14 July 2008

Liberte, Egalite, Sororite: Comment m'apelle?

Ten days ago I celebrated my 50th birthday. And people celebrated the birthday of this country.

Today the French have their fete nationale. Many people see it as the "birth" of France, or at least France as they know it, or think they know it.

So what was else was born on the 14th? Let's see: my freedom (at least for a time), my wellness (at least relative to what I was before) and my current identity.

You see, on the 14th of July, I was discharged from the Army reserves (honorably), lived my first day as an adult without alcohol or drugs (as I have ever since) and became Justine, at least officially.

Vive la revolution! If I were a French revolutionary in my past life (as a friend and spiritual advisor says I must have been), which one would I be? Maybe I would just be the Marquis de Sade, who supposedly was incarcerated in the Bastille when the revolutionaries stormed and destroyed it.

Before I continue, I want you to know that each of my events of le quatorzieme juillet happened in different years. Now, if I'd gotten discharged, sober and my name changed all in one day, I'm not sure how I'd've coped. Then again, if none of those things had happened, I might not be here now.

And so what did I do today? I made another chage. Of course! What else could I do on the fourteenth? But, just so you know, I didn't choose the forteenth for the other three events that occured on this date. However, what I did today, I did on this date mainly for expediency. Imagine that: Liberte. Egalite. Expedience. At least, I think that's how it's said in French--with an accent grave on the final "e".

So, what monumental change did I make at my convenience? (Sorry, Gil Scott-Heron!) Well, I went to the court to file for another name change.

Since the 14th of July in 2003, I have been Justine Valinotti, a.k.a. Justine Nicholas. For professional purposes, I've been going by "Justine Nicholas." I thought I wouldn't have to spend so much time telling people how to spell my name. Well, I can't begin to tell you how many times I've had things addressed to "Nichols." Or someone thinks "Nicholas" is my first name and, well, I don't have to tell you about some of the spam that reaches my mailbox!

Today I filed to make myself Justine Nicholas Valinotti, and no one else. I feel ready for that; I feel as if I no longer need "Justine Nicholas" to build a new creative and professional identity. My new life is still in its early stages, but I think I've developed as Justine to the point that I can reintegrate my experience with my future. I can move forward now with the resources my life as Nick Valinotti gave me. I promised myself long ago that I would not abandon him, any more than I would abandon my parents or my cats. Even though I never wanted to be him, I cannot deny that living his life has, at least in some ways, allowed me to live the one I've been living for the past five years.

It's as if I had to live his life in order to learn how to live my own. And now I feel ready to honor his while taking flight on my own.

So, I went down to the Civil Court in lower Manhattan, as I had done five years before. And the clerk to whom I presented my papers was as friendly as the one I encountered five years ago. Yes, I had to wait on line, and the place isn't the most cheerful (a typical concrete-block government space). But for some reason, the people with whom I've dealt were pleasant and helpful, at least to me.

I still haven't quite figured out why, for the most part, people in "official" situations are more helpful and friendly than I remember them being when I was still living as Nick. I guess it has something to do with my own happiness: More than one person has told me that other people respond to that. I mean, people were even nice to me at the dreaded DMV when I went there early in my current life. Of course, there are still assholes; there always will be. And there was the time I was harassed by two "cops" whom I think were bogus. But on the whole, most of my dealings with people are happy and satisfying.

It may just be that blondes have more fun! ;-)

After taking care of business, I wanted to see the "Waterfalls" installations along the East River. (I very stupidly forgot to bring my camera with me!) So, after meandering a bit into Chinatown, I looped back around to the area near the courthouse, and found myself at One Police Plaza. I walked up to an officer at the information desk and asked whether he knew the best place to go for a view. He directed me to the South Street Seaport, a place where I hadn't gone in I-don't-know-how-long. At least he had the right idea: the views of the "Falls" were divine from there.

It's actually one of the more beautiful installations I've seen in some time. I still haven't decided whether it's pristinely complex or has complex pristineness. Like so much great art, it seems to be simpler than it actually is. Maybe that's why just about everyone, it seems, enjoys it, and some appreciate it.

When we think of waterfalls, we think of currents cascading down rock escarpments or other features of a natural landscape. However, we don't have that sort of thing in the city, and if we did, it's long gone. So what's our landscape? The bridges, the buildings and such. And, appropriately enough, one of the cataracts I saw streamed from underneath the towers on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. With its weathered brown stones, the bridge can seem almost like an outcropping of rock, were it not for the steel cables. Actually, I think the way the bridge resembles a large rock formation is a sort of inverse analogy to the way a cave full of stalactites reminds people of a cathedral.

Anyway, I plan to see the Falls again--and bring my camera. That will be another legacy of the 14th. That, and blondes having more fun, by whatever name!

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