Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pointing at the Past - and Thoughts on Identity

Right. 2:09 AM. Doctor Who Confidential is cued up on the other computer, the laundry (well, some of it) is in the dryer, and it's time to write my entry for tonight. Good thing I can crib half of it from my old AOL Journal, Musings from Mâvarin!

Because I'm totally insane sometimes in an OCD sort of way, I've spent an hour or two today updating two Musings entries from 5/21/2004:

Las Vegas: The Non-Gamblers' Experience
The Sublime and the Ridiculous: LV as a SF/F Destination

Blame John Scalzi and Joe Loong. John Scalzi wrote about people using moblity scooters to get around the Las Vegas Strip, which reminded me how much fun John (Blocher) and I had walking around the place three years ago taking photos. But when I looked at my two postings about it, I saw something Joe warned us about recently: an old AOL You've Got Pictures album was displayed as a Ken Burns style Woohoo slideshow.

I actually hate the old YPG albums; they used to display things too small inside a huge ugly frame, and and never worked well for me and my dial-up. And I love the Ken Burnsy thing. That's not a problem for me at all. I've even put a Ken Burns Woohoo on my church's main web page. But the tiny, grainy photos in that entry, taken three years ago with a Mavica and edited with whatever I had available at the time, are not improved by scrolling lovingly across an extra-large display of the dark, low-res images. So I've deleted one photo that was especially bad, edited full size versions of eight more shots and added them in. And yes, I left it Ken Burns style. Because I don't quite trust you folks to go take a look at the original entry, here is the revised slideshow:

Hmm. The slide show won't display for me in the AOL version of this entry. Stupid dial-up! I'll be interested to know whether it displays for anyone else. It could be a slow connection issue, or it could simply be the way I copied and pasted it in here. (I did get it to display when I loaded the individual entry, so it's probably a connection speed issue. YGP gets impatient with the wait while the Journals product is still loading the other pictures on the page, not to mention the darn ad.)

But all this is a silly thing to do, isn't it? These are extremely obscure journal entries, virtually unknown to the search engines and remembered only by me. When I posted those musings about our Las Vegas trip in May 2004, I only had about two or three readers. Grainy pictures aside, I wrote what I still think is a really good entry about Las Vegas becoming a viable destination for fans of science fiction and fantasy, but nobody ever saw it or commented. And that entire journal, Musings from Mâvarin, is virtually abandoned now. So why did I bother fixing up a three year old posting in a disused journal? Um, because I could, I think. And three years later, I still hope someone will read it and leave a comment. (And Barbara actually has done so. Bless you, Barbara!)

End of cross-posting, with revisions.

Today was, of course, the first part of the Doctor Who story I've been ranting about for several weeks. It was excellent - upsetting and scary and sad and touching and exciting and effective. I don't quite have a feel for the John Smith character yet, despite David Tennant's wonderful acting, but that may just be because as a viewer I'm constantly looking for signs that the Doctor is still in there somewhere, and because the episode has to do so many other things that we can't linger too long exploring him in the first half of the story. Martha, on the other hand, was completely accessible and believable. I'm not going to go on about the actual plot tonight; I just mention it here because it leads me back to a recurring theme in my own writing, that of identity.

When I was in junior high or high school, or possibly both, I remember being taught about the concept of image. It troubled me at the time. I couldn't quite grasp it, couldn't quite believe or approve of the idea that, aside from acting or outright lying, one person could be different things at different times to different people. I was certain that I was always Karen, no more and no less, whether I was talking to a classmate, a teacher, a family member or a friend. I was real. I was me.

To a certain extent that's still true of me. I do try to curb my eccentricities somewhat at work and at church, and don't blurt out everything I'm thinking at the moment I think it. But that's more a matter of self-control (which I don't have in abundance), not really image control. I still like to think I'm really Karen to everyone: to you and Carly and John and Father Smith and anyone else who encounters me.

But not everyone has the same impression of a person, whether the person is trying to project an image or not. Two people I like at work don't like each other much, apparently because of their interactions with a third person who liked one and not the other. M therefore doesn't have the same impression of A that I have. And that sort of thing can snowball, so that cliques form and people react to an idea of someone rather than the person herself. Back at my previous job, a mean-spirited person briefly worked with us. She sat in front of another employee who, well, didn't work very hard at her job. They gossiped with each other, and with another employee who was there at the time. Within a week, one of the people in the office was saddled with a false rumor about his or her sexuality, and I was being scorned by someone whose opinion of me had previously been neutral. The bad apples were soon gone, but the interactions between the people who stayed were tainted by what had been said. The damage was done.

And even beyond all that, people change over time. Why do we do that, and how? I don't know why this question haunts me so, but it turns up in my writing over and over, in many forms. One reason, we know now, is that brains physically change. A teenager's brain isn't quite formed yet, particularly the part that deals in understanding of consequences and self-control. We learn new skills and make new memories, and they are physically encoded in our synapses. Nasty lesions form as we get older, and brain cells get killed off by strokes and alcohol. Although the brain is remarkably good at rerouting around such obstructions, it's bound to have an effect. So our minds change, literally.

It's more than that, though. I do and say certain things because I lost my glasses that one time when I was eight (and again in 1986), because I really enjoyed that Business Law class when I was 47, because I watched Jim Kirk lose his memory one night in 1968, because Shiori died on Good Friday over a decade ago, because I never heard back from Tor, well, all sorts of reasons, a lifetime of reasons. Our experiences change us, our desires change us, the things we try to accomplish change us, and even the impressions others have about us change us. I tend to explore and exaggerate all that in my fiction, put pressure on a character and watch him or her change in response:

  • A researcher into ape behavior gradually becomes an ape himself.
  • Teenage twins learn separately that they have completely different names, along with the responsibilities that go with those names.
  • A boy becomes a monster, and must learn to integrate his human side with the animal he becomes.
  • A half-mad King would rather stay a captive than come home and rule the country again.
  • A mage loses his memory, and is afraid to reclaim it, preferring instead to become an ordinary person (although he isn't one).
  • A teenager in love makes himself forget her to protect her, and loses more of himself than he intended.
  • A college physics student goes a little crazy after being expelled from his original version of reality.
  • High school students start remembering other lives in a magical land.
  • A young woman wins a race on her birthday, and the prize involves being no longer human.
  • A child whose godmother is lost in the future teaches herself to become the one person who can save her.
  • A bored young aristocrat runs away to sea when things get difficult at home, and reinvents herself as a pirate named Kate.
One of the most potent of these scenarios, for me, is one in which a character must choose between a current identity and one that has somehow been lost. If Fabi becomes Fayubi again, what happens to the personality that was Fabi? If Rani can ditch his tengrem body, why should he return to it? If Kirok becomes Kirk again, what happens to the man who loved Miramanee? And if Martha can convince John Smith that the Doctor is real, has Smith any reason to become that person again?

Imagine what that would be like. If you were told that the life you remember is a lie, and that you're really a pirate or a princess, a mage or a Time Lord, would this be welcome news? To choose to reclaim that forgotten life would be a death, because you won't be you any more, at least not the version of you that you currently recognize as yourself. In one version of this scenario that I wrote, I worried for hundreds of pages about what was going to happen to the character when the time came. He clearly didn't want to be that other guy. In the end, that identity went to someone else, someone who was meant to be that person, who always longed for it but had been prevented from having that life.

Crel lurks inside me.
What if I were to find out I was Queen Cathma?

Okay, so it's exceedingly unlikely that anyone is going to tell me (except metaphorically or in jest) that I'm really the Queen of Mâvarin, or that I'll suffer from tv-style amnesia and later find out who I am. You're unlikely to learn that your father was a Jedi, or you've really been to the Land of Oz, or that you travel through time and space in a police box. But imagine for a moment that something like that has just happened to you. Suddenly you have a chance to leave behind your normal life and become someone extraordinary. Do you do it? Or do you cling to who you are?


1 comment:

Carly said...

Hey :)

Actually, I have been wrestling lately with how completely ordinary I am. Who wouldn't want to achieve greatness? I would like to make it as a photographer, because that seems to be what I do with passion. Don't really know at this point if I will ever get there, but if I had to give up my life to have it, I would turn it down flat, because I have so much that is so good. There is no replacing my many blessings. :)

I didn't see the photos you posted either, WooHoo does the "time out" thing. Try right clicking and hitting the reload. Sometimes that works for me, as does the reboot.

Carly :)