Who am I, really? I can’t help but ponder this whenever I apply for a new form of identification. While at the Department of Motor Vehicles I observed a room full of strangers—if there’s a melting pot in the United States, it’s the DMV. Outside those cloistered in the major cities, you must drive to survive in this country (or at least to thrive) and the ritual of waiting your turn by number at the DMV is part of it. I glanced at my application while waiting. I’ve held drivers’ licenses in at least four states, but I’ve lived in at least six—how do you count where you live, really? I think I must’ve had an Illinois license at some point, but I could find no record of it. Who am I? Are the Illinois years lost? Big brother will find out, no doubt.
To apply for a license in Pennsylvania, as in most states, you have to prove you are who you say you are. Swapping in your old license just doesn’t work any more. While the actual “who” depends on government-issue documents (social security, birth certificates, or passports) the where question is more financial. To prove your residence you must present bills with your name and current address. You’re defined by your money. Bills demonstrate that you’re integrated into the system, the matrix. I spent one day, as a temp with Manpower, working for Detroit Electric (no, I didn’t have a Michigan license; I kept the Massachusetts one), processing requests for new service. Despite not being asked back because they had expected a woman (really!), I learned that to get service you had to prove you were part of this matrix, with a history of paying your bills.
None of these agencies ask the deeper, more philosophical questions of identity. None seem to care that each day is a struggle to define our spiritual selves in a world hopelessly secular and financial. Yes, my birth certificate “proves” I was born in Pennsylvania. The DMV records “prove” I learned to drive here and had my first license in this state. They show nothing of the real question of who I am. A reasonable facsimile of my visage appears on the plastic card that certifies my citizenship within these artificial borders. But now my home state stamps “Temporary” on the card so that a security check can be run. They want to discover if I am who my records say I am. What the powers that be don’t seem to recognize is that although where we are born influences us every day for the rest of our lives, no little plastic card, despite the amount of information it conveys, can say who it is I really am. “Temporary” may be the truest word on it.