Poem and identity crises

Inspired by an urban legend I learned about here last night, I wrote this poem while watching The Seven Samurai tonight:

He slinks along the tender ground
His long nails make a scraping sound
He lost his legs while fleeing the law
Now they’re stitched-up stumps all bloody and raw
The other day a throat was slit
The wound was filled with pus and spit
His beard is thick and dirty and white
He coughs and cackles in the crisp, cold night
So if you hear some scratching and you think it’s just a tree
He’s probably out there, coming for you, just like he came for me.

Other than that, I’ve had some thoughts gradually congealing in the corridors of my brain. Oh, what to write about – I was considering briefly identity. And… well, it’s getting fuzzy now but something about this question of, Is your identity really important? And I know the obvious answer is Yes, but I wanted to ponder this – what is identity, after all? Is identity a bunch of adjectives you can throw down to make yourself feel defined, so that who-you-are isn’t so up in the air? As I suspected, Erik Erikson postulated that “identity vs. role confusion,” in other words the identity crisis, was the 5th stage of human development – the one that we, as college-age folk, should be just coming out of. So our identities should be fairly set in stone by now; we should know who we are. But… well, for one thing, I always like for everything to be mutable. Part of my “identity,” or so I’ve seen it for several years, is my open-minded, my willingness to change or adapt to new information and situations. So although my ideas and beliefs have altered significantly, even since I left high school, that mutability (isn’t there a poem called that?) has remained constant. (Apparently there is, and it’s Wordsworth.)

So what am I getting at? Are personality and identity related or similar? What the hell is your identity? Is it entirely determined by self-identification – can someone identify, for example, as white or black regardless of their actual skin color, and what about disavowing race entirely as an aspect of identity? What if I dismissed my whiteness and declared myself nonracial? Consider ID cards. I just found out that ID means “identity document.” I had no idea what the D stood for, and if I’m alone in that, I’m going to feel really stupid. But the point is, these documents of identity are an attempt to uniquely identify one (1) human being (I always like following spelled-out numbers with numerals; I learned it from board game inventories. Seriously: “This set should contain one (1) die, sixty (60) cards…” I don’t know why they thought that people who couldn’t read the words would understand the numeral instead. But it’s a fun habit to get into. I was thinking about the word numeral today. I don’t know if I’ve ever directly thought about that word itself. I guess I just didn’t entirely realize that the symbols for numbers, 1 2 3 and so on, had a specific name, even though of course I’ve always known it. Life and language are strange.) – anyway, ID cards are governmental, bureaucratic attempts to uniquely identify a single person. You are who and what your ID card says. You think you’re a woman? Fuck you, the U.S. (or wherever) government says you’re a man. It’s supposedly objective, because it’s printed right there and it also determines how police and courts and government offices and everybody else reacts to you. A single fucking little plastic card does this. It says I’m 19. I can buy tobacco but not alcohol. I’m M. Therefore – according to our national standard of a binary gender system – not F. (Is there an “O” for other available? I feel like somebody’s already changed this.) So I can marry a woman but not a man. I’m an organ donor. I’m not 100% sure what that determines, but when I checked the box I assumed it’d mean that if I died, they’d take my guts out and give them to people who had more use for them. And my eyes, too. Did you know that Alfred Hitchcock intended to make a film about an eye transplant recipient (played by Jimmy Stewart) who learns that the man his eyes originally belonged to was murdered, and that with his eyes, he can identify the murderer? It would’ve been called The Blind Man and was to be made after Psycho. Alas, some things are not to be. I have in the past dreamed that maybe in heaven, we have access to all of the world’s greatest unproduced film projects. Also, in heaven, everything is fine. In heaven, everything is fine. In heaven, everything is fine. You’ve got your good things, and you’ve got mine. (Note: if you click on that link, be warned. Just… be warned.)

Is identity objective or entirely self-determined? Is it possible for someone to take away an aspect of your identity? And after all, let’s say the U.S. government says, “No, dammit, you fit in a fucking box, check M or F!” (Although the personified government would never say “fucking” or it’d have to fine itself.) Well, so what? So they make you check a box in order to get a driver’s license. Yeah, it’s bullshit. But does that mean you’re gender really is whatever you checked? And granted, this example may not be the same, but people get fraudulent library cards all the time. It’s easy, at least in Hennepin County, MN (the one Minneapolis is in): all you do is go to this website, fill out the form, click a few times, and your new library card is on its way, whether or not that’s actually your name, email address, or date of birth. I don’t know if it’s considered a crime to defraud the library (and if it is, it’s a pretty nerdy crime), but it’s damn easy to do and there really aren’t any safeguards against it. So what’s been the point of this little Anarchist Cookbook-esque lesson? You can easily convince the government that you’re someone who you’re actually not. Maybe, in this case, just for the purpose of checking out materials, but that’s something.

For my part, I think ID cards in general are stupid and I don’t like having them. I feel like each additional card I bear is another tug by Big Brother on the rope around my neck. Another stone in my pocket as I wade into the river of totalitarian bureaucracy. Another brick in the wall. You get the idea. I have a state of Minnesota driver’s license, I have a Carleton College OneCard, I have a Social Security Card somewhere, if not in my pocket. Fuck, where is that, anyway? But that’s my point. I’ve got a 9 digit number in my head and on a flimsy, flammable, easily destroyed little paper card that my mother signed, presumably upon my residency in the United States, which apparently is all that stands between whether or not scam artists get every cent I own and ruin my credit. (It’s a waste of time, guys. I’ve got like $30 total. As for my credit? Fuck my credit. Ruin away.) So I’ve got a little hypothetical (for now) question that I’ve posed before and would like to pose again: what if you were to take your driver’s license, Social Security Card, and all other forms of ID, photo or otherwise, and make a little bonfire? And, say, your insurance information, too. Any and all papers you owned to prove who you were. Up in flames. Hypothetically. What would happen? Could you reclaim your identity? Let’s say you go to some government bureau. Whatever it is that’s located in Ridgedale Center and gets all my official papers taken care of. That place. What do they ask for? “Can I have your old license, please?” I mean, people lose their licenses all the time, right? But we’re on record, aren’t we? They’ve got pictures of us to uniquely identify who we are. Of course, appearance is anything but uniquely identifying; everyone has an identical twin somewhere on this earth. No one looks unique. Not even you. Not even me. There are only so many possible permutations of the human face, and I think 6 billion exhausts just about all of them. (Granted, all this is purely speculative. I have no fucking clue what I’m talking about.)

I like to believe that once I go for it, once I burn those contaminated papers the government’s given me all to hell, then I will be free at last. (Lord almighty, free at last.) Is this an unlikely fantasy? Yeah, probably. If it was so easily attainable, I’m sure civil liberties groups would long ago have said to burn all your shit and take away all the government’s power. My point is, I guess, that ID cards fall under the category of necessary evils, except I don’t necessarily believe they’re necessary. Besides, I don’t want to drive. I don’t want to buy. I never ever fucking ever want a credit card. I’ve got so far without; hopefully this trend will continue, as it must – I visualize signing the form to get a credit card as tantamount to signing a blank check over to Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Mephistopheles all at once… in blood. That’s how much against getting a credit card I am. Fuck. That. Bullshit. But I’m already pretty hateful toward the bank card I have. I refuse to acknowledge that Wells Fargo owns my soul. I will fight it till the day I die. Last I checked, my bank account contained approximately .44 cents (as Ashley pointed out recently, why is there no “cent” key on the keyboard? We have the fucking “at” sign, but no “cent”? Really?); also, I’ve got my plasma card, but, well, that’s not a bank. It’s a plasma center. And that’s just fucking awesome. Will I ever find a better job than lying back and reading while my blood is sucked out and poured back in? Library reserves desk comes damn close, I’ll give it that. So does quiz bowl moderator, in fact. Holy shit, in these past couple years, I’ve hit the employment jackpot. Oh, speaking of employment: tax bullshit. I feel like my antipathy towards all of this is going to lead me to disregard filling out my 1040s or I9s or whatever it is I need for next year. And then the always sour-faced IRS men are going to send me angry letters demanding that I put my drop in the bucket of government funds, and I’m going to say it’s fascism, and that just like Thoreau I refuse to pay my taxes, because I oppose the Mexican-American War, and they’re going to fuck over my life, and it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s past 2 am. I meant to be in bed an hour or two ago. I’ve got homework yet to finish and must be in class 8 hours from now. Fuck. I never did eat any ramen. I’m a little hungry. Why am I burdening you with all these personal details? Because I’ve come to the end of my rope, the end of this blog, and I wish you pleasant nightmares.

"In heaven..." - Eraserhead (1977)

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