• [Cognomen Command]

    “To name oneself is the first act of both the poet and the revolutionary. When we take away the right to an individual name, we symbolically take away the right to be an individual.”

    – Erica Jong from How To Save Your Own Life, epigraph to “My posthumous life …” (1977).

    “Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds.”

    – George Santayana (1863–1952), U.S. philosopher, poet. Dominations and Powers, bk. 1, pt. 1, ch. 1 (1951).

    Like most people, I had very little choice about my first name. On the day I made my grand “eingang” into the world, my parents burdened and blessed me with my first identity: Michelle A. Hoyle. Michelle—pronounced by them as mih-shell—Annette Hoyle. That is who I am. That is who I will be. That is who I was. Or is it? In my family, it was not a name that inspired—or I was not a person to inspire—nicknames. The closest thing to a nickname ever used among my relatives for me was Shell and that infrequently. Life continued this way until I was fourteen. Christmas of that year marked a turning point in my life. That is when everything hit the fan. That is when I discovered myself. That is when I became me. All these things hinged upon a single Christmas gift, possibly the best present I ever received from my parents: a 300 baud modem for my computer.

    How did a humble piece of technology, no bigger than a paperback book, come to revolutionize my life so much? Communication equals empowerment. A modem opened the way for me to communicate with people who couldn’t see me, but had to accept me based on what I said and how I said it. It didn’t matter that I was fourteen. It didn’t matter that my parents were trolls from an uranium mine shaft. It didn’t matter that I didn’t fit into my local social milieu in any way, shape or form. Edmonton had a very active discussion-based electronic bulletin board community. Although I didn’t belong to any of the cliques there (of which there were three major ones), I had a passport that enabled me to travel seamlessly between groups. They never directly invited me to events, but I was always welcomed. I had found a much better, more accepting home than my parents had ever provided me with. This was heady stuff. I made friends, close friends, during this time. Most of the closest I’m still in contact with and still doing things with almost twenty years later. Without the affirmation and acceptance I found in this community, I probably would have just given into despair over the course of my life, most of which I felt powerless to control.

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