Thursday, March 19, 2015

Identity Crisis: Not Kevin, Not This Time

When you hear of the misfortune visited on a former student of yours, the subsequent discomforts, and the embarrassed undertone to her request for assistance, you are once again reminded how fragile a thing an identity is.

Because of the language of the description of the misfortunes experienced by your former student, you become aware that she was not the author of this particular call for assistance; she is being impersonated by another, who must be from another culture or level of society than the one in which you and your former student dwell, where her problems with spelling and punctuation betray her being who she claims.

After a few brief moments of mulling over the sorts of notices that are automatically directed to your spam folder by the Gmail spam filter, you marvel at the ways in which identity is becoming fragmented.  In theory, a con artist and grifter operates at a level of intensity at which he or she is able to winnow out potential victims, then have at them, new, devious identity intact and accepted as real.  

This does not cause you anything approximating a sense of comfort.  It is one thing for you to recall the occasional times, such as the one where you received a check for the lottery you were supposed to have one, where your suspicions are aroused.  But it is yet another thing to reflect on the times when you were played to the point of accepting as real an identity that wasn't.

You are in so many ways idealistic, trusting, and eager to think real the offered idiosyncrasies of your fellow humans.  In a way, even with your amusement at the so-called "letters" from Nigeria, where defecting politicians and military figures are looking for someone as trustworthy as yourself to transfer huge sums of money from Nigeria into the US or some other safe haven, you are the ideal mark.  

Forget your experiences on the carnival midway, in which you had the equivalent of graduate courses in learning the "g" or gimmick of so many propositions.  You are in this way your father's son.  After all, he was an avid compiler of systems by which one could invest to steady profits based on as the relative speeds of horses as they essay lengths measured in furlongs.

Identity intrigues you in a literary and an existential sense, to the point where you pursue speculations about it as your father sat for hours at his desk with The Daily Racing Form, a calculator, and a notepad on which to essay trial balances.  Over the years, you've evolved a formula of your own:  The signature flaw in any given identity resides in direct proportion to the degree of confidence or certainty within the identity.  

These elements catch up with you from time to time when you are either a witness or a direct participant in identity manipulation.  The latest of these came earlier in the week, when, as you left a gathering of friends who'd met to while away a pleasant happy hour, you were greeted by a woman who thought you were someone other than whom you know yourself to be, with all the attendant foibles of which you are aware and with the likelihood of at least one signature flaw.  In her eyes, you were Kevin.  The hug with which she greeted you caused you to think there had been some degree of closeness between her and Kevin, but not between you and her.

She was an athletic ash blond of medium height.  Her clothing suggested tennis, which struck you as a bit odd because you were in a bar/restaurant adjacent a golf course.  She read your surprise as an unwillingness to behave as Kevin would behave on seeing her, and here's where identity conspires to produce the kinds of results that intrigue you as a writer.

You not only assured her you were not Kevin, you in effect demonstrated you were you, whom you know for a certainty not to be Kevin.  "You are very attractive and pleasant,"  you said, "but even if I agreed to be Kevin, you'd soon see through the subterfuge."

"That is so like you,"  she said.

"Alright, I have some mischief similarity to Kevin, but I truly am not Kevin."

"I understand this is difficult for you."

"Yes," you said, "it is."

She watched you for a long moment, her face a complex play of competing dramas.  "All right then,"  she said.  "All right."  Then she turned and left you to being you, in effect taking Kevin with her, and leading you to speculate without any hope of understanding. Except that you understood  for your part as many things as you reckon her to have understood for her part.

You use aspects of your identity in every story you write.  Much as you like to think you're learning great heaps of valuable information from your reading and observation, you have a built-in margin for error.  You found it easy to imagine how, whoever Kevin was, he had caused pain to the person who thought he was you.  In a way, this caused you to think of pain you'd managed to cause to others, all on your own, without being Kevin.  You had no wish to cause this vulnerable person pain, either as a residual from Kevin or from yourself.

When you got home, the dinner you'd planned didn't come into being.  Instead, you made your thinking drink, coffee, took it out to the patio, and sat to sip it while watching the evening turn into night.  There was no comfort from the thought that the lady might at some point in the near future realize she'd been mistaken about you, that you were not Kevin, or that at some added future time, she'd meet Kevin and after conversation, realize he was still Kevin, but not you.

We carry so many selves about with us that it is often difficult to sort out the one we think we are from the one we wish to be or the one we are at the moment.


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