From the January, 2007, MC2, Publication of Mensa Canada, on the theme “Who Are You?”

Once at a party I was bantering in a small group. These were largely professors, and I felt really in my element, witty and comfortable that they understood and appreciated my humour. Then someone asked, “Who are you?” I answered, “Here I Am.”

What I meant was, I am this person who is enjoying bantering so well with you. But the response was embarrassment: Was I being funny? Was I mocking them? Why wouldn’t I give my name?

Who am I? Beyond all the peripheral characteristics such as name, sex, age, background, family situation, occupation, and economic and social status, I consider myself an intellectual without content.

Intellectual: I know what I mean by that, and Webster’s dictionary concurs, with “given to study, reflection, and speculation; engaged activity requiring the creative use of the intellect.” My field of study was literature, the intention not being to teach it but to develop my mind and emotions, to learn about life and ways to think about life, and to enjoy the sounds and meaning of language.

Without content: I’ve never had a specific field of intellectual work. Rather, I direct my intellect toward the minutiae of daily life. This is the material of the fiction and poetry I write. For example, I wouldn’t write about war, with real historical background or imagined battles as in science fiction. If I were to write about human conflict there would likely be only two characters, allegorical and without names, or they’d be animals as in Aesop’s fables. My characters would struggle over a pencil sharpener or some other mundane object at hand.

Not everyone appreciates this mindset. I relate best to most of the world through practical things, which I also enjoy and am good at, for example, knitting, sewing, making things in general. My chosen occupation has been teaching English as a Second Language to recent immigrants: satisfyingly practical, rewarding to me, useful to the students, and not without opportunities for playfulness.

In rereading the list of what I called peripheral characteristics, I would make a change. I feel that my sexual identity is not peripheral but fundamental. Being a woman has been a significant and enjoyable part of who I am, and I am struck by how deep and far back that identity goes. When I was about three, my mother and aunts were discussing an upcoming family wedding. Someone suggested I could be the flower girl, and I was thrilled, picturing a ruffled dress and flowers. Someone else asked, “Why not the ring bearer?” A third person said, “Ring bearers are boys,” and I was outraged that anyone would consider this role for me. (What I actually heard was “ring bear,” and I suspect my lifelong dislike of bears stems from this incident.)

And one more change to the peripherals. Age, at least in general terms, is also important to who I am. I like the wisdom it keeps bringing.