Butterfly Cauldron

Friday, January 12, 2007

Who Am I? -- On Being Zan Malkovic

I was told by a therapist that I'm the type of person who defines herself not by who she is, but by who she is not. This is a spot-on diagnosis. As long as I can remember, I've shaped my self-concept by those things which I am clearly NOT.

I am not Southern Baptist
I am not conservative
I am not Republican
I am not skinny
I am not straight
I am not extroverted
I am not good at math
I am not comfortable in the spotlight
I am not good at taking orders
I am not stupid
I am not a pretty girl (ya know what I mean by that, right? I mean attitude, not appearance.)
I am not a dog person

And so on and so on, ad nasaum.

But what I've never been really good at is defining myself by what I am. I'm doing better at it, thanks to my bout of therapy. I had to start out making myself make lists of what I AM.

I am smart
I am funny
I am a good friend
I am bisexual
I am spiritual
I am pagan
I am liberal
I am fat
I am happy
I am a cat person
I am a writer
I am an artist


You know, that stuff. And so, I'm getting much better at shaping myself by the positive -- that is, the things that apply in actuality. Defining myself by myself, not by other people. Being the measure of my own woman, as it were. And so, in some ways I've come a great way forward. This is evidenced by the fact that I'm not longer suicidal and that I'm blessedly hopeful about the future.

And yet, in other ways, I still see that Lack to be a defining characteristic and I'm jealous of those people who don't have that lack.

I am beginning to know myself, but where does this Self belong? Where is her community? Her chosen family?

I was not raised with any sense of ethnic identity. I longed for it, in ways I didn't understand then, but I didn't have it. I am, simply, a bland white girl. My family is Irish/Scots/Cajun biologically, but culturally? Eh. We're just bland, no really ties to any particular place, white folks. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It is simply something that I wish were different.

I've noticed that the blogs I read most often are those by people of color/defined ethnicity. I confess, I am horribly jealous. In spite of all the baggage that comes with being a POC in this white-washed society, you have a sense of community. You have a network of people who have common cultural markers. You have somewhere to go where people go "Yeah. I get that."

And I realize, of course, that it's not so simple. I realize there are countless problems within communities, however they are constructed. I realize that my outsider eyes don't see everything or really much of anything. But it seems nice to me to have somewhere to go where you're understood.

The closest I have ever come to that is the Christian culture I was raised in. You know, the one that drove me to the brink of suicide, made me think I was damned eternally and left me with panic attacks and anger issues that required intensive therapy? Yeah, that one. And yet, as bad as it was, there was also a certain sense of belonging there. True, these people didn't really know me, and they probably would have kicked me out (or prayed over me real good) if they had realized some of those things I was keeping hidden, but it was nice to have somewhere I could at least pretend to fit in.

I don't do good in cages (and really, who does?) but I'd like to have some sort of vague definition, some set of parameters that I could see in the distance, to help me get my bearings. The church ritual, as much as I hated it, helped me do that. They saw me and said: "Ah, yes. Zan. The smart one, the stable one, the dependable one." I was called, routinely, wise. Imagine, for a minute, being a 15 year old and having adults tell you that you're wise. People who extolled wisdom as a virtue, gift from God sorta thing. I don't know that I agreed with them, but it was nice to have that place. It was frustrating as hell too, because who wants to be WISE at 15? I wanted to be fun and free and the bad girl. Alas, I never have been. (See, there I go again: self-definition by denial).

I keep thinking I should have done more, been more by this point. A pointless thinking. Everyone thinks that, don't they? But I take stock of my life and think -- where's my story? I haven't suffered greatly, not in the ways that we think are worthwhile. I am sick, it's true. I feel isolated, that's true. But isn't that everyone's story? Isn't that everyone's role? So, I have survived repeated suicide attempts. So, I have survived an immune system that is trying to kill me. So, I have managed to keep sane against the odds. And yet. . .those "bad" things you're 'supposed' to do? I've never done them. No run-ins with the law, no bouts of drugs or alcohol, no inappropriate sex with inappropriate people. Not so much as a fucking one-night stand. My obstacles are all internal. The only enemy I have is myself and she's not that much of an enemy most days.

(And see? Again, that paragraph. I cannot help it. My default position. Zan is not...)

What stories will I tell my grandchildren? The grandchildren I'll never have because I have no children. When I'm old and finally gray, sitting in the nursing home, what is it about me that's going to stand out? Because even though I hate being center stage, I have to stand out. I have to be different somehow, otherwise how will I know who I am in the crowd? (And yes, my therapist made a note about that need to be different too.)

Who am I, then? I work to try to keep from defining myself as what I am not, but lately I'm beginning to think that all I am is boring and unexceptional.

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posted by Zan at 5:21 PM

7 Comments:

The positive list is a lot like what I would say about you. But I don't think of you as remotely bland, and while I know you're white, I probably wouldn't think of you if I were making a list of white people. Maybe it's because you love Latinas. You're always talking about goth, so I picture you as standing out because of your appearance.

I'm surprised you're not an extrovert. You're so warm and bubbly here that I would imagine you're the welcoming presence in a room, that I would be drawn to you in a crowd even if I couldn't pick you out of a lineup.

Your negative thoughts are a lot like mine, but again, I'm surprised because I wouldn't have ascribed them to you.

You have family you like; you have your niece - there are no children in my life. You've loved and struggled. I would say your depression and long road to Lupus diagnosis is suffering greatly. I often think about how I can't catch up to my fellow alumni, but there are ways in which I'm also behind you.

I used to wish I were Jewish, and in college I envied the small queer community. I belong to many ethnic groups only biologically or by birth; I don't identify with any of them. I lack cred. I don't even want it, and I do want a community, but I hate being in a group. If you're in, someone's out, and I always identify with outsiders.

Lady, I think we need to improve on Thelma & Louise and hit the road to Californ-i-a. Road trip!

7:20 PM  

See, I'm beginning to think I believe I'm not extroverted at all because I keep comparing myself to my brother. He was the extrovert while we were growing up, always the center of attention, the one no one could ignore. While me? Not so much. When I'm with people I'm comfortable with, it's different. I can be very outgoing when I'm not feeling self conscious...so maybe I am more extroverted than I give myself credit for, who knows?

And yeah, I get told rather often that I don't 'act' like a white girl -- whatever that's supposed to mean.

Oooh! I wanna go to San Francisco. I'm just afraid I'd never leave :) Which may not be so bad, ya know. Maybe I'll find the love of my life there. Hrm.... So, whose driving?

8:43 PM  

I pictured myself picking you up (you so want me to/too) on the way, but only I drive my car, and I guess solo cross-country driving isn't practical. On the other hand, the fictional narrator of Rats Saw God claims to have driven 27 straight hours from the Houston area to San Diego. I know, I know, we can't manage straight hours.

I don't think staying in SF can be bad. Now, what if I were tempted to bring you back home with me?

"White girl" = Jane of Dick and Jane... The first thing that comes to mind is that your view of the world isn't whitewashed. You not only consider race, but you can imagine things from the perspective of non-whites.

7:20 PM  

Bah. Why drive straight there? Huh huh? Think of all the fun stuff we could do on the way!

And we could take my car. I don't mind other people driving :)

Virginia? I liked it when I was there ;) And ya know...we could set up a little house in San Fran. Sure, we'd both have to work 80 hours a week to afford it, but hey, we're young...right?

9:10 PM  

Oh, I didn't think we'd ignore everything on the way, but that 27-hour deal struck me. Dude was way upset. I assume his gf dumped him, but his father must be involved somehow because the drive means he's decided to live w/ his mom. Now back to the awesomeness that we are...

I don't mind other people driving :)

I bet you don't. Is your car an automatic?

SF time-share? I always wanted a beach house in Spain, but SF can be a first blush. Is it true it's usually cold and foggy there, and summer is rather short? That's not what they show on Monk.

10:09 PM  

Yes, Serenity is in fact an automatic. I am ashamed to admit this, since I grew up a farm girl, but I do not know how to drive anything else. Well, that's not really true. I just don't trust myself to do it in traffic: ) I also don't mind cause, well the CAR is insured, not the people driving it. So it doesn't matter who is driving my car, if there's a wreck, the insurance pays.

Cold and foggy with an ittybitty summer sounds dreamy to me. My body is already packing, it seems. We can do the beach house in Spain too, so long as we get the Italian apartment on the coast too. Must be fair and all. Amalfi coast? Most beautiful place EVER.

9:43 AM  

Don't you get penalized for having an uninsured driver? Or just being one?

My thing is, if my car is hurt, it's best it's my fault and not that of someone I like. I don't want to be mad at someone like you over my precious Stallion. On the other hand, part of what made Driver's Ed at age 27 worthwhile was the promise of a road trip in my future ride. I haven't had a passenger in years.

Ah, I forgot the cold is good for the Zanbod.

Amalfi: really?

I would love to go to Tuscany, but friggin' Liv Tyler's Stealing Beauty has me believing I must take a lover so we can totally do it on some grass.

And a London flat. I am nostalgic about London even though the friggin' Tube sometimes had mall-sized areas one had to walk before seeing anything resembling a train.

6:20 PM  

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