Miriam-Webster defines identity as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” While I believe that a person’s essential character or personality remains the same throughout their life (unless they suffer a trauma), there are many aspects to one’s identity that can change, and often do, as they continue to learn about themselves and their relationship to the world and their communities.
I wanted to write about some of the intersections of my identity; about what has informed my personality, how things have changed, and how I describe myself.
I am white. This isn’t something I was always incredibly cognizant of, or thought about much. Before we moved to Southern Oregon, we grew up in a very diverse area. I had friends who were Black, Asian, Latino, Indian. I thought this was normal. It never occurred to me that my friends might be experiencing racism. I never saw it. But as I have grown older, I have educated myself, and have recognized the ways in which I have benefitted from white supremacy. While I may not consider myself racist, I still experience instances of unconscious bias. While my personal experience was one that allowed me to experience and witness more diversity and inclusion, there are many ways in which my life has been informed by a society that promotes white supremacy. This isn’t always obvious. It’s pervasive in the way stereotypes linger, or in the representation we see in movies and television. And while I am still learning how to combat the racism that exists and thrives today, I have a better understanding of how my race and ethnicity have given me an advantage over my childhood friends. Other sections of my identity may put me in a marginalized position, but because I am white, I will always experience the benefits of white supremacy while it remains a foundation of American society.
I am queer. This is a term not many people in older generations like to use. It used to be a derogatory term, and I can understand some people’s aversion to it. But I like it, and I like to use it to describe myself, because it is a word I can use to describe my identity more broadly. When I thought I was straight, it didn’t even occur to me that I might be anything other than straight. I enjoyed spending time with guys and it felt fine to date them in high school. For a brief time, I thought I was bisexual, before I finally came out as gay. I never liked the word “lesbian.” Then I spent many years self-identifying as gay, and because coming out can be an arduous process, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about my sexual identity outside of that. But after a few relationships that didn’t quite work out, I realized I wasn’t sure if I only wanted to date women. So now I think I’m back to identifying as bisexual. Pansexual would probably be more accurate, because I am generally attracted to people that land anywhere on the gender spectrum, but bisexual is sometimes a little easier for people to understand. But I went on a date with a guy recently, and as we were eating brunch, I had this very strange and uncomfortable feeling. I didn’t like the thought that people might look at us and assume we were straight. So while I am still interested in exploring my renewed interest in men, I will always be queer, and that’s how I like to describe myself and want to be known.
I am genderqueer. This is also a term not used often. Most people use non-binary or gender non-conforming, both of which are a little more self-explanatory. But when I was exploring both my sexual and gender identities, the term genderqueer is the first one I came across, and the first one that felt right to me. All of these terms just mean I don’t identify as either fully female or male. When I first came out as gay, my mom asked me if I thought I was supposed to be a boy instead of a girl. My answer was, and still is, it’s not that I think I should be a boy, it’s that sometimes I forget I’m a girl. And while this is a simplistic way of thinking about gender, it works for me. I don’t fit neatly into any gendered box. And it wasn’t until recently that I learned the difference between gender identity (where you might land on the gender spectrum) vs gender expression (how you present your gender to the world). I tend to present more masculine in the way I dress, but since I recently started to identify as bisexual, I have started to be more fluid with my gender expression. I even started growing out my hair (which, incidentally and strangely, at times makes me look more masculine). But I like being able to experiment and play around with my gender expression.
There are many other aspects of my identity that are constant and yet fluid. I identify as a writer, and a singer, and an introvert, and compassionate, and liberal. These are the things that help build and inform my personality and character. I enjoy that not one of these things fully define me, but all in combination. And that makes life interesting and full.
Sometimes I dream about the ocean. Sometimes I dream about the waves slipping over my feet, brushing the skin so that it almost tickles. Feeling the pull of the water at the back of my heels, leaning back so that my feet sink into the sand. Sometimes I dream about swimming just below the surface, looking down at the sand speckled with sunlight. Sometimes I dream about sharks, floating dreamily just beneath me, sliding through the water as calmly as a day without a breeze. Sometimes, oftentimes, I dream about humpback whales, mothers and young ones gazing up at me with tender dark eyes, my body vibrating with their song. Sometimes I dream about the ocean.
Sometimes I dream about the air. Sometimes I dream about the sky opening up and showing me the billions of stars just waiting beyond the atmosphere. The brilliant lights waiting above my head, shining brightly through the haze of the city skyline. Sometimes I dream about clouds drifting so slowly along the horizon it looks like they are standing still and I’m the one that’s moving. Sometimes I dream about rain, the gentle susurrus of precipitation on the roof of my car, droplets dribbling down the windows in unpredictable channels. Sometimes I dream about the sun, caressing my face with its warm and loving touch, reminding me that winter is not forever. Sometimes I dream about the air.
Sometimes I dream about the earth. Sometimes I dream about laying down on a sandy beach, one hand resting lightly on my chest, the other in yours. Sometimes I dream about the satisfying crunch of gravel as I walk along a lake, a bell tolling gaily in the distance. The smell of the soil comforting my senses as I step into the forest, tall trees lifting themselves out of the dirt as if they want to fly away, but gripping with their roots as though they might. Sometimes I dream about the desert, bare and dry and cracked like my skin in winter. And sometimes I dream about flowers, pushing their way out of the fertile ground to cloak the hills in rainbows. Sometimes I dream about the earth.
Sometimes I dream about fire. Sometimes I dream that the flames are friends, inviting me to come closer and share their warmth. They never warn you about their temper. Sometimes I dream about the fire in you, the passion that causes pain, the need to consume until all is ready to be reborn. Sometimes I dream about the skeleton that is left, the building barely held together with the sheer effort of intention, the need to represent what it was before. Sometimes I dream about another chance, the spark that promises mercy and forgiveness and hope. Sometimes I dream about fire.
Sometimes I dream about you. Sometimes I dream about the way your hair shone in any kind of light, but especially when you were feeling wary. Sometimes I dream about the way you reached out to me in anger and tore me down and left me to gasp and stutter. Sometimes I dream about your smile, your ability to make me feel safe no matter how askew my life had become. You always gave me a chance to speak while you listened, and in my dreams I never once lost my voice. Sometimes I dream that you are gone, playfully hidden in a crowd, your need to disappear stronger than your need to remain close. Sometimes I dream about you.
We were triumphant as the train rattled down the track, the air whipping around our heads. The magic filled us with an irresponsible joy, a sense of slightly reckless giddiness. We didn’t notice the rocking of the boxcar platform; we felt only the jubilance of creation.
We directed the magic to build the boxcar around us, and the smoky crystals tumbled together and bonded and built upon themselves to form the dark structure we envisioned. The landscape outside was similarly dark: the sky reflected only a dim gray light, there were no stars, and the plains spreading out around us were cloaked in shadow. Even the other cars on the train were black. It would have been gloomy, had we not been reveling in our success.
But the pall settled over us soon enough. As the train followed a needless bend on the flat landscape, the faces of my two companions fell. One of them pointed out the doorway we left open in the side of the car. I turned to look.
There, right by where the track made the lazy curve, a woman stood. She was wearing a yellow dress, cluttered with a floral pattern. Over this she wore an orange coat, the hem of which rested just below her hips. In her left hand she carried a brown suitcase, and she was looking directly at us.
It was Eudora.
Dread filled the boxcar, an anticipation of disapproval.
“How did she find us?” The query came from Erant.
I shook my head. What did it matter? She was there, even if this all should have waited until we had returned.
With a gesture I sent Kip to patch through to the engine car. She did so, slipping between a curtain of space and reappearing a few seconds later, just as the train began to slow. We stood silently, our faces toward the door, rocking gently as the train trembled to a stop. We watched with misgiving as Eudora began walking toward us.
“Why doesn’t she just patch over?” Erant stared out in confusion.
Even though she was still over 50 meters away, Kip and I refrained from rolling our eyes. We had the impression Eudora would be able to sense our scorn.
“She doesn’t like to patch,” Kip answered for the both of us. “She thinks it’s...undignified.”
The look on Erant’s face reflected our incredulity. The efficiency of patching far outweighed the accepted social customs of old. It was true there was some level of chaos when patching was first discovered; before rules were implemented, it was recorded that almost two percent of the population died of fright when someone patched and suddenly appeared next to them. This was of course before it was discovered that patching was only possible through vigorous training and not a small amount of talent, and after a number of grisly accidents. But that was ancient history, although some people continued to cling stubbornly to the past.
We waited, our eyes and thoughts focused on Eudora’s approach. I was the leader of this assignment, so it would fall to me to provide a suitable explanation. But, after thoroughly scanning the parameters of this particular project, I could think of nothing we had a done that would warrant such a visit.
“How did she even get here if she didn’t patch?” Erant murmured.
Kip struggled with a smirk, thankfully winning against it, and then shared with me a sideways glance. In a moment of pure spontaneity, I winked. Her eyes widened momentarily, and then we all straightened our spines as Eudora boarded the car.
She did not look at us directly at first; instead, her eyes shifted around the car, inspecting its construction. Finally, she settled her gaze on my face. I gazed back, unblinking. The suitcase was still in her left hand.
“Passable,” she finally declared, sparing a glance to Erant and Kip.
A flare of anger crackled inside me, but I repressed the urge to comment. She may be an Evaluator, but she did not recruit me, and she would have to concede this was one of the quickest initiations in the troubled history of the Quintin Partnership. I said nothing.
She did not seem bothered by the mounting silence, but I could feel Erant shifting beside me. I willed her to be still.
“Completion was certainly within expectations,” Eudora finally offered.
“High praise,” I replied lightly, and felt a ripple from Kip. She was upset, I could tell, but I also sensed a glimmer of amusement.
“Hmmm,” Eudora looked me up and down and then wandered to a corner to investigate the boxcar more closely.
The three of us relaxed only slightly while Eudora’s back was turned. What she didn’t seem to understand was that magic could be fun. Of course we had all voluntarily joined QuiP, an organization dedicated to pushing the limits of technology to mirror the boundaries of magic. We all subscribed to the cause.
But there were those who understood the wild freedom of magic, saw the boundaries as invitations, thrived in the uncertainty of experimentation. Those people excelled at adaptation, at discovering new uses for well worn spells. And there weren’t enough of those people in upper management at QuiP.
I had chosen this team for a reason. I glanced at Erant. As the newcomer, she had the most to lose, and her face betrayed a barely contained anguish. Kip was also anxious, but she had more experience and was better at concealing it. I cleared my throat.
“Kip, Erant, why don’t you go check on the engine, ensure we can return safely?”
Kip narrowed her eyes, but nodded curtly. She patched through, Erant following quickly after. The echo of Erant’s patch was messy. I winced.
“I’m surprised at you,” Eudora said, immediately after they disappeared.
“In a good way or a bad way?”
Eudora turned and gave me a withering look.
“We had high hopes for you.”
“For my team, you mean.”
“When you work so closely together, it’s all the same.” Eudora waved her right hand vaguely, the left still clutching the case. Its inauspicious presence suddenly made me wary. I considered spelling a warning, but Eudora would sense it. Even if she didn’t use magic, she could feel it like everyone else.
“You thought we wouldn’t notice?”
I suddenly felt trapped.
Eudora was now advancing upon me, slowly, and it took every ounce of my willpower to remain where I stood. She paused, directly in front of me, looking up at my face, searching for something. I couldn’t fathom what it might be. Her voice dropped to a near whisper.
“You really didn’t think a spell of that magnitude could be hidden?”
I felt it before I saw it, the tearing of space as uniformed officers patched into the boxcar. I felt Kip and Erant ripped from the engine car, saw them for a moment, their faces panicked. Then a hand grasped my arm, and I was roughly dragged through a sickening patch.
It had been two days. I could see Kip and Erant, in a cell across the hall. They had placed them together, which was in some ways reassuring. Kip looked worried but defiant. Erant was pale. I would watch them speak with one another, but the walls of magic that kept us caged prevented me from hearing what they were saying. Another blessing, I supposed. I couldn’t imagine any universe in which they would want to work with me ever again.
I stood and stretched. The cot was too short for me, and my back ached. My crumpled uniform jacket lay upon the pillow, a sorry attempt at comfort. Kip and Erant glanced at me from across the hall. Erant looked quickly away, ashamed or embarrassed. Kip just looked at me, her expression blank. But I could feel it, even through the containment fields. Her anger was unmistakable.
Suddenly guards filled the hallway, and I watched helplessly as Kip and Erant were escorted from their cell. Erant gave me one more glance, and it seemed her face was grim with pity. I peered after them, hoping for a hint of where they were being taken, but a moment later the spell before me evaporated.
She scowled, clutching the tablet tightly in her hand. The guards around her shifted slightly.
“That’s Evaluator to you, Mr. Fine. Evaluator Price, if you must.”
“Oh, why, thank you.”
Her scowl deepened. She was wearing a blue suit today, finely cut and made of an expensive material. The fabric glimmered with a slight pattern as she approached.
“Your actions have caused no small amount of trouble, Mr. Fine.”
“Although I was doubtful of their involvement to begin with, I am happy to report we have concluded that Yurica Erant and Suzanna Kip were not in any way affiliated with the event, and have therefore let them go.”
Eudora had moved into the room, tapping on her tablet with measured familiarity. I stepped back, wary, watching the guards from the corner of my eye.
“In fact, it was wise to exclude them from your plans,” she continued. “Things certainly would not have gone well for you if you had exploited your position of influence to make them accomplices.”
“Accomplices? What event? What are you talking about?”
Eudora looked up, her eyes narrowed.
“Mr. Fine, your evasions are not going to keep us from taking appropriate action. You may deny it all you want, but we know you caused the Raven Fire, and you will be dealt with accordingly.”
I felt sick.
“No,” I whispered. “That wasn’t me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Who else requested access to the Raven Drums immediately before they were destroyed? Who else has your level of influence among the Historians?”
My chest tightened. I grew lightheaded as I struggled for breath. I inhaled sharply as Eudora stepped closer, her face raised to mine. I believed I saw a glimmer of satisfaction in her eye and heard a smile in her voice.
“And who else has repeatedly, in public, denounced the Laws? Complained of their obsolescence?”
I backed away but she advanced, forcing me against the wall. I was sweating, desperate to escape. I could feel myself involuntarily reaching out to patch, inwardly wincing at the sting of magical and technical resistance.
“Who else has sought to push the limits of what QuiP stands for? Who else has made it their personal mission to ignore the order of our society?” Her voice had grown sharp, a weapon to wound. I felt it acutely.
“You’re a disgrace to this company, and to this world. You have destroyed something sacred, something we all believed in.”
She finally stepped back, leaving a space between us that pulsed with hatred and disgust. I leaned against the wall, dizzy with fear. The Evaluator moved back into the hallway, and just before she raised the barrier, she spat,
“I hope you drown.”
I heard the buzz of magic as the barrier returned. I retched, barely making it to the toilet before I was sick. I gagged, spitting out the bile that continued to rise at the back of my throat. When I was sure nothing else could come up, I sat back, my head against the wall, shaking, sweat trickling down my neck.
She couldn’t have meant it. There was no greater penalty for a crime than drowning. Drowning was capital punishment. There hadn’t been a drowning for as long as I could remember, perhaps years before I was even born.
If it had come down to that, things were worse than I thought.
For this week's blog challenge, Liz and I happened to be in the same place at the same time! So, following an online story prompt, we wrote this story together.
The train screeched and stuttered as it started. Devin breathed a sigh of relief as he collapsed into a seat. He rotated his arm, trying to work out the soreness in his shoulder. He had had to push past at least a dozen people to get onto this train.
He glanced again at the photo on his phone, still shrugging out the soreness. The photo showed a man in his early forties, gray just beginning to show at his temples. He wasn’t smiling, and there something in his eyes, a fierce look, that made Devin uneasy. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he’d seen the man before, but couldn’t place him.
Either way, he didn’t have to worry about the man for another three days at least. There’s no way he could have followed him onto the train, and even if the man knew where Devin was going, it would take him at least that long to get there. Devin would figure out his next move in the city.
He leaned his head against the glass and watched everything speeding by. It was hot, the train car stuffy. He reached up and opened the window as wide as it would go, hoping a cool breeze would relieve the stale air. He sighed. He was finally able to take a moment to simply breathe. He had been living looking over one shoulder for so long that now that he had a moment to himself he felt suddenly exhausted. He closed his eyes.
He’d been playing “The Game” for four years. There were only a handful of them who had made it that long. It had been such a rush for the first few months—escaping, finding clues, forging alliances. He’d even betrayed a double agent or two. The pay was better than anything he could have imagined. He’d made a few hundred, even a few thousand dollars, by beta testing games before. Besides, reality sucked. But those were always video games, sitting in a room by himself and then sending an email after he’d played through. When he’d been offered this position, a beta player in the world’s first “real world” video game, for ten times the amount he had ever made, he said yes immediately. It didn’t occur to him that he wouldn’t be able to find a way back out of it.
After the noobs had been weeded out, the puzzles had become exponentially harder. The goals became more challenging. And more and more people dropped out because they got hurt.
And they had been seriously hurt. He was still nursing his shoulder injury, and that had happened nearly two months ago. There had even been some subtle rumors of people dying…brief mentions on forums and chat boards in hidden corners of the internet. But Devin couldn’t bring himself to believe it would ever get that far with him.
Someone brushed past him and sat heavily in the seat opposite. Devin ignored them and kept looking at his phone. But then he heard the quiet click of a pistol being cocked. He looked up.
It was the man from the photo.
Devin tensed up, his grip tightening on his phone. He glanced around, but no one seemed to be paying any attention. This man could shoot him right here, on this train, and no one would even notice.
“It’s about fucking time I found you,” the man said. His eyes held that intensely fierce look from the photo. Devin’s brow furrowed.
“What do you mean? What do you want?”
The man laughed. “What do I want?” He looked down at the ground for a moment. “I want a lot of things. I want to go back in time. I want to win the game. I want to shoot you in the face. I want Juniper to be on my side again.”
Devin frowned. “Who the hell is Juniper?”
The man’s eyes widened. “You really don’t remember, do you?”
Devin had one eye on the pistol in the man’s hand. He shook his head slowly.
“Early in the game,” the man said. “Maybe six months after it had started. An alliance. You, me, Roger, Quinn, and Juniper.”
Devin felt like corners of his memory were being nudged by the names, but he couldn’t recall the events they were attached to. He shrugged at the man.
“You goddamn selfish son of a bitch,” the man said, raising the muzzle of the gun a fraction.
Devin’s fists clenched.
“You know the rules,” Devin barked. “You understand how it works. We’re all trying to win. Anyone else would have done the same to you and me if given the chance.”
“No, they wouldn’t have,” the man said softly. “They didn’t.”
The memories were edging back into his mind, names connected to details. He had never met anyone else in person, of course. They were all just names scattered across the net. It had made sense to make alliances back then, before the stakes were so high that it was a liability to trust anyone else. He remembered that there had been some sort of argument, and Juniper had taken Devin’s side, and the two of them had broken up the larger alliance. Their partnership only lasted a few weeks. Eventually, you’ve got to be on your own if you want to win. This man…
“Marcus,” Devin breathed. “Juniper made her choice.”
“And you made yours,” Marcus said. He was leaned forward in his seat, a spring about to uncoil. Devin’s eyes darted around the train car. It would be a struggle for Devin to escape. He tried to keep his voice calm.
“Juniper struck out on her own soon after…after everything, anyway. And you don’t see me on aiming a pistol at someone because I couldn’t look at my own shortcomings to see how they led me to be alone in all this.”
Marcus’ voice was a manic whisper now.
“I’ve never met a more self-centered, stuck-up kid in my goddamn life. You don’t even remember these people, do you? These people who saved you, protected you? Don’t you care about anyone but yourself, you little shit?!”
Devin held one hand up. “Calm down, man. We can—”
Devin’s other hand raised into the air in a gesture of surrender. But Marcus was still furious. Devin knew he wasn’t going to be able to talk Marcus down from this. He was remembering Marcus’ quick intelligence and even quicker temper. His inability to keep things neutral, his lack of understanding of the importance of winning. How that importance was greater than anything else.
Devin had been glad to be rid of him. He had been glad to forget him. But now he was forced to face that mistake head on. And he had nothing. He was sore and exhausted, caught on a moving train with someone who obviously wanted to kill him. Was the game really worth all this?
Suddenly the train slowed. Passengers glanced out their windows. They weren’t anywhere near the station—there were only fields and the occasional fence. Marcus turned his gaze towards the open window. There was some buzzy-sounding announcement over a loudspeaker about a delay.
The train jolted violently. The pistol clattered to the floor. Devin leaned forward quickly and scooped it up. He aimed it at Marcus as the train grinded to a full stop.
Marcus’ eyes narrowed.
Devin said nothing. He stood up, the gun aiming at Marcus’ stomach. The crowd on the train were chattering amongst themselves, milling about, speculating about the train’s sudden halt. Devin glanced up toward the open window, the darkness outside, the possibility of escape.
“It doesn’t matter if you shoot me,” Marcus said, his eyes flashing. Devin felt his stomach clench. “There’s nowhere to go. You can’t run from this.”
“There’s always someplace to go,” Devin replied coolly, and pulled the trigger.
The blast lingered in his ears, ringing with deafening clarity as he hoisted himself out of the train window, dropping the gun as he sprinted away into the darkness. He thought he could hear the other passengers shouting, but he didn’t look back. He thought he heard Marcus’ voice, startlingly close, “You can’t run. You can’t keep running.”
Devin didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop.
I don’t know what to write about and so I wrote a poem
The words didn’t really come to me until I let them flow, um
This will be a kind of stream of consciousness in theory
I understand if that’s the kind of thing to make you weary
I did a kind of dream analysis in therapy last week
But didn’t really get the kind of answers one might seek
Apparently I dream a lot of people with red hair?
And people who are famous; I didn’t think I really cared
An Amy Adams/Jessica Chastain amalgamation
The Archie guy from Riverdale (I watched with trepidation)
I don’t know why my brain was occupied with these three actors
I beat one in a fight, the other died, are those key factors?
It’s true I often dream about people I don’t know
I often dream about my cat; what is that supposed to show?
I see him every day; in fact, he’s always on my mind
At least his hairs upon my clothes I’m always sure to find
Are you bored yet? Should I go on? Do you find this method tedious?
Well, too bad! There’s more to come, so don’t be such a Pleb(ius)!
There are five hundred words to go for this bi-weekly challenge
I will not be defeated like some poor caught muskellunge!
(Yes, I had to look that up, it’s a fish from the Midwest
I did this to myself, I know, but it rhymed the best
Why not use another word, you ask questioningly?
Because I’m not a poet and don’t think accordingly)
My sister, now, there is a tried and true lyricist
Her way with words in meter is a skill that I have missed
Her poetry has always been both strong and elegant
I wish I had her talent but for me it wasn’t meant
What I do have is good sense, of setting and of story
I can world build like a mo fo, whether fair or gory
At least, I think so, I will admit I tend to mostly wing it
I think of one scene, find a thread, and very loosely string it
But once an idea forms inside my head I have to write it
Even if it’s only a single image I can’t fight it
Scenes just play out in my mind so cinematically
But I’ll admit that the results at times do turn out tragically
Kind of like this poem, which I am currently regretting
But I’m more than halfway done so on your patience I am betting
Who knows, I may turn out to be a star you can believe in
An Audre Lorde, a Silverstein, an e e cummings even
Who am I kidding, that won’t happen, not in any way
My prose is far superior, that’s how my words will stay
A Shakespeare I am not, at least I won’t write any sonnet
I guarantee my verse won’t stick, no bees within your bonnet
Oh god can I be done now please, why did we make this pact?
I still have to write two hundred words because of this contract
It seemed a good idea until we both became so busy
That the thought of writing every other week just made us dizzy
I had a good thing going there with my new adventure
Minty is a character of whose tale I can be sure
The road ahead of him is filled with possibility
I just have to write it, prompt my mind to mobility
But that’s a writing exercise for another day
For now I’ll just be satisfied with this, come as it may
I can feel that my inspiration is quickly drying up
I just want to go to bed and with a book curl up
I cheated a bit on that last line, I used the same word twice
Well sometimes it’s just hard to write, to give your words some spice!
A block upon your writing is a true and vengeful thing
To find the right words for each line, to land with a real zing
I think that I will leave you now, to go about your night
You no longer have to suffer through this poem, it’s all right
This ending really comes as a relief to you and me
Now go, before it draws you back, quickly, quickly, flee!