Thursday, September 19, 2013

Changing Names with the Clouds

Clouds forming as I watch. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this. A smudge in the blue, an opacity grows into a single small cluster. Forms & reforms in same place in the sky, dissipate, form again.
How much I’ve changed in the last few years. Retiring from teaching was such a release. I feel like a different person. I am a different person. A job freezes identity. This certainly was true for me. Having to perform in a role acceptable to the institution—inhibits change. Finding myself free of that—no longer having to play that role, that same role, day after day, year after year, holding me back. From the day I stopped looking for work, I began to move into a new life—first the poetry. A few months with MMP, the Spirit Stick, the Poem Tree—a series of de-inhibition exercises (reading aloud in Love Park, the subway concourse, carrying the ever more elaborate walking sick, the Urban Pilgrimage poem, getting my ears pierced). Then Occupy Philly and the Ox, a return to visual art.
As an artist & poet, it’s possible to keep changing, growing—& even there, there’s the danger of falling into habit, a pattern to repeat. Hear so much talk about ‘growth” in a culture that inhibits real possibilities of change—sets such limits on what you can grow into.
In taking on a new identity, first you play a role. And in time, the role becomes an identity, but that word is all wrong! While the role is something you put on, a pattern not fully of a piece with who you are yet-- ‘identity’ , what comes after, is fluid, free of the constraints of playing the role, dissolving it, always evolving, elusive & indefinable. Invisible… like a Faerie by day, wings and glitter by night.
What do you want to be? that young man asked at the party in Wichita. I don’t want to be anything, I answered. Fifty years learning what I meant by that. Goby. I think my name will be Goby. You see! I’ve always believed in having different names for different stages of life. As a child,
I was Rusty.
Then Russ/ Russell – formally,
W. Russell Johnson
Then I was Jacob Russell, which became my poet name
& Willard for art—reclaiming my birthname.
For the last chapters—Goby. My Faerie self. … out of the chrysalis.
Cousin caterpillar, takes his changes, easily. … some day, you’ll wake up…with wings

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