Identity: Constellations

“I was married to someone who wanted me to change. Become more adult, more responsible. I began not to like myself, not like what I do. I lost my identity. Everything began collapsing around me”.   Marilyn Manson

  “Spirituality is meant to take us beyond our tribal identity into a domain of awareness that is more universal.”   Deepak Chopra

“Identity is an assemblage of constellations.” Anna Deavere Smith

“Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the nation – especially in the suburbs.” Melissa Bean

“A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost.”   Lucy Stone

Identity is too small a thing, limiting, too small a number, too small a box. A woman in a box, in a cube, in a cubbyhole along with a million others, categorized and data-mined.  Identity is on a toe tag, or a gravestone.  Identity is what is on my ID card at work, hung on my neck like pigeon with a message: this is her, her with the weird smile in the fish-eye picture, a flag at her back. No one at work knows me, maybe four people in a building of thousands.   They have my identity, my name, my social security number, my chip. My ID card, merely a snap in a second in time and space.

Identity can be stolen, compromised, honored, protected, hidden. My identity has been hidden behind mom, female, programmer, geek, nerd…at work my Indian name is “Pays-attention-to-detail.”  My public identity has nothing to do with me. Linked In, Facebook.  My public identity is all over the internet, like a maze of mirrors I can’t hide from and must travel, stuttering along with blinding flashes of my past.

Most people I know, know me as a poker player.  The men at the game are nicknamed Cowboy, the Face, Bad Larry.  The women, Big Easy, Shortstack, Svetlana. My Indian name would be: “She-raises-with-threes.”  Playing a predominately man’s game, I’m trying to beat them at it. I have to think about my image at the table. Am I a bluffer, a bully, a rock, an actor? Can I charm the other players out of their stack of poker chips? Can I beat them through trickery, through skill, by out-playing them?  Can I camouflage the cards in my brain from their hooded, sunglass-covered reflective smart-ass eyes?  Can I magically discern their cards by their little physical tells and how they bet their chips?  It’s an elusive thing, the identity of a poker player.  We sit for hours and know each other by our deceptions.

Growing up I was the little sister, sick kid, a girl to be protected in a family of boys. They taught me poker.  I wanted to strike out on my own, take risks, travel.  Adventurer?  Independent?  But mostly I wrote…. of course I am a writer.  Identity: writer.   I think most writers are sort of born into it, like a genetic footprint,  or they fall into when they realize their mortality, like a streak of white hair on the subconscious, or an early trauma…maybe some combination.  “I can’t breath, we’re all going to die”….”maybe we can imagine something else?”  “Be somewhere else.” You know, I nearly failed geometry in school trying to be somewhere else?

Or is it the cliché: the act of writing a journey of self-discovery?  I write to find truth?  I write to understand “the other?”  I write to take on other personas?  Who the hell knows?  Does it even matter? Author’s intent used to mean so much.  Intention is nothing compared to survival. Sure, I write to have meaning…..if there is such a thing.

Other people still want a different identity from me….mom, working woman.  I’m ok with it, but the world wants dishes done, and well-kept hair, and eyeliner, and something I can’t quite fathom which is neat & tidy.  I like order, but I can’t quite shake the mad scientist … forgetting my own presence and image. Hair unkempt,  disheveled.

I’m a Taurus. So stubborn, and loyal as a domesticated farm animal. By that, I mean stubborn to a fault. We must throw the constellations into our identities.  Chaos and the cosmos. We can’t ignore the stars our ancestors saw in the night sky.  We cant ignore our past and where we come from. The Hunter, the Water-Bearer, the Seven Sisters.  The priests and priestess and shaman that made our spiritual identities. Svetlana would say in a sultry voice, “we walk on the bones of the dead.”

I can have it all….I can be fascinated with words and imagination and maps to the past—and raise three kids. The part of me with the hoodie and sunglasses, the rotten gambler, knows that’s a lie.  But I’m forced to see that my writer-ly self, my love of books has to wait..and maybe it will be too long, books won’t be written, because my very life demands it, depends on it.  I can’t write when I have to grocery shop and run a house. It’s become an undeniable fact.  One has to make the mortgage, or as Virginia Woolf would say, it is difficult when you need time to yourself and “a room of one’s own.”  So the question is, if I am not writing, am I still a writer?

I say yes, yes because under this calm exterior are stories that I may have time someday to bring to paper.  Hemingway, Brautigan, they went for months without writing.  Better to bluff than to fold.  My Indian name: “writes-with-clouds-in-sky.”  So this identity is still mine, but I am less… and I am more.  Jane Goodall spent her life with one purpose, and I wonder though, does she too feel the splintering of her ego?   She is scientist, scholar, lover of animals, fund raiser, linguist, woman, human, lover of animals.

My own mom, god rest her soul, shot an antelope, and I want a copy of her photo, lost to me forever, but it’s burned in my brain–with her hunter’s hat and her bright red lipstick, the antelope beside her.  I don’t know that I could kill that antelope with its beautiful markings and its long eyelashes, but my mom could.  Her identity so different from mine. She grew up with animals on a farm, and lived through the Great Depression.  My mom did not travel the lengths I have down an imagined road, she made something more of the one she was given, planting roses and reading history and taking the dirt roads to Phoenix, past the orchids and cotton fields into the little house with cement floors and a clothesline.  I believe she was happy there.

My mom knew her own identity and seemed to be easier with it than I have ever been with mine.  She had a skill I admire to this day, how to be charming, or how to charm.  Maybe the secret to that was having her own happiness…. maybe it was a dialogue with herself that she was willing to share with everyone…. she was honest and entertaining.  But to be charming is more than to be truthful, and may be a more difficult skill to master than poker.

I guess we’re all Sybils, multiple personalities under the skin, shattered mirrors, with our own eyes reflecting in all the broken glass bits. They look back at us, watching.  But we’re influenced by the bits and pieces of all we see, the outside of ourselves, the other. We are molded by language and memory into that blob of self, that thing other people label “identity,” that person which we are at any specific instance of constantly changing time. We have to hold onto what we love about ourselves, we have to be more than what we believe ourselves to be, we have to understand that we are complex beings, we have to raise ourselves above the way others see us to listen to our own inner voice, our poker intuition. Something my mom called common sense.   For Pete’s sake, give me a blog and I write a book.  Be my editor, Pam.

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