode 8
I suppose this is where I live now. Not in rebellion against the things I am told, but sorting through my story. To find my loops. To question my choices and break my patterns if the mood suits me. And while I much better at listening to my own voices and ignoring the others, it's not as if I want to ignore them entirely. One person has an idea of me, another person another idea of me, I my idea of me and so on and so forth until there are a whole lot of Elises and it's hard to decide which is the real one. Is there an innate me determined by my genetic structure or, as Penn Warren explains, do I exist only in context? Fun things to think about when getting ready to make another trip around the sun.
Just a Woman in STEM finding her way