Tuesday, March 13, 2012
So Much to Naming...
Every so often while I am weaving through school rooms, I mispronounce a student's name or I call them by someone else's name accidentally. The responses are varied and I am always both embarrassed for the mistake and apologetic. I do ask the student to accept my apology; I do what I can to cement their identity, face/name/smile, into my memory for days ahead. I also ask all of the students to be patient with me because it is a lot to learn everyone's names and remember them. Ironically, I often remember those students who are frequently challenging first. I suppose that is natural. In essence, were they not finding ways of gaining attention, although gaining attention is a far bend from seeking recognition. Like all things, there are two sides to the coin.
A name is all we have to bring the world to us.
I have had some experiences in the past year about identity that are only now revealing the lessons I have been inviting. The first was of computer-generated identity theft. The last time I was aware of identity theft was in the 90s when I was getting billed $9.99 once a month for what turned out to be an online porn site. The greater insult was that it was called something like hotoldladies.com. This was approximately the same time when the AARP invitations first started arriving. I was not amused.
This summer, I purchased software for a contract job after a search brought me to a really cheap download of the program I needed. This became my lesson in "if it seems to good to be true, it is." So small charges started hitting my account and I reported it to the bank, after some research on my behalf by friends who do a lot of web marketing and commerce. It took a few weeks but the bank found in my favor. This same issue cropped up again a few weeks ago so I had to change my card again. Annoying. There is no choice but to deal with it. I can't let people take advantage of my name.
My name is precious to me for both reasons of lineage and choice. I carry my mother's family in my given and middle names; my great-grandfather George Anderson, to be exact, my mother's maternal grandfather. I claim her maiden name on her father's side in my heart: McConnell, Asheville family.
I have rejected my birth surname for many reasons but I do feel a renewed connection to that part of me as well. The Sechrengost/Custer family line has become important to me and I have found a cousin after many years. We hope to never lose each other again.
Some people only know me as Georgia Sechrengost. Some know me only as Georgia Popoff. There are some who know me through both monikers. They have seen what a difference a name can make.
To my family, I am often affectionately George. I became Georgia Popoff to finally carry the name of my father of nuture. He had cancer and there was no time to question. I was adopted as an adult and I will carry his name for the remainder of this life. There is a fierce history in the Popoff line, determination and resilience. The same with the Zeitlins, who were my Grandma Anna Popoff's people.
Professionally, I added my middle initial to keep a connection to my mother's blood. It was a very deliberate act to claim Georgia A. Popoff. It was synonymous with Poet. It has a nice ring. It creates balance. I am a Libra.
There are a number of communities in which I am recognized for my work. But I must confess that there are times in which I feel invisible, or that I am working in a vacuum. I am not sure why it feels this way but sometimes the automatic faucets and toilets don't see me either. At times I feel like a stealth bomber moving about, just under the blips.
This was my frame of mind at the recent AWP conference most often. There are many reasons for this. I will speak to that another time. For now, just hear me when I say I can slip through without recognition quite easily if I so choose. But there are times when one may not want to be invisible. Times when a person may want her name to be spoken with admiration and face connected to that regard as well.
I have experienced two fascinating and difficult circumstances regarding my name this winter. The first was in relation to vying for an award during which, for reasons that follow a certain logic, my name was not included on the nomination. This was not to anyone's blame. It was a simple miscommunication. The true challenge was to navigate the error. In spite of numerous notifications to the organization by a myriad of individuals, and via many differing forms of communication, the error was not rectified, other than in one print form. This was a tender failing. I was invisible. I felt erased. Not relevant enough to someone (or ones) to warrant naming. I was shouting into a cavern and there was no echo. It was a lonely and frustrating circumstance. It significantly diminished my joy for the nomination. Fortunately, my own community bolstered me throughout and called my name with respect and enthusiasm. I am so very grateful. I now move forward. It was what it was.
Just a couple of weeks after that turn of events, I eagerly awaited the inaugural issue of a new arts journal in which I was premiering two of my favorite cycles of poems, work that I have been absorbed in for nearly 5 years. At last, the debut of the effort and I could not wait to see them on the page, perfect bound, snuggled in with all the other writers and artists.
I glanced quickly through the two columns on the back cover; I was listed but I didn't linger there. I flipped to the table of contents, found my page number, and fanned my way to my poems. They looked crisp in print. My eye scanned up and the poems were attributed to George Popoff. I nearly swallowed my tongue. I looked again. It was not my tired eyes. I double checked all the other places where my name appeared: cover, TOC, contributors' pages, and, in each instance, I was Georgia Popoff. At least I retained my gender, but my name as I prefer to have it cited was not correct anywhere. I was crestfallen. I could have handled the loss of the middle initial consistently throughout the journal but the error on the poems themselves was too difficult to process.
When I spoke with the editor, of course he was distressed and profoundly apologetic. Mistakes happen. Particularly when up against a print deadline. But I also had to navigate the emotion I felt. My name is just not that difficult. A state, the first letter of the alphabet, and a simple compound word. There are many others, even in this particular journal, whose names go through all sorts of contortions of spelling and punctuation. Why was mine a mess?
I once inadvertently dropped a middle/maiden name of one poet whose work was being published by the Comstock Writers Group. The writer was distressed and I apologized and wrote a correction. That was what I could offer for the slight. The glitch with this journal will be rectified. But the first moment of seeing my words in print lost its joy. A sadly familiar feeling.
I wear this name with tremendous pride. I hope I do my father and our family an honor, that I bring honor to all through my work and my intention. That is all I can really muster. As my dear friend Sue Stonecash reminds me consistently, "Just keep doing the good work, Georgia. That is what truly matters."
She is right. But I am also an endangered species. I am the end of the play of genetics created by my biological parents. They had no other children together. Subsequently, I am childless. When I am no longer breathing, my strand of DNA is extinct. I have two things to leave behind. My work and the name attached to it.