Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Being What You Are

What are you? Are you more prone to identify yourself by some familial relationship (mother, father, brother, sister, aunt), or are you more likely to identify yourself by your profession (teacher, chef, truck driver, manager)? Are you the thing you practice (writer, musician, quilter), or the thing you have nearly perfected (scrap booker, reader, gardener)? Are you all of these things?

Well, of course, you are. That's probably the easiest set of related questions you might ponder today. We all identify ourselves in multiple ways. One of the earliest activities I do with my kiddos is to have them self-identify. They can find it hard, at first, to discover the words to describe themselves. Many use simple adjectives, but, more often, they use labels that correspond to sports, hobbies, and familial connections. It can sometimes be very telling how a person chooses to describe him/her self.

I had an opportunity to describe myself, this weekend. Meeting new people is always a chance to refine how you identify yourself, isn't it? (Or as James would say, "Init?") So, in meeting new people, the chance to define myself as a "musician" and a "writer" came up. In both instances, I was hesitant to do so. My first tag for myself is definitely, "teacher." It is no surprise that I define myself primarily through my work. It is either nature or nurture, but I get that from goes way back. Following that would be "husband." Third might be "dog owner," since that is a pretty big part of my life right now. Maybe I throw in "baseball fan," or "coffee drinker," or "closet Libertarian," at this point, but "writer" and "musician" come way down the list, if they make it at all.

My reticence to self-identify as a writer led to a discussion of what defines a writer. After all, here I am, right now, writing. Thus, I am a writer, right? Well, yes. What is a writer? A person who writes. Do I write? Yes. So, what's the problem? Right.

Same for musician (but, if I had to only choose a label between "writer" and "musician," I am going "writer" every time...I at least feel like a competent writer...I am not a very competent musician). I play music, therefore I am a musician.

But, is there some other aspect of it that causes me this pause when I have to claim a membership in the writer's club? I suppose it is a need to have some one else lend legitimacy to what I am doing. Here I sit at a desk full of folders of my own products. But very few of those creations have been seen by anyone. A few poems sent out (years ago), some even published. A play that was given a public reading. But, most of it is here with me, and, most likely, here it will stay. Writing isn't my means of making a living, and, as I mentioned earlier, that is the primary way that I identify myself. Until I am regularly (or sufficiently) paid to write, I will not be a writer. The more I think about it, the less I like how that sounds.

In a review of Daniel Johnston's newest release, Douglas Wolk said, "There is no valid excuse for not making your art in a world where Daniel Johnston managed to do what he did." I am really taking that to heart. Surely, however, it begs the question of whether art without an audience is art, at all. Which, in a way, is the same thing as the tree falling in the forest. And, again, presupposes that others legitimize you. And I want to get away from that. So, for the sake of my own argument (and personal growth, perhaps), I am going to say that art without an audience, while denying the world an experience, is still art. David is still David when the lights go out at the Academy.

So, yes, I am a writer. I mean, in a way, this whole self-doubt thing is silly, considering that I spend 190 days a year telling kids who hate to write that they ARE writers. And I believe it, but, I wonder if I might be saying the word in a different way. Yes, they are writers, but David Mitchell, he's a WRITER. I don't know. But, if I am, I am doing them a disservice. Because Johnny Grumplepants in the third row and John Irving both do it the same way. One might be better at it. One might be more experienced. But, the act of writing is the act of writing, and when I write, I am a writer, dammit.

1 comment:

Melissa Dowler said...

Thought-provoking blog! Imagine if every artist waited until they had audience validation to proclaim themselves as such. We might have had much less great art in the world! On that basis, I like to attribute any lack of audience to "true genius never being recognized in its time".
In all seriousness, I'm impressed that you and Meghan are embracing your more creative sides outside of your professions. I experienced that this year and it's been life-changing. I never would have met you both without working up the nerve to decide I could be something other than my job title.