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How to Change your Identity

Ottawa, September 2019
Ottawa, September 2019

Like millions of people all over the globe, I have multiple identities and I (probably) don’t need to seek professional help.

Just read on and trust me. I know how to switch identities. It’s a standard exercise for travellers, immigrants, people with roots in a country and a life miles away who have two or more passports and speak several languages.

If life is a book, all I need to turn the page and start another chapter is a plane ticket. These endless hours up the air when I’m no longer here but not quite there yet are mandatory mental prep time. The in-flight map claims we are right over various cities, countries, and oceans. I beg to differ. We’re nowhere. It’s relaxing, mind numbing even.

Exactly what I need to clear my mind—being nowhere.

In the days leading up to a departure, it seems unreal that hours from now, I’ll be somewhere else, living a different life, using another language. It’s best to just let it happen because my brain can’t adjust until I’m physically in another location. If I’m sweating, I can’t remember what being cold feels like. If there’s snow on the ground, I can’t picture myself wearing shorts even though it will be hot enough for summer clothes. Not being able to get a fresh, out-of-the-oven baguette daily is unthinkable, even though I know I’ll be just fine with store-bought sliced bread. “Oh, I’m gonna miss this,” my heart says. “No, you won’t,” my mind replies, laughing.

Planning for a change of identity is a complete mindfuck. I try not to.

Minutes before boarding the plane, I can still feel the taste of my favourite local foods, the salty breeze, the humidity or the bitter cold. Why am I leaving, already? This is crazy, this place makes perfect sense to me! I want to stay!

Of course, I never actually turn around and decide to stay. Instead, I step into the airport to initiate the quarantine stage. It’s easy—all airports foster the same supposedly safe, bland and international atmosphere with English-speaking staff in uniform, passengers from around the world and overpriced franchise stores.

Are we there yet? Am I someone else already? It seems like it. My feet take me wherever I have to go, my brain is switching to another language. The place I’ve just left is already a memory, a collection of pictures, stories, and experiences, a treasure I cherish. Only a certain number of details my mind barely registers but my body has to adjust to remind me that I’m no longer where I was—toilet seat is lower, water pressure is stronger, streets are quieter, doors don’t squeak, laundry detergent smells different.

And that’s it. I pick up my other life where I left it. It’s still the same story, with the same characters, just another chapter with maybe a different pace or focus.

And this is how you change your identity. Easy, right?

And you can trust me because I’m an expert and…

Oh, who the fuck am I kidding?

I described my own thought process as accurately as could but I’m not an expert and it’s not that easy.

On good days, my resume claims I’m flexible and adaptable. On bad days, I feel I should add a footnote—“body here, mind wandering.”

Wires often get tangled, as an experiment gone wrong. I should know everything about France but I’m remarkably ignorant on new trends and practical adulthood matters because I left at 18. Two weeks ago, when I came back to Canada, the first language I spoke was Mandarin and the first meal I cooked was Chinese food. I can easily pass for a Latina even though I have no ties in South America. I’m a Canadian French speaker with zero Quebec accent but I can use the vocabulary when needed.

I have several identities and they’re all fighting for attention. I want to be in several places at the same time. I wish I could live several parallel lives not to miss anything the world has to offer.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go assume my Canadian identity for a while. At least I’ll try, eh.

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