Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

09 January 2010

The idea of I.D.

Over the past thirty years or so, I have accumulated a stock of little plastic cards. Each one of them has a picture of me in the corner, at various stages of my current life. They serve, almost better than pictures do, as a way to remind me of who I was at that point in my life -- I use them when I passed entrance points, or when I buy things in various places: I have one that got me into a library at a university in downtown Cleveland. Another got me into another library, and a gymnasium, at another large university. Yet another made it possible that I could enter a particular building at a busy street corner in New York City, where I studied at another large university. Yes, it's true--I've lingered around universities. They've been one of the few places in this current generation where I could "pass" as normal. I have another one for a library in Oxford, England - a souvenir I really should have returned. Another for a library in Ankara, Turkey. My recent passports, well, that's an epic. One of them is littered with stamps from all over the world; another is littered with stamps from one particular place in the world.

Each card accesses a story for me--an entrance point to an identity I occupied for a period of time. In fact, they're quite convenient at helping me remember - I do forget a lot these days, after all these centuries. And carrying around photo albums is just impractical, given how many times I've moved. I've had to move so much, you know, because my identity would catch up with me, so to speak. Someone would begin to realize that I wasn't exactly what I appeared to be, that there was something, well, different, about me, and then the talk would begin. So I would move on.

But everywhere I've gone over the past few centuries, people have known I wasn't from there, and they've distrusted me because of it. At first, I had to work hard to get one of these blessed cards - think I was issued my first while I was singing at the Opera Comique in Paris, when Napolean was in power. Yes, that dear old tyrant - leave it to him to come up with such a miserable scheme. And what I had to do to get that card! Well, you need no identification card for that, but it did grant me what I needed. Once I got it, they did not want me singing anywhere else, or doing any other kind of work, and the roles that I could sing were limited because of my complexion and stature. So I found myself falling back on occasion on my stand-by profession. Yes, the one where an identity card could be a detriment; however, I've since found it's one of the best ways to actually procure an i.d.

Sadly, my Napoleanic identification papers disintegrated, but my body trudged on. Despisedly beautiful, desired, and clumsy. I also had a card from Nazi Germany - that one was seized when I was taken into custody. They thought I was a gypsy. Sometimes, these days, I wish I would have not tried so hard to escape; those miserable mindless guards would have put an end to me in their ovens. But I got away, thanks to one guard who had maintained a part of his heart, along with his huge sexual appetite. Poor thing, he paid for it in the end. And then I ended up in England, where yes, I was issued yet another card.

I have had to reinvent myself again and again, and the fact these cards are plastic now makes it easier for me to count the times I've done that.

The funny thing is - these cards are produced because society is paranoid, and because people in positions of power want us to feel they're doing us a favor to give us access to a little tiny corner of their luxurious, exclusive world, which is really not all that special once you gain access to it. It is, after all, not real. It's created by men for the comfort of men, which really ends up being a rather short-lived comfort, after all. Still, those men want to keep us under their control, and yet, they simply put many of us into a position where we have to find ways to subvert their stupid systems.

There's this new word - this idea of the avatar. (No, I haven't seen that movie yet, but I would like to.) Avatars gain us access to a domain. We may have a plethora of them, as I have this collection of plastic cards. Avatars are a little harder to keep track of, but they're really no more than an identification card. And now we can create our own, so we're back to the era of distrust by those who run the system, but it's actually potentially the most honest era humankind could ever see. I would say that those plastic identity cards were the undoing of honesty and trust: why did anyone ever believe that just having a plastic identification card actually meant we were telling the truth? Such fools.

People who meet me these days would probably think me a very strange chick. Cerebral and flighty. Many think I'm out of touch with reality, but the real question is - is the world that has been created by plastic identity cards "real"? Or is it just one reality - a reality constructed by a small group of humans who have had the power to produce it, and have worked their asses off to maintain it so they would keep that power?

Well, the answer to that last question is obvious. Our identification cards are simply the artifacts of our various successes at working with the system, or puncturing it, depending on how we acquired those cards. Note how it's become easier to acquire i.d. cards as they've become more and more affiliated with money, and as the people in power have become more greedy because, well, they've actually come to perceive how limited their power really is.

I do regret that I've lost or discarded some of those early identification papers, because I became sentimentally attached to them. What's left from those periods in my life instead are tiny momentoes - a shell that I collected on a beach in the south of France, a tiny bone from a canary I once owned, a pebble from the Kremlin - objects that time can't erase quite so easily. But thank goodness for that plastic now. Now I actually have pictures of me, literally connected to places and times, that I've added to this collection. When I put them together what I actually have is a collection of tesserae, tiny bits and pieces of a larger picture of a being that is really me. But I have yet to put it all together and look at it. I just don't have time. But perhaps I should, so at least one person, who knows what all those bits and pieces represent, could appreciate that mosaic of a woman. I know she would have flaws, too, and she would be old, but beautifully so.

I wonder: if I actually were to die, would all these pieces have meaning for anyone but me? Would anyone else be able to see the whole of me? Or would I be merely a hole, and the pieces of my identity just remnants of a beautiful but quirky woman that someone once knew.

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