01 November 2012

Rumpeltstiltskin, I Name Thee!

Become more than a man and devote yourself to an ideal...

Do you remember the story of Rumpelstiltskin from when you were a kiddo? It goes something like this.

A jerk of a father needs to ask his king for a favor. In hopes of making him more favorably inclined to his request, the dad tells the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king is suitably impressed and orders the girl brought to him. Turns out, the king's a loser too: He locks the girl in a room filled with hay and tells her to work her magic before morning on pain of death. The girl, impressed both by that knowledge and the fact that she has no freaking idea how to spin gold, starts crying.

Enter Magic Man, stage left. He agrees to spin the gold in exchange for a piece of her jewelry. The next morning, the king decides to do it again, this time with a bigger room. Free gold, right? The daughter cries some more, the Magic Man reappears, and spins again for her last piece of jewelry. The king is elated, so this time he locks her in an even bigger room, and swears to marry her. If I were her, the promise of marrying that jerk would quite possibly be more terrifying than death.  The girl cries again, but when the Magic Man shows up, she has nothing left to give him. They strike a bargain - the room of gold for her firstborn, and she's all set to marry the king. When the girl gives birth, the wee lil Magic Man appears and demands his payment in full. The daughter only escapes by guessing his name. THE END.

There are countless folk tales concerning the magic of names. By knowing someone's true name, they testify, you have intrinsic power over that person.

The funny thing about names is they act as both a way of identifying and describing someone or something - a sort of label. In a way, labels are humanity's attempt to describe something's essence. A "chair" is something we sit upon above the ground. A "squirrel" is a type of animal known for its inclination to mischief. A label brings to mind a certain archetype - however, the specifics of that "essence" differ from person to person. Case in point: The difference between my mother and my conception of a "hipster." Here's a hint - my mother thinks it's an affectionate endearment.

But let's get back to names and their function as a label. Let's talk about my imaginary friends. I have four of them, so let's talk about my imaginary friend Joe. Well, as it turns out, I have two imaginary friends named Joe. I'm specifically referring to Joe Black. He's pretty cool - I like hanging out with him as opposed to Joe White, who's a self-righteous little fella. Those two little words - "Joe Black" - bring to mind a very specific personality I have made up for a fictional character. They also make me crave peanut butter. But that's beside the point. The name of my imaginary friend identifies him among my many imaginary friend, and to a certain extent, describes him. He is NOT Joe White, and has [x], [y], and [z] characteristics. Get it? A label is an identifer (Which Joe are you talking about?) and a description (What sort of person is he?). You've heard of people saying "I'm just not a Bill," right? That's what I'm talking about.

Think about going into the canned soup area of a grocery store. You've got Campbell's, Annie's, Souper Meals ... all sorts of different brands. But then you also have types of soup: Chicken Noodle, Stroganoff, Minestrone, Tomato, Spaghetti-Os. If you send a friend out to buy you some "good soup," who knows what they may bring back? But if you tell them you want "Campbell's Chicken Noodle" they can identify the soup and have a general idea of what's on the inside. 

Now, I really like my name. I think it suits me admirably. In fact, I've had friends make comments testifying to the fact that I just "did a really Whimsy thing." That's cool by me. It means I'm being myself, that my label, or my name, has become inseparable from my personality, who I am as an individual.

But have you ever noticed how humans have this tendency to try and "find themselves?" I would relabel (ha!) this as humans trying to be the essence of themself - what makes Whimsy tick? What songs does she like? What food does she enjoy? Who are her friends and why?

Here's the rub. The most useless piece of advice ever given to mankind is To Be Yourself. A person not given to introspection will ignore it and continue just as ever. An introspective person will devote considerable time to angsting over who they are as opposed to someone else, and end up never truly finding themselves from too much navel-gazing. The process of discovering who Lady Whimsy is will take my lifetime, because who knows what person God intends me to be? I certainly don't.

So back to labels and names and essences. We've got these public names that people use on a regular basis. Cassandra, Matthew, Hannah, Grace. We know the people to whom those names refer. We use those designations to address them and refer to them. They're public knowledge - how you and I are known in our communities.

However, I would argue that everyone has a secret, "true" name. Not some mystical name given to you in a dream by a Technicolor rabbit the night before you turn 13, but labels that are self-applied and self-descriptive. Not how I describe myself to other people - "musician," "hopeless romantic," "dark romantic," "day dreamer" - but how I describe myself to myself.

And what other way to define ourselves than by the secrets we keep? Secrets are the "true names" of people. They are hidden, mystical, tied up in the very essence of the holder (why else keep it a secret?) which no one knows. The hidden actions, the clandestine thoughts, the beliefs and ideas and ideals so closely tied to the person's identity and security that they are shared with no one. Secrets are pieces of information that clarify and describe the person keeping them.

"Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead."

Just like Rumpelstiltskin, releasing the knowledge of one's secret identity gives them the intrinsic power of the name. Once shared, the information can grow, mutate, or be used against you. Like it or not, the relief of sharing a secret creates a new, funky dynamic in any friendship or relationship. Once shared, the true name can never really be forgotten. It's a determined little thing, clinging desperately even when it's usefulness has passed. And of course, the awkward, messy dynamic it brings is both wonderful and despicable. It all depends on your standpoint.

Bottom line is, we all have a choice. We can "become an ideal" and save our real names from the control of another, or diminish and go into the West with what is left of our folk and share that privilege with others. By sharing, you give up something precious for the sake of something more desirable. By saving, you destine yourself for a lifetime of secret keeping. Personally, I choose to travel the path with my real name easily accessible [ Note: not readily accessible or displayed. Simply easy to access when I choose]. Why? Because I value that gritty, honest, this-is-who-I-am truth and openness with my friends.

But it is a choice. An adventure. A daring step into the open, giving power over to someone who may not have your best interests at heart.

Rumpelstiltskins of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your Name!

And if that's not an exhilarating thought, I don't know what is.


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