The EGO Searches for its ID
W5: Identity Crisis
W5: who, what, where, when, why am I? It happens to all of us and sometimes it’s overwhelming: a tidal wave of doubt that sweeps us off our feet and we ask but we have no answers.
Who am I? I know my name and I repeat it to myself like a mantra but I still don’t know who I am. Know thyself: easily said, but not so easily done and sometimes the mantra is a praying mantis that tries to bite off my head.
What am I? Good question: locked in the White Tower of the Academy, I knew who I was and what I did. But what happens when the White Tower crumbles around you and you are left picketing the sidewalk: no classroom, no students, no lecture hall, no lectures, no timetable, no marking, no nothing to tell you who and what you are?
Where am I? In retirement, of course, locked in a landscape of weeds and gardens, of growing grass that encroaches on the house and rises like the tide that threatens to surge into a tidal wave of sharp green blades. Death by mowing: and a still body lying out by the mower, waiting to be visited by crows.
When am I? Chained to the here and now and locked to my computer in a voiceless monologue with a faceless, dialogic screen that mirrors each word and moves a relentless line of print across a virtual page. The grandfather clock chimes the half hour and, for a moment or two, I break from computer face time to enter the circular space time of the clock’s repetition. “See you tomorrow, sir, same time, same place,” the clock speaks out and, hopeful, I nod in response.
Why am I? Sometimes I think I am here just to give the grandfather clock someone to speak too. If I were to go, the clock would cease to exist, for me, but others would hear its chime. Is there no rhyme nor reason to my existence other than to sit here typing and listening to the Westminster Chimes and me so far from Westminster that my mind must travel three thousand miles east just to imagine it. And what does Westminster now mean? To you, to me, to the clock in the hall that endlessly repeats its Westminster Chime?
On Re-reading Quevedo’s Poetry
Was that where my life went,
a spent candle trailing dark studies
among the packed lines of your poems?
And you, was your life gutted by that
same guttering candle by whose light you
scrawled your tight black spider rhymes?
Were they all meaningless, your insights
and my words? So few now know who
you were and what you represented
and I, your scholar, a mere shadow of your
shadow struggling in the straggling
light of a far-off continent, far from content
at knowing so much about you. Intent
I was on spreading light and the word
to a world that thinks the two of us absurd.
Our world is spinning on its edge, placed
on the perimeter of space, and going nowhere.
Specks of dust we sit and contemplate
the vastness of what exactly: our fortunes,
our spirits, our houses, our power, our lands?
Out there, in the vastness that surrounds us,
worlds without end will never know we existed.
Bleak and blank our names, our deeds, our status,
the statues they raise in our praise. And what of
our thoughts, those sparks of electricity
that link us lip to ear and mind to action
and each of our actions transformed by a dance
performed by circling planets that shape our wills?
Who programs that universe now? Who plays
what trivial games of snakes and ladders
in which we are the dots and dashes, pinballs
among a million trillion strings of flashing lights?
Maybe there is an answer, this maybe:
Within this bookstore are many books, yet none
with my name on the cover or my life blood inside.
Deeper I dig, and deeper. Now here is a name I know,
and there in the bibliography, at last, I find my name:
two books, a score or so articles, a thesis, and I am
vindicated. All that study, that work, has led to this:
my name in a foreign book in a foreign bookstore. Nice
work: now I know that wherever I go, I can establish
my identity, set myself free from anonymity’s pangs.
Plug in the computer, turn it on, and there I am on the web,
smiling back at me. There is no better passport, no better
sense of being, of identity, than that contained in these
images of self, these self-reproductions that I carry with
me, always, in a memory stick looped round my neck.
Or even this, the Teddy Bear planet just off the Red Nose of the Cat Constellation: