A friend and I recently got into a discussion of what it means to have an "alter ego." (In Latin, the "other self," or "doppelgänger" from the German.) As I understand it, they all pretty much describe the same thing: a person who is identical, and yet distinctly different, from ourselves.
It must be a popular subject, judging by the volume of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, that has been written about it. Even comic book characters get into the act. Clark Kent steps into a telephone booth and comes out as Superman. Popeye, on the other hand, never loses his true identity. Remember his theme song? I am what I am and that's all that I am. I'm Popeye the Sailor man!
"Alter ego" goes by a lot of other names, too, some familiar and some not so much: split personality, impersonator, avatar, dissociative identity disorder, to name a few.
Without getting into a debate over the term "split personality," and whether good and evil can exist in the same person—as in Robert Louis Stevenson's chilling Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—nor a discussion of dissociative identity disorder (I'd be in way over my head there!), I think I can safely say that I have an alter ego.
Who is this person? Superman to my "mild-mannered" Clark Kent? Batman to my Bruce Wayne? Wonder Woman to my Diana Prince would be more like it, for this girl is the heroine of my new mystery series who, like Aphrodite, seems to have "sprung full grown from the sea." Or, to put it less poetically: from my imagination. Have I created a monster?
Oddly enough, she and I are much alike in our values. For example, she is honest, compassionate, loyal, truthful (except where it would be kinder to lie), and although she rejects the term "do-gooder," she can't help getting involved in other people's problems, even at her own peril. (I've been there and done that!)
But there our similarities end. My protagonist is a spunky, young and beautiful "girl gumshoe," the head of her own detective agency. And she carries a gun—a little American Derringer that "fits nicely into a lady's purse." She gets herself into some really harrowing situations and even tangles with the Russian KGB, the Irish Mafia, and the infamous British and American spy agencies, MI5 and the CIA.
She is twenty-four years old in the first book of the series. I am a "woman of a certain age." She is a tigress, I am a pussycat. Compared to her, I am afraid of my own shadow. And carry a gun? I am terrified of guns and weapons of any kind. In the latest book she is facing down a madman with a seven-inch switchblade knife in his hand. Just the thought makes me shudder.
Where do I get this stuff? Is my alter ego looking over my shoulder as I type, telling me what kind of dire straits my "girl gumshoe" will get into for her next caper? Or is it simply that I wish I could be that kind of person instead of the cringing butterfly that I am, and by writing about her, somehow become her? Well, who wouldn't like to be "young and beautiful" and 24 years old again?
Does everyone in the world have an alter ego, I wonder, or just a lucky few, like me.