Once I liked to imagine that I could be anyone I want to be. It was the dream. Over the years I have been poor, alcoholic, and promiscuous then rich, married and conventional. I have been a bar woman who partied all night, a secretary with little ambition, a financial director with a rather mercurial bent, the rich sex and the city girl, the earth mother living on an alternative island and now a somewhat feminist author seeking to shake others out of complacency. My identity changes have been so drastic, that many of my friends belong only to certain periods of my life, unsure of who I am now. I haven’t forgotten all those other identities.
The earliest ones were created out of a need to survive my environments, perhaps intentionally, but unconsciously so. The most recent ones were created with purpose. And they all rest like masks in the wings, ever ready to be donned and played out once more. The financial analyst has traditionally earned a lot of money. So in a purely functional sense that one comes out to play when we need a budget boost. I present excel sheets and powerpoints, talking about the bottom line I believe in for that moment. I’m lucky that I although I have discarded them, I can go back and slip them on.
With these identities, especially the more recent, I’ve reframed my perspective and rewritten my experience of my past. Once a wounded adoptee, a rape victim several times over, a woman in an abusive relationship, a desire to heal has pushed me to re-frame my perspective on painful past events, and see them in terms of blessings and lessons. Without that reframing, I couldn’t have changed my identity so easily. Those games I once played of victim, I can play again, though now I am aware that it’s a choice I’m making where in the past I wasn’t.
Now in my forties, I work part-time as a personal nurse to a stroke victim.
‘It’s odd, I said to my boyfriend. ‘I play at caring, but I don’t know this woman. It feels like I’m playing. I empathize, I ask the right questions, I comfort her. I feel it when I’m with her, but the moment I’m out of the door, I feel none of it. She thinks I’m a person I’m not.’
‘Perhaps all people who work as caretakers have to assume that mask,’ he said. ‘It’s just a job.’
But I cannot pretend to care, without caring. So I’ve noticed that different identities, also change my personality and values. I cannot become the financial analyst and effectively present business case results in a corporate environment without truly buying into the project and believing in the capitalist system, something that the feminist author later questions. As my identities stack up and I switch between them, what was once an unconscious survival mechanism, has become a conscious choice. Who shall I be today? Who do I want to be?
I’ve realised. I can choose to play the villain, I can choose to be the rescuer. I can choose to be the hero, the rebel, the queen. But I’m none of them at heart, because I can be all of them. My core personality is less defined than many. It is changeable, and really this is the only constant. And so in my ability to reframe my experiences and change my identity, it seems I have become something of a Loki. A shapeshifter who assumes an identity so completely that he becomes that person. But I am not a god, I am merely human and shapeshifting may well be my downfall; such a plethora of choice of identity has the potential to drive me mad. I have feared this ability, this compulsion to change, feared that people will see the person I am as a fraud. I have feared that I will never know who I really am. I’ve feared that some of my identities will regret what others have done.
So in seeking to be exploit the full potential of this ability, I have chosen not to deny that I am at heart–a shapeshifter, because to deny it would be to reject my reality (never a happy choice). Instead I embrace it and see it is a power. But what a enormous power, to be whoever you want to be. To really embrace it I must make use of it, I must allow myself to switch identities, otherwise my essential core self, the shapeshifter, isn’t happy.
My fight for freedom to be who I want to be, and my work on re-framing my defining experiences leaves me with several identities and the possibility of many more, so many in fact that must also have an ever present third eye if I am to remain an ‘upstanding’ citizen, that third eye evaluates the consequences of my choices as that identity and so far, helps me to play nicely. Because if you can choose to be good, you can at least theoretically also choose to be bad. Even if re-framing my experience has helped me deal with life’s tragedies and absurdities, it has also given me the ability to reframe pain of such magnitude that pain itself, hurt, has lost the power it once had to moderate potentially risky behaviors. If as Buddha says, suffering is a choice, it is also others’ choice. In my journey, I’ve learned to defy convention, and unlearned shame and guilt – those tools we normally use to control our deepest, darkest desires.
When you know you can choose who you want to be, you hunger for new experience, you become curious as to what might happen when you push this bright shiny button, or pull on this metaphorical lever, because each identity brings limitless possibilities… or chaos. It’s like make-believe, only it’s not. It’s freeing and fun. You’re the trickster, living your truth in your chosen shape, but only in that moment.
In this period of my life, I am an ethical mother and a postmodern woman, radically honest, loving and intent on bringing value to the world. I like this role, so much in fact that I want to keep it. I am attached to it, I believe in it; I want to shelve Loki and my ability to revamp my identity forever, after all I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. But that’s not a choice I have. Loki, is my core. My choice is not whether to change, only who to change into. I’m only just learning how to look at this as a power and I haven’t learned how properly to wield it. And sometimes late at night I hear a mischievous voice in my ear, testing out my commitment to my new self. The desire to change beckons. The voice tickles and taunts as it invites me out to play and it says… time to change, time to have fun, why so serious?