<not a cs person?>
So identity’s a tricky thing, isn’t it?
For a long time, I have considered myself a “liberal arts person.” Not like from the womb or anything, but for a few years regardless. It’s been, as they say, a long and winding road (cue Mr. McCartney’s languid vocals and plucky piano; it’s story time, friends :D).
In high school I made a number of mistakes, one of the most damaging being performing laziness and apathy (aka “cool-guy-ness”) w/r/t academics. Did I like algebra? Duh! What’s more satisfying than solving for variables and finding the missing pieces of the puzzle? Not much, in my world. But I told people I didn’t. I do not mean to imply that I was under some kind of systemic oppression or that it is anyone’s fault; I just hung around with a lot of folks who smoked a lot of pot and wanted to keep up with the proverbial Joneses. Turns out the Joneses are still trying to perfect these poses (not to mention their aim in myriad games of beer pong) and I’m trying to play a bit of catch up. Seems like so many opportunities wasted, but you know what they say about spilt milk… (and, as a barista, I can corroborate).
So I did the pot thing and the underachieving thing, and it wasn’t for me. It was always more work to pretend like I didn’t care — to deliberately turn all assignments in one day late with snarky answers — than to just do the work, however tedious and irrelevant. In college I bounced around majors from music, indifference, and art history to major depressive disorder and hair-coiffing and finally landed with some kind of grace into an english major with a minor in French. I suppose I can turn a phrase and I had some very positive influences in this aspect of my life.
So that’s what I was. I devoted most of my waking hours to reading and writing (as well as an avid avoidance of ‘rithmetic), and I was an english major. Yes, how you’re picturing it in your head. Ray bans, suspenders, tight slacks, flannel shirts galore. Yes, I take my coffee black. Yes, I was better than you.
As with all stereotypes, the “liberal arts type” stereotype contains much truth. Yes, many libbies (no, I didn’t just make up that word. What’re you talking about?) are pretentious. Yes, many philosophers (*cough* Derrida! *cough*) are prone to petty obfuscation and self important attitudes, but hear me out.
Liberal arts folks — at least in my case — also tend to be a bit defensive about the usefulness of their field/ degree. … It does, I’ll admit, take an enterprising daughter(or, if you must, son)-o-b with a degree in Appalachian Folk Art History to find a job (or, gasp! — a career) in their wheelhouse, but I’d reckon that the school of business across campus could do with a few more enterprising souls, as well. And how many times can an english major face the “what’re you gonna do with that degree, work at Starbucks?” question without violent retribution? The question is less offensive than the glib, unthoughtful sentiment that it betrays, and the fact that no one asks it to get an answer, but to hear themselves release this much-abused joke into the ether one more time. But I digress… The point is, libbies get a lot of shit about their “useless” degrees. It is true, that some of them are technophobic or -incompetent (or both) and the world is moving away from the quill-and-ink tenure-track path of the past, but there is, I’d argue, much value in it.
When I was a “liberal arts person,” I was not entirely sure what I thought this term meant, but here’s what I think I thought it meant. Essentially, I thought (or hoped, against hope) that it meant I was a better person than those sciencey folks. That I was a more critical, open-minded, and interesting person. That I may not have a “career” or a “paycheck” but that I could discuss (*cough* defend *cough*) Picasso in passable French and that this made me “cool.” Ooh, there’s that word — it’s like a theme or something.
So maybe I was more open-minded than the kids who were holed-up writing lines of code to create websites full of cat gifs and Nic Cage memes. Or maybe not. The trouble with arbitrary distinctions, you might find, is that they are arbitrary. If my degrees in english lit have taught me anything (and they’ve run this one into the ground, believe me), it’s that “us and them” distinctions are never as neat and simple as they might seem.
I am now studying computer programming. I have made the slow and arduous leap to I-am-he-as-you-are-he-and-you-are-me-as-we-are-all-togetherness with my fellow nerd, made the slow descent into my own subtle weirdness and decided to celebrate others in their own discoveries. I find that my educational background still informs many aspects of my life and that I have few regrets about pursuing my education.
I have also discovered, much to my surprise, that coding is creative and even beautiful. That there is an elegance and grace in a line of code well-written and conceived. I have discovered coders who are (or were) doing beautiful and strange things that make me feel inspired and touched. (Bring the kleenex to that last one…) I think I have discovered my home, at least for the time being.
So my studies in identity have lead me to unexpected places. My many trips down various personal rabbit holes have made me much more certain about what identity is not than what it is. It seems to me that identity is not immutable or static. That it is not a fashion nor a lifestyle (at least not entirely). That it is much more by-product and distraction than end goal, and finally, that it is not so very important. I do not know who I am, exactly, but I do know that it does not much matter one way or the other. I’ve got things to do.