Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Avatars and Doppelgangers

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In the re-purposed part of the train station in Indianapolis, which has become a hotel, an artist captured traces of people left behind in a series of sculptures based on real people recalled from their letters and post cards, such as the sailor above.

Old boxes in a new house reveal some oddly appropriate things like tall black stools from the US that fit perfectly under the breakfast nook in the new kitchen or my great grandmother's walnut shelves that are just right in a corner of the sun room. Mostly, however, the boxes display shadows or single data points in a life somewhere-when ago. Avatars. Previous selves.

I have this idea that we leave behind us traces of where we have been. And these cancelled checks such as the one from 1998 made out to Ordinance Violations Bureau --no doubt a parking ticket--are clues to those traces. If I tried hard enough I could find the parking meter and there would be some hint of my previous self hurrying to the meter only to see at a distance the telltale envelope tucked beneath the windshield wipers.

Other checks remind me of my earnest, career-focused self: a check to the Society for Technical Communication, a receipt for workshops at Sigdoc 98 in Quebec when I was a member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

A November rent check for $525 reminds me of my bargain apartment downtown. As the crime from the centre of town moved further north, I watched a drug dealer in action from my 6th floor window and knew it was time to move. The operation was complex. No one person had both drugs and money at the same time and young men on bicycles were used to carry either the drugs or the money. They were expendable. If they survived, they could aspire to becoming the man in the dark glasses in the Cadillac SUV. They lived in a neighbourhood only a few blocks away from my bargain apartment where survival was iffy enough that the chance of making it big looked better and more certain than a job at McDonalds.

I recall now that this was also the apartment where one of those opportunistic young men tried to rip my bicycle right out of my hands as I prepared to set out for a Sunday bike ride. The casual way with which he approached me with his hand out and acted as if I knew him in order to get my hand off my bike or the way in which I appraised whether or not he had any weapons are parts of a previous self that I would not like to find again.

Among the boxes, however, like hope from Pandora's box, is one of the first checks to Galilee Baptist Church. If I were to tell that self that I would still be affiliated with that church long after my "research" was done and that the pastor whose sermons I was studying would become a trusted advisor and friend who would marry me to a Scotsman and usher me into a whole new world, I would not believe it. "Oh, no," that self would smile, "I am only here to do my thesis."

Doppelgangers are second selves--meeting one's doppelganger is like a collision of matter and anti-matter, disastrous. Afficionados of old American TV programs may recall episodes on Twilight Zone where a person is taken over by their doppelganger. In a 30-minute program they don't have to bother with the physics or psychology of it, so I was left puzzling over such questions as how or why a clone of oneself would be created and by whom (or what) and why it would want to take over your life. Perhaps I wanted answers to those questions because I have such a strong sense of the traces of our selves we leave behind. So both for tidiness and to ensure that these clues to any traces of my old self are erased, these bits of checks and receipts have been shredded.


At 2:35 AM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

I loved the paragraph about the pastor. Since I am close to the final leg of my Big Road Trip South To See Friends and Relatives and have learned what it's like to travel and stay with other people and hear about their lives and experiences and values and surroundings, I feel there are more discoveries to come. When I set out, I thought, "I'm only going to see people I've wanted to go see." But somehow I have the sense that my trip will mean more in the end.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger John D. Stanton said...

Starting off with this being the 6th or 7th time I’ve bumped into the term “Doppelganger” in the past few days… you’ve sent a lot of memories pinballing off of each other. The story I sent to Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine about 20 years ago – which took place at Union Station, Indianapolis; scheduled for the issue-after the last one ever printed, it made my list of quasi-acceptances. Or quasi-failures; same list. Then, there’s the fellow with the same last name as mine – his father received my father’s promotion one year, due to a clerical error. The son found it entertaining to give my name whenever he was arrested or stopped by police, adding bizarre twists to my reputation that haunted me for decades.

Then, there is the fellow with rich, detailed memories of me from his German class – except that I never took German. And the guy who insisted I was his pal from “Thoroughbreds” – not the least deterred by the facts that I had never met him before, that I don’t drink at all and I had never once set foot inside that establishment.

So, you have the bits and pieces of past selves shed – good advice of yours, both practically and philosophically, to shred the outdated paper trail. Then, the warped memory and the twisted agenda can account for a few more duplicate selves.

Those accounted for, the shadows that remain are the stuff of Serling and quantum physics.

“Mirror Image” first aired 2/26/60 and starred Vera Miles.

At 3:50 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh Ms Piggy--that's a good trip that means more at the end than at the beginning. I think we need a few wine-glass or walk-talk conversations over this trip.

At 3:52 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hee hee, John, I am glad to hear that someone else likes doppelganger but your own doppelganger experiences are a bit spooky. Speaking of spooky, you don't say but do you find those statues in Union Station a bit disconcerting?
Thanks for Twilight Zone reference. I am never quite sure about my recall of things.

At 5:53 AM, Blogger Amy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:53 PM, Blogger John D. Stanton said...

Hi landgirl,

I didn't find the statues to be so much disconcerting as poignant. They are an invitation to let down your guard for a moment and just imagine-to feel layer upon layer the intersecting timelines of so many people's lives, the significant moments that passed through that station. The newlyweds, the children, old folks visiting for Christmas, Doughboys and GIs leaving for war and then returning home, changed forever. Even before this Station was built in the 1880s, those lines were still the Nexus of the city; Lincoln's body returning to Springfield, stopping over in Indianapolis for visiting mourners. I see my own father, as a rookie cop; winter; his heavy uniform coat, the style of cap police officers used to wear, the bulky lines of 1950s vehicles-all the lives and dreams of people reaching out from that center-all the lives intersecting here. There is no better place in the city to tap those timelines for a moment, than Union Station. Yes, I suppose the statues are a bit eerie, but I can't think of a more intriguing setting to gestate a storyline, or to slipstream consciousness and experience a moment or two of history in downtown Indianapolis.


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