It was my final from a creative writing nonfiction class. Not stupendous or anything, but not too bad.
I was right at about the age where your parents are debating whether or not to start feeding you solid food. We were deep in the high desert of Utah, following an old power-line road that hadn’t been maintained in about twenty years. This was back when we had the old Ford Ranger pickup, before my folks forswore American cars altogether, because this Ranger was the lousiest hunk of steel that any greasy mechanic ever set to a torque wrench. That’s another story. This was about the halfway point on our journey and we were stopped for lunch. My parents were debating the solid food concept, and they failed to notice my shark-like gaze following them back and forth until my mother dropped her tuna fish sandwich within range of my chubby little talons. I seized it without a moment’s hesitation, and according to reliable sources, stuffed as much as could possibly fit into my mouth, grinning like a demon. That seemed to settle the debate.
I don’t remember this because I was too young, of course. It makes me wonder, though. Is there such a thing as a personal identity? Does it make sense to call the rascally little protagonist of that story me? I lean towards scientific materialism, meaning that the only things that exist are the various forms of matter and energy. One can draw a line through time and space following a collection of atoms that were always called by my name. These atoms have been swapped out numerous times in the course of my life and if I’m lucky will be changed many more times before I die. I’m not even sure this story about my infancy is true—in fact, I’d wager my father embellished it for comic effect. It seems to me that living things are like a sand dune being blown across the desert, each grain being replaced in its turn but the shape and size of the dune remaining roughly the same. A metaphysical naturalist would have no problem saying that emotions, theories and ideas like love and beauty exist solely as computational constructions of our brain, but I think this could be applied to living things as well. Ryan is a name for a particular shape of atoms that happens to be blowing across the desert right now; in a relatively short time that shape will disintegrate. Still, might as well enjoy the ride.
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