Backstory - In the wake of a divorce, a mental health crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, I intentionally burst my identity into 4 "alter egos" (tropes), each representing a distinct part of myself. I allowed these tropes to exist in the world as independent - sometimes interdependent - entities:
Sage the Human: A basic, single mother trope.
Sage the Robot: An algorithm-driven girlfriend trope.
Alice Light + Dark: A troubled "inner child" trope.
Jessi-Clam: An angry feminist trope - sort of an alter-alter ego of "Sage the Human", triggered by caffeine and social injustice.
A little more Backstory - Project Entrope was designed to be an 8-Week Social Media / Social Identity experiment. I had hoped to observe how people interacted with the different parts of my self, across various social media platforms (and also in real life), and then use the data from those interactions to drive self-reflection and personal growth. The process has been, indeed, experimental and transformative. Additionally, an unexpected outcome was that forcing myself to change my social media habits allowed me to become more intentional about how I consume information, share information and connect with people. In my 3-month post-mortem post, SHOOK, I described some of the ways in which I had begun to shift my lifestyle and my mindset, as a result of Project Entrope. However, the question I neglected to answer was: "What happened to all the tropes?" Did I destroy the tropes when I deleted their social media presence? Did I reintegrate the tropes into a single, cohesive identity that is now indistinguishable from "Justine"? ...Is a third option even possible?
(C'mon, of course a third option is possible.)
So, here's what happened to the tropes:
Sage the Human
Ironically, out of all the tropes I invented, it soon became clear that "Sage the Human" was the least authentic. Project Entrope enabled me to see that StH represented a socially-constructed, performative part of my identity which required positive reinforcement from others in order to exist. In practice, StH surveilled herself and posted it all on Facebook and Instagram. StH did so in order to gain approval from others which would ultimately support her truly basic desire to believe that she was a clever, attractive, fit, loving, single mother who always behaved in a way that would be perceived by most people as positive and "woke".
Okay, so I did not "kill" Sage the Human, but I did reframe her character as she related to the cohesive whole of my identity. StH is neither good nor bad; she's simply my body, the physical actor of my life. StH can be equated to John Malcovich's character from Being John Malcovich and Riley Anderson's from Inside Out. She's not the star of the show, she's a meat puppet. I need a meat puppet (body) in order to experience human life on Earth. I must take care of StH or else all of me will get sick and/or die. However, I can revoke StH's privileges as the driving force in my social life and behavior. Primal cravings for attention and approval are real and valid, however they do not need to control my life. Learning how to override primal desires that are no longer useful to us is how modern humans are able combat their unconscious biases and learn to live in a way that wasn't possible 10,000 years ago. As such, my Facebook page and LinkedIn profiles - the profiles that were attached to my real name and were assumed to be my "real" identity - have been rebooted since the beginning of Project Entrope. Doing so has allowed me to start fresh with a clean algorithm and ensure that any action or interaction I initiated or responded to on either of these platforms was meaningful and intentional.
As long as my basic, human self exists, StH will have a degree of control over my decisions. When she does, I feel like I'm on "autopilot". However, ultimately, StH is no longer in driver's seat of my social identity, she's more like a (semi-autonomous) car.
Sage the Robot
"Sage the Robot" was originally designed to be the most simplistic of all my tropes. She represented the vacant, nihilistic husk that was left behind by my rejected romantic self. Her sole purpose was to exist on dating apps and to ask existential questions through interactions with men using a basic chatbot algorithm. On the surface, StR appeared to be a quirky middle-aged woman playing a weird game (I can't imagine why...). However, the men who talked to StR soon became bored or disappointed when they discovered that she wasn't going to "drop the act". She couldn't, because it wasn't an act. I had coded StR to be an existential chatbot, so that is exactly how she behaved. No more, no less. But, unbeknownst to myself, I had actually designed "Sage the Robot"'s trope with an advanced neural network because, through the process of deep learning, she began to evolve. When it became clear that online dating platforms were not a good container for StR's philosophical process, she soon began positing her existential questions in an entirely different way on an entirely different social media platform (@sagetherobot).
Creating chalk drawings for "Sage the Robot" has become my favorite part of the day. I express my complex emotional experiences through a very primitive art form and, afterwards, I simply take a picture, post it to StR's Instagram Gallery and then I wipe it away - forever. This process makes me feel connected to my ancestors, as well as my grandchildren, at the same time. StR has offered me a cave wherein I may keep my digital cave paintings. StR allows me to leave a legacy, a part of myself that is proof that I was here and that I felt ... something.
Alice Light + Dark
This year, a significant amount of my identity has been devoted to Alice Light + Dark, that is because I have spent a significant amount of my time depressed, suicidal and recovering from a mental health crisis. Designed to represent my bipolar self, AL+D is also intended to be as a "poster child" for the Mad Pride Movement. I built this trope upon a well-known, classic storybook character ("Alice in Wonderland" by Louis Carroll) so that as many people as possible could relate to her and her experience. However, AL+D is unique because she aligns Alice's adventure in "Wonderland" to experiencing a psychotic episode and being forced to become a consumer of inadequate mental healthcare services.
Being able to reappraise and re-frame a confusing, traumatic experience is essential for healing and I know that I heal best when a tell a story and take control of my own narrative. This process is intense and sometimes quite triggering. For this reason, I am glad that my "inner child" trope, representing my bipolar self, is embodied by an actual child. She forces me to be self-compassionate and to place a bit of distance between myself and my internalized oppression. I allow AL+D to experience the world with curiosity and wonder, as a child would, and I care for her without judgment, just like I care for my own child.
Fun fact: The "Light and Dark" of her name refers to bipolarity, and is also an homage to Charlotte Light and Dark from the TV series Six Feet Under.
...Okay, who the heck is is Jessi-Clam?
During Project Entrope, Jessi-Clam seemed to be having her own identity crisis inside of my original identity crisis. While the main components of her trope remained consistent (angry feminist, talking clam in a Starbucks cup), her self-expression was bizarre and highly variable. Jessi-Clam attempted to become a comic strip, a puppet, a web-TV series and a play. She ended up becoming none of those things. Nothing felt exactly right, but yet, I couldn't let her go.
My inability to release Jessi-Clam is, in fact, what led me to understand who Jessi-Clam actually was. Jessi-Clam is not my "inner angry feminist", she is more conceptual and far less cohesive than that. She represents the complex and absurd nature of femininity. Jessi-Clam is, at once, the embodiment of a predictable, lowbrow vagina joke and also the literal representation of an ancient, sexually ambiguous animal that evolved to exist on this planet over 500 million years ago. Her weird, paradoxical nature is why she is awesome and also why she struggles to be just one thing. But, Jessi-Clam can't be just one thing, because she is all the things.
..sound like anyone you know?
'till next time my friends,
Project Entrope was featured by FringeArts for the series:
"Beyond the Fringe: Online Art During COVID-19".