by Brendan Cavanagh, of all people, believe it or not
Leave it to college to cause one to question one's constantly transforming identity, or one's role in a new environment. The situation seems nigh hopeless enough when I don't know who exactly I should be, but proves even worse when I begin to identify with musicians or cinematic and literary characters. That being said, let us take a glance at the many characters that have found elements of their personalities portrayed in my demeanor over the last six months:
One. Stephen Dedalus
The protagonist of James Joyce's signature novella, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as well as certain passages from his masterpiece of an Irish odyssey, Ulysses, struggles to ascertain just exactly who he is. Over the course of his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood he engages in a number of highly significant and influential experiences that allow him to cultivate his worldview and feelings about love, life, heritage and religion. Stephen often feels constrained by the limitations that arise from his experiences, and his metaphoric asphyxiation causes him to emerge from each experience all the wiser.
"When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets."
He feels that his true vocation is to be ordained into the priesthood, but upon much self-contemplation he is illuminated to his passion for the beauty of language, words and literature. It occurs to Stephen that his calling involves not only appreciating the aesthetic value of language, but also to spread that appreciation to his brethren.
"Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."
Two. Holden Caulfield
As previously noted, the antihero of J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye has had a profoundly positive and negative affect on my life. Unfortunately, some of the more unsatisfactory traits of Holden's personality have carried over from the transitional summer between high school and college. There are times when I just get so sick of the "phoniness" that bubbles up all around me. It would make Holden sick to see the immaturity that often arises in a collegiate environment (which is ironic because Holden is an incredibly immature character): Guys like Holden's roommate, Ward Stradlater, who are sickeningly self-confident and suave with the ladies, but run around the unit after classes, slapping you on the butt and humping you in a twisted effort to assert their masculinity. "Oh hey, fag, you like this, fag? Yeah? Uh uh yeah. Did you do the homework for English? I just couldn't get up, so I skipped and I don't have any of the handouts." Yet, we still wind up feeling bad for these people when we find out, for instance, that they're about to be kicked out of school for their depressingly-habitual apathy in regards to attending classes. And then there are the girls:
"I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can."
Finally, when Holden relates his experiences wandering New York at sixteen, or when I write my weekly blog posts, we wind up getting overly sentimental. As Holden says,
"Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."
Three. Bob Dylan
Sometimes it seems when I cannot put what I am trying to express into words, Bob Dylan is there to articulate it in a most poetic fashion, as if he too is experiencing the same situation as I am. When I need a creative outlet for my thoughts about women, society, happiness, sadness, justice or injustice, I simply plug in my iPod, scroll through a selection of Dylan's best songs and sing along. On identity and its expression:
"The man in me will do nearly any task / And as for compensation, there's a little he will ask / Take a woman like you / To get through to the man in me." (The Man In Me, 1971)
On leaving loved ones at home:
"I will write you a letter from time to time / As I’m ramblin’ you can travel with me too / With my head, my heart and my hands, my love / I will send what I learn back home to you" (Farewell, 1963)
And not to be forgotten, on moving on from past loves:
"I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind / You could have done better but I don’t mind / You just kinda wasted my precious time / But don’t think twice, it’s all right" (Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, 1963)
Four. A Certain TV Character
Five. Mike from Swingers
Jon Favreau's portrayal of Mike, a guy who just cannot seem to get over his last girlfriend (who dumped him), is almost eerily easy to relate to. He bores his friends by constantly bringing up his issues with this breakup, though they are too friendly to admit it. I find if I am dwelling on a certain matter, always a romantic one, I cannot help but incorporate my concerns into every conversation I have with my friends. Some are more understanding, and allow themselves to be a medium through which I can vent, while others are more like Vince Vaughn's character in Swingers, trying to get my mind off things by thrusting me into unrelated situations and focusing attention on themselves for a change. Despite whatever romantic similarities lie between Mike and I, our true mutual trait is in our incorporation of comedy into conversation. He is a struggling comedian, and we we both find our jokes and references hilarious, but find there exists a massive dichotomy between our understanding of our jokes and the intended audience's understanding. For instance, when asked to order at a cafe in Vegas, Mike says,
"I'll have a coffee... Two, uh, two coffees. And it says, uh, here, "Breakfast Anytime."
The waitress affirms, and he responds,
"I'll have the, uh, pancakes and, uh, the Age of Enlightenment."
to which he is met by blank stares from his friend and the waitress. Now, despite the fact that the Las Vegas waitress DID, in fact, get his obscure French philosophical reference, I can attest to the fact that quite often Mike's and my references or quips will go right over some people's heads, which can be deathly embarrassing. However, I am not as awkward as Mike ALL the time, but we still do share a similar inefficacy in making the effort to pick up women.
. . .
Don't get me wrong, I am still plain old Brendan. I may exemplify some of the more noticeable traits of characters from film, television, books or real life, but my personality and identity are almost entirely shaped by my own experiences. And I hate to end a piece of writing on a quote, but as Bob Dylan says,
"Oh there's changes in the ocean / There's changes in the sea / There's changes in my true love / But there ain't no changing me."