Tag Archives: identity

Existential Crises, Games Wizards Play, and When You Await Yourself Inside a Book

5 Feb

games wizards play

Books do not face many temporal restrictions. The words within them may change with spelling conventions, or the print might shift across font type fads, and the phrasing may even slouch around or slick up a bit with the passing decades, but what the books really say, what their stories are, what worlds they contain within those pages and convey across years and years of minds – those are things that time doesn’t really touch. They’re always hanging around, somewhere. Tucked between a dust jacket. Hidden under the covers of someone’s slumbering subconscious. Murmured in the soft sktch of your footfalls. The stories never really go away. They’re there, behind a wardrobe door, or a carefully tapped pattern on a pub’s back brick wall, or an amulet whispering around the neck. All those worlds, in all those books – they wait.

Games Wizards Play, the tenth book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series, released a few days ago. It’s been waiting a long time.

Six years. Six long years. A Wizard of Mars, the predecessor to Games Wizards Play, came out in 2010. Wizards at War, the book before that, came out in 2005, which is nearly equally long in time lapsed, but who I was in 2005 and who I was in 2010 were highly congruent. 2005-me and 2010-me almost form the lower and upper bounds of a set of my existence, since they were both broken in remarkably similar ways, and believed pretty much the same things – about themselves, about life, about love and religion and the universe at large.

But 2010-me was not so static a figure as 2005-me. 2010-me read A Wizard of Mars sitting on the couch of her first apartment, shared with four other classmates the summer after freshman year. I moved into the apartment later than those other four, having spent a little over a third of the summer in treatment for anorexia. It was my first stint in that long progression of treatments that eventually carved out my recovery, and I’d been left red and raw and ready for the changing, though I didn’t know that yet. Change would be a long time coming.

But I remember sitting on that couch, holding the book in my hands, fresh out of treatment, wondering who I was going to be now, thrilling at all the possibilities but thinking (erringly) that I knew pretty well which one I was going to wind up with. I opened up to the first page of A Wizard of Mars, looking for (and finding) reaffirmation in that world that had built me as a middle and high schooler, that I trusted to carry me forward through the rest of college, unaware of just how much of a mental precipice I was really standing on.

2016-me is no longer standing on that mental precipice. She’s standing on a different one. On what I’m pretty sure is also an entirely different planet. The shape of the world around me and the horizon before me, it’s all so different from what 2010-me thought she was looking at. And the way my shadow stretches away, telling of my form in the light – it, too, has changed. Which is a good thing, mostly. But which is also terrifying.

I am better – but I am less good. I know more, but I believe less. My understanding has grown, but my hope has so diminished.

Within me is so much of the same fire that kept the midnight oil of 2005 and 2010 aflame, but while it still burns, I can sometimes see it flicker.

Like 2010-me, 2016-me has some decisions to make about who she wants to be. 2010-me decided that she wanted to be a wildlife vet, and 2016-me has finally gotten into vet school. In the US, and the UK. Whether I choose to stay or choose to go, there are pro’s and con’s. Risks and benefits. Uncertain futures rolling out before me like the fever dream of a hallucinating D20.

And I have to pick a starting point for it all.

Life, like YW-style wizardry, is all about choices. And I am terrified I am going to pick wrong.

So. My life has become a choose-your-own-adventure story, except I can’t flip through all the pathways to find out how they all turn out. I just get one. One character archetype. One plot arc. One final destination, out there in the future.

All of it starting with a choice made because of who I think I am, right now.

…And reading Games Wizards Play will directly confront that.

2016-me has a pretty different world view from 2010-me, and I am afraid of what that will mean for how the YW world will be able to fill that space within me where it used to resonate so well. So unquestioningly. I am afraid that because of whom I have become, where once there were echoes and vibrations will instead be dead, mute space. I am so scared that because of how I have changed as a person, I might not relate as well to what I’m going to find once I go back into the YW world in Games Wizards Play, that I have been afraid to so much as open the front cover.

Or I might just relate to it differently, but that kind of scares me, too. To be clear, I trust the books. I trust Diane Duane and her writing, the Young Wizards universe with its depth and complexity, the characters of Nita and Kit and Tom and Carl with their ability to face ethical conundrum and moral grey area. The more I’ve sat down and really thought about those nine preceding books, thought about what the adults in the books said and did as well as the kids, the more I’ve realized that the world of YW is much bigger than I’d realized at fourteen, or nineteen. I trust that the story can hold up against my doubts and uncertainties and questions. I trust that the story can handle who I am, now.

I am less sure that I can.

I have grown up. Not entirely, but more than I ever wished to. And that is a good thing, but it also a very painful thing.

And so, as I said, I have found myself shaking, whenever I try to open that front cover and turn to page one.

Because once I do, my past self and my future forms and the existence I am, truly, right now, will be left to stare at each other from within the lines on a page, and I don’t know what’s going to happen once one of them blinks.

Guess there’s only one way to find out, though.

I was warned, I suppose. All those years, all those pages ago, Nita Callahan did say that life, at least, would never be boring

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what you do when no one is looking

13 Jun

In The Little Princess by F. H. Burnett, the main character – a young girl called Sara who starts life the daughter of an affluent Englishmen riding the boom of colonialism – falls from her position upon her father’s death and finds herself poor and friendless. Having just traded in her furs and silks for the rags of a scullery maid, Sara wonders whether she, who has been always told she is a good child, really is one. Is she truly kind and gracious, or was she merely so generous because with her wherewithal, it was easy for her to be?

Goodness, as it turns out, is very often a luxury item.

I am currently rather poor. I am lucky to have friends and roommates who can cover rent and keep me off the streets and step in when unavoidable costs carry a few too many zeroes for me to be able to handle them on my own, and who apparently even enjoy buying me coffee and lunch sometimes. I am incredibly lucky, as this allows me to allocate my income to necessities like food and medication and bus fare. It’s a precarious game, but I’m currently making my life work through the gift of social affluence.

But monetarily, I am dirt poor.

Reference scale: My ability to transport myself around L.A. can switch over the gain or loss of a single dollar.

Today, at the Springfield airport, a food vendor gave me incorrect change.

They’d given me a dollar more than I was due.

And while back in college, when what I did and did not need to pay for was different and the impact of cost scaled differently, I probably would have not hesitated to hand back that dollar, would have felt not a single qualm – today, I felt it.

I had been given a dollar. An extra dollar. That was one more bus ride I could pay for. One more granola bar. One unit closer to being able to buy a new pair of shorts, one that wasn’t years old and close to literally falling apart at the seams.

I wanted that dollar.

But that dollar was not mine.

Mentally, I went through the math again and yes, that dollar was definitely not my due. But it was just a dollar. I could walk away. No one would notice. It wasn’t like I was taking much.

But the dollar. wasn’t. mine.

And what’s more, the food vendor hadn’t given me any reason to want to take more from them. There was no karmic justice in me walking away with that dollar. The cashier had been professional, efficient, polite, even friendly. The vendor, as far as I know, wasn’t some chain with terrible corporate practices. They had done nothing to me that required restitution. Honestly, if the cashier had been some massive jerk, I maybe wouldn’t have felt so bad about contemplating walking away with that dollar. Yeah, they’d have to go through the cash register at the end of the day and try to figure out why their sales weren’t squaring up. Were off by a dollar. Just one dollar. So maybe they’d just made an addition mistake… maybe it was really there, and they’d just missed it… maybe if they just… checked again…

If I’d been somehow massively inconvenienced or wronged, maybe I could have justified inflicting those consequences for the sake of having that extra dollar. Maybe, very probably, I would have been fine with implementing that sort of system.

Or maybe I would have given the dollar back anyway. Because as much as I theoretically can support less-than-perfect actions, I carry around way too much guilt, or something, to really be able to carry out those actions myself.

Yeah. I gave the dollar back.

And while it is no great thing, giving a single dollar back to a vendor that gave you too much change – internally, for me, it still meant something.

It was an opportunity, to show myself, at least, that my goodness doesn’t just scale with my bank account. That I am honest, even when it’s very hard to afford to be. That my values last, even when they carry real cost. Even when I could have justified taking advantage of a minor slip to gain a little bit for myself.

It’s relieving, in a way. To know that at least in this small way I will actually act in reality how I’d say I would, were the scenario presented as a thought exercise. That I’d behave the way that elementary school-aged me reading The Little Princess would have told me that of course I was supposed to behave.

I like knowing that I am who I think I am, even when no one is looking.

On Feminism

22 Sep
Though if you want to be a delicate princess, all the time or sometimes, then you are damn well welcome to do so too. (source)

Though if you want to be a delicate princess, all the time or sometimes, then you are damn well welcome to do so too.
(source)

Just moments ago, to put it in breaking news lingo, I read an article on Emma Watson’s speech to the UN on feminism and, particularly, the HeForShe campaign. The article cites a glorious portion of Watson’s speech in which she says that she decided to be a feminist because it just made sense.

I decided that I was a feminist. This seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, [women’s expression is] seen as too strong, too aggressive, anti-men, unattractive.

Why has the word become such an unpopular one? I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.

Many a badass woman has talked about how they of course they decided to be feminist, because when they paused to look around at the world they lived in, it just made sense.

This is not how I became a feminist.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to say I was “born” a feminist, but I was certainly shaped into one from before the age that kids develop theory of mind. What feminism really stands for, the ideas of equality – equal opportunity, equal respect – they were delivered to me as the norm. I grew up a feminist the way you can grow up a Southerner, or a Catholic, or a French-speaker. What feminism said was just a fact of life, the same way that belly buttons and fingernails and noses were.

Well, mostly.

Let’s back up and pan out. I grew up in the Midwest, as many of you lovely readers know. Because my parents are brilliant humans who cared deeply about my education, I attended a private, all-girls school from the age of three. Sure, this caused a lot of difficulties in my life, because a pre-pubescent or post-pubescently-hormonal clique of girls is about the social meanness equivalent of a pack of rabid hyenas starving for unsuspecting prey with a side of well-marinated sadism, but beyond that, uh, tiny pitfall, my school had a hell of a lot going for it.

For one thing, I was surrounded by girls. Yes, I did art and English and social studies and French entirely surrounded by girls. But I also did algebra and geometry and trigonometry and AP calculus and honors physics and AP bio and AP chemistry entirely surrounded by girls, too. There was never even a spec of the “girls can’t do/are less good than boys at STEM fields” attitude that apparently pervades other academic institutions. For me, the idea just plain didn’t compute. It was ridiculous. It was laughable. At least, it was once I heard about it. Because growing up from the age of three going to a school that required I and my entirely female classmates to take all those STEM field classes, and furthermore take them under the direction of something like 98% female faculty – the idea that “women aren’t good at math/science” never entered my brain. It’s like how I don’t know the Chinese word for milk. It’s just not ever something that was taught or exposed to me. I don’t speak Chinese. I don’t speak anti-feminism.

My school showed me that women could run the gamut of competence. My English teachers were 99% female. My science teachers were 99% female. My math teachers were in fact 100% female. Interestingly enough, my music and drama teachers were mostly male. And straight. So there went any kind of “heteronormative males can’t be interested in the performing arts” stereotype.

When it came to higher education, the faculty that taught me included both women and men with PhD’s. Most of the administrators at my school, both grade school and high school, were women. And what’s more, my school has had a 100% college acceptance rate for its graduating seniors since women were first allowed into college after my school’s inception in 1833.

So, I had a lot of role models. I saw adult women in positions of administrative and academic power and expertise. But my school also taught me that capability was not something I needed to look upward to find. I was shown that women are competent at any age and level of experience. When it came to student government, being at an all girls school, obviously, every single position was filled by one of my female cohorts. Our state-winning sports teams were entirely female. Our academic competition teams were entirely composed of females taught by mainly females, and we routinely routed out the all-boys schools we competed against. Our clubs, our plays, our every extra-curricular ever – they were run and attended by female students. I – and other students – even created clubs. We saw a need, we filled it. We problem-solved. We critically thought. We engineered. We created. We supported. We fought. In my sixty-seven person graduating class alone, one female student set a new record for the military entrance physical fitness test. Another went to West Point. And another to the Naval Academy. On the flip side, one of my friends deferred college for a year and prioritized full life experience and went to teach in Peru.

I lived in a world of intelligent, competent, caring, complex women. Sometimes we hated each other. Most of the time we at least got along, if not fiercely loved each other. Our views on love, sex, religion, politics, academics, sports, literature, really life in general were spattered across the board. But whatever happened between us, we knew it was because we were people, not “just” because we were women.

When I was still in grade school, I once asked my father on an election year if there were any female candidates. He told me that no, there weren’t, because women are naturally less good at being leaders than men.

That statement did not compute with small me’s view of the world. And to my school, I am incredibly grateful for that.

Oh yeah, I later ended up heading five clubs, creating a seventh-twelfth grade mentorship program, graduating as valedictorian, and becoming the first of my school’s students to go to Caltech.

I think I did all right on the leadership front.

Oh! And I do believe that next election, I’ll likely be voting for Hillary Clinton, very serious female Democratic presidential candidate.

Because the fact that she is female does not bother me.

Because I know that what her second sex chromosome is matters less than what she has shown of herself.

Because I know that women can be leaders.

Because I was raised a feminist.

I thank my fellow females for that.

Poem: Penning

13 Jul

Penning

I don’t know how they do it,
those strangers who find my soul.
They do not know me.
They do not even write to me,
but there, somewhere in the echoes
of the story they were telling
or the thoughts they were thinking
or the love they were feeling slip from their bodies,
I find myself.
In the dust you only see in the streak of sun
from the skylight,
little ephemera dancing there in the silence
near your upper rafters,
little cosmic ballerinas you would not have noticed
if you hadn’t been bored and staring at nothing.
They find the rafters in me,
and strike an organ that resonates and shakes me a bit,
all that memory.
The words were not written for me.
But what’s written is me,
in a way.
I wonder how they do it,
the strangers that trace me with their pen
and yet do not even know that they’ve found my shadow.
I wish they perhaps knew what they’ve caught on their line,
though I am grateful –
I feel a might less invisible, otherwise.

Poem: At The Market

5 Jul

 

At The Market

Today while at the market I heard
a most skeptical remarking word
about the tattoo behind my ear –
“Do you know it’s there, my dear?”

The asker proved an elderly man
and I so young at twenty-three
could only smile and reply
“yes,” most delightful and politely.

“You were drunk that night?”
the old man asked, and I just laughed if off.
“No, I planned this pawprint,” I smiled,
But still the man, he scoffed.

“You volunteered?” he said incredulously
so I smiled and laughed again.
“Yes, it’s a memory,” I explained.
“Identity in my skin.”

Perhaps I am just an upstart
Or perhaps he is just rude,
But my appearance is not his call.
In the end, he’s just some dude.

Names, Not Labels

31 Jan

I love words. Obviously. I’m a writer. “Love words” is kiiiiind of in my job description. Words are lovely, useful, wondrous things with a great deal of power. And I understand that it’s important for people to have words, to have specific terms with meaning, they can use to describe themselves. To understand themselves.

But all the same, sometimes I wish we didn’t use some of the words the way we do. Because as important as naming terms are, there can be a lot more damage done when they get turned into labels. When a word is no longer purely an identification but a categorization. Identifications expand an existence. Categorizations shrink them.

I wish that certain words would describe but not delineate. Specify but not separate. Define but not divide.

Words like trans, male, gay, butch, woman, and straight. Words like disabled, elderly, mentally ill, druggie, cutter, and poser. Words foreigner, Democrat, GOP, Libertarian, celebrity, homeless.

These words are not an evil unto themselves. But too often we – you and me, people – use them to draw a line between us, the “people,” and the others. By calling someone a label that we don’t share, we push them beyond the realm of the experience we have in being human. By carving humanity into little boxes of likeness, we lose sight of the fact that we are all, in the end, human.

And inevitably, some – even ourselves, even if unwittingly – are bound to assign a “naturalness” to one of the terms out of a group. “This is what’s normal, this is what the null hypothesis looks like, this is the ground state of humanity.” And the ones who don’t fall under that term become something strange. Something different from that which resides within us. We deny full legitimacy to those without our particular label and come to understand them only in terms of deviation.

Thanks to The Lazy Yogi for the image.

Thanks to The Lazy Yogi for the image.

But what if we didn’t look at all the ways humans can exist as deviations from ourselves? What if we recognized each as a fully true expression of all the possibilities of what humanity looks like? What if we viewed the human condition not as bound and filed in a dictionary but as interwoven with no particular hierarchy into a novel? What if we stopped categorizing all the words we might type out of those four keys in our DNA and started seeing how they all fit together to make a larger sense? What if we gave ourselves names, instead of mere lists?

I’d like it if human thinking as a whole could move beyond trying to force us all into our separate encyclopedia entries and started using all the words we’ve got around to describe, not prescribe, instead. I want an identity, not a categorization.

You can get more information out of a narrative, anyway. Encyclopedias and dictionaries have always been so limited in what they have to tell you.

Orion

10 Jan

orion constellation art

It’s odd, that Orion the Hunter would be my favorite constellation. That I would have in me a love for something so strange to my nature.

Perhaps it’s because he was the first constellation I was ever able to pick out from the night sky on my own. Perhaps it’s because if he is in the sky, then I can always find him. Perhaps it’s because I just know that he’s there, know the stars that outline his existence. He is familiar. And that is comforting.

It’s odd, how sometimes things so different, so contrary to ourselves are what we cling to, because they are familiar.

Or perhaps I do find a kindred spirit, beyond the acts, in the man the gods put in the sky. He is a Hunter – but in more ways than one, I am too.

We just hunt different things. He seeks animals that are not lost. I seek the animal that I am to become.

But both of us, when we find those things, devour them.

Voraciously.