As a child I hated green olives and blue cheese. Today these two foods are among my favorites. Coffee. And napping—once resisted absolutely. Brushing my teeth. Boredom. I have changed my mind many times and about a lot of things.
Sometimes what we love and who we are seem to be at odds. There is a disconnect that might last for an instant. Perhaps for a lifetime. Sometimes that relationship between aspiration and daily life shifts and our point of view shifts with it.
Zadie Smith has spoken of this in an article in The Guardian, with an unfortunate title that uses the words “political correctness.” (I have been at pains to explain to students that the term “politically correct” is a pejorative.) Smith insists that change is inevitable and desirable.
“In an essay in her collection, Feel Free, she investigated one such change in herself, when she fell in love with the music of Joni Mitchell, a singer she had despised when she was a mixed-race teenager growing up on a London housing estate. ‘The reason for hating Joni Mitchell was that I didn’t listen to classical or “white” music,’ said Smith. “Then I had an epiphany, and suddenly realised that her voice was beautiful. It’s a responsibility to be as open as you possibly can to the world as an aesthetic object.’ ”—The Guardian
Smith speaks about risking characters in her novels who are dissimilar to herself, and the risk of “collective identity.” That last is a new term to me, but Gary immediately recognized it as a term used in social psychology, also known as “referent group”. That is the term I learned.
“Polletta and Jasper defined collective identity as ‘an individual’s cognitive, moral, and emotional connections with a broader community, category, practice, or institution.’ ”—Wikipedia
The term has changed, the existence of identity has not gone away.
Joni Mitchell is Canadian, famous, a musician, a visual artist, and very ill. She is still alive and I am deeply grateful for her music. No one in my writing class had ever heard of her. I played “A Case of You” for them and they were unmoved, blank and staring.
I knew I should have played one of the early ones they were more likely to know. Instead I played the song from Blue because I heard her debut that album in Seattle back in the day. And because although I do not like change any more than anyone, I immediately fell in love with that particular reinvention of Joni Mitchell. “Michael from Mountains” is still stunning, but I moved on to new sounds from Joni Mitchell.
We change our minds. We reinvent ourselves, and we sometimes do this over and over as experience and people around us push us along. Such changes are not always desirable. PTSD might inspire unwarranted responses to previously harmless situations or people. But growth is a complicated thing. We might need to twist with the wind or bend around obstacles in search of the light.
We are allowed. We are allowed to be ourselves and for that self to be re-framed throughout a long life as many people, as Chicana and then Latina, as artist and then song-writer, as woman, citizen, ally, professional, parent, sister, daughter, as elder, crone, and ancient. Our referent group is not stable throughout our life because we ourselves find connections shift, slide, and reform.
We are allowed.