About Me — Tomas Byrne
Becoming and Difference and Why They Matter to Me
And thank you for stopping by.
Over the course of the next few months, I will be posting a number of articles on fulfillment: how to live a fulfilling life. They will primarily be written from a philosophical perspective, but are intended to be practical and directly address the topic of self-improvement. They will mainly relate to my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference. More on that later.
I thought it might help to give you a bit of background on who I am. What follows provides some explanation of my motivations for writing and why I think what I write might be of some help to some people.
I hope you will join me and share your thoughts. I can use all the help I can get!
What is my Identity?
Identity and being, difference and becoming, have always interested me. As a mixed-race person, I have always been different. And as a person adopted as an infant, I have always been both fascinated, and at times repulsed, by identity. Too restless to just be, I have always been attracted to the becoming of something new.
For the most part, I have been a person who has challenged himself to seek out and find the things I have wanted in life, and I have often succeeded. Growing up in small-town Canada, I fought my way through some discrimination in my early days; minor, but enough pain to spur me on to be better. I excelled at school and university, rose to the top of the pile and held some high paying jobs. And I was fortunate enough to meet the woman of my dreams.
I moved from a small town to big cities, Montreal, Toronto, New York, London. There was never any question that this would be my path. While I had lots of good friends in my home town, I never quite fitted the mold of small town anywhere.
I looked different, and I was different on the inside, and I needed to explore places where people from different origins congregated and engaged in different activities. In London, the cosmopolitan metropolis, I found true multicultural mixing in the vibrant ex-pat community that dominated the west side of the city at the time.
For as long as I can remember, I have found present the constant pull of not fitting in, not belonging. Not wanting to belong. Wanting to both understand and reject my identity, and explore a world of many differences. Wanting to be different and carve my own path. Wanting to find answers that would quench my thirst for a life of difference.
Along the way, I sought out those answers in many places. Sports and health. Love and romance. Yoga and meditation. Religion and mythology. Music and art. Philosophy and self-help books. Alcohol and drugs. Trying to find a path through to some sort of wisdom or enlightenment. To something that heals, consoles, convinces. Something that lasts and could not only carry me through my darkest moments but also make peace and bliss something accessible.
I am not sure such answers are readily available. In the end, alone we must face our deepest fears, and ultimately face death. And each of us must find our calling and adventure, the journey and path, for living our lives to the fullest, given the necessities of time, circumstance and history.
In London, I confirmed one thing about myself: deep down inside, I am a seeker. I’m a life tripper seeking out experience, hanging out at the limits, and always looking for ways to feel alive. And all that inward questioning, all that is really about is trying to create a story around the ideas running through my brain.
Searching for a narrative. Trying to find that thread through the labyrinth out into the open. Something that resonates with all the things I care about in life: love, family, dreams, hope, creativity, adventure.
One day, I woke up to having lost my idea of the things important to me. I saw another side of difference, change, experience: the force of unwanted and unwelcome change. My career ended abruptly. I left the city I loved and moved to the countryside.
Shortly afterwards, I discovered my youngest child had a severe form of autism that will make it unlikely he will ever lead an independent life. And then, my mother died. Depression and anxiety set in and changed the color of my days and nights. A darkness took over and slowly my confidence washed out of me. I became a smaller version of myself.
This string of events caused me to question all the beliefs I had ever had about life, about wanting to be different, about carving my own path. This didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t anything like the climax of a novel. The feeling just gradually seeped in over a few months.
What set in was the need to strip away all of the ideas and assumptions about life I had accumulated over a lifetime, and to reconstruct them, questioning every step along the way. After a year or so, a new vision began to take shape; and when I was finally convinced of my new assessment of reality, any prior interpretations fell away like dead skin. I emerged with the vitality to reinvent, everything.
My Son Alex
What led me to this new dream of life? Who opened my eyes to that which I had never seen before?
My autistic son. My son, Alex, who must rise above the practical difficulties he has with this world, also has a completely alternative experience of this world; an experience that tunes in to the remarkable in the fleeting moments of everyday life. One that is as valid or more than the cloak of expected experience we bury ourselves within the modern world.
Alex senses intensities. He tastes the wind. He jumps into color. He dances with the rain. He hears silence. He touches music. Alex has encounters with the world that are fresh every morning he rises from bed. I’ve come to believe that he experiences the intensities of life in ways I can only imagine.
When I try to verbalize it with reference to my own experience, the best I can come up with are things like: watching the wings of a songbird flap in slow-motion replay and hearing a symphony, or feeling each amplitude of a wave of music wash over me and spread out over an open-air concert. But these comparisons do not capture what I mean.
My son experiences the world from another perspective, one not open to us. Or could it be?
A New Perspective
Could we come to see the day-to-day contrast of gray on gray as something much more vivid? Could it really be possible for us to experience the world from a totally new perspective, one that frees up energy and creativity?
The more I observed Alex each day, the more this question became central to my search for a new understanding of life. Although I did not realize it at the time, down and out, my autistic son inspired me to seek out ways of experiencing the world differently, through a lens of pure difference.
I discovered a philosopher named Gilles Deleuze. In Deleuze, I found a body of thought that resonates with pure and unmediated human experience, one we can apply to how we live our lives, and the way we reflect on our lives. A living philosophy that embraces difference and becoming; a philosophy that prioritizes the sensibility of experience and the need to remain open.
In Deleuze, I found the motivation to seek out alternative ways of experiencing this world, and I regained the desire to create my life.
So Why Write?
I am not a professional philosopher, not an expert. And the collection of writings I will post here are not a philosophical discourse, an academic critique, not loaded down in philosophical jargon. Nor are they an overtly analytic or ossified interpretation of what I think Deleuze was trying to say.
I am an amateur reader of philosophy; at best, a doer of living philosophy, a creative interpreter. I am just an ordinary person who came across something extraordinary. A person who stands in admiration and awe of a body of thought that articulates a sense of freedom that is remarkable. One we so desperately require in the world we live in today.
I was a lawyer once, studied the rule of law, case law, technical legal interpretations all based on an intricate set of rules of how such interpretation should be conducted. But while my legal education taught me how to distil complex material down to something easily understandable, I have little tolerance for intellectual gymnastics. I don’t believe Deleuze should be interpreted in a legalistic manner: by judges, whether such judges sit in a court on academic high or as editors of high-end culture magazines.
I write as a student of life; one who is reasonably well-read and educated. One who has been through many life changes. One who is interested in what applied philosophy can do for us in our real lives.
I believe in change and progressive thinking. As I look out at the world today, I believe global capitalism has made a terrible mess of things, both social and environmental. We live in a society that is badly in need of new ways of thinking reflexively, new ways of understanding who we are, how to get along with one another and take care of our environment. These writings are my small contribution to what I believe could help change matters for the better.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Over the coming months I will be posting articles on fulfillment, and a vision of fulfillment that is linked to becoming over being, and the force of difference over identity.
I hope you will join me.
Thanks for reading!
Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference (Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of the New) Copyright © 2021 by Tomas Byrne. Learn more here.