Come on, haven’t you felt like this before?
(The title is, of course, a quote from Voices by Alice In Chains. As some of the best rock lyricists ever, AIC is always a quotable band–and great for inspiration. “Who am I? Is this me? Am I one or thirteen?”)
The song, about a sort of identity crisis, begs a simple question that really isn’t so simple at all. Who are you, when it comes down to it?
Myself? Piece of cake (sort of): Writer. Dad. Husband. Cook. Coach. Driver. Educator. Editor (for income, or colleagues, or paid work). Errand runner. Soccer player. Website designer (aspiring). SEO marketer (also aspiring). UX/UI man (okay, maybe a stretch until I get more years’ experience under my belt). Book marketer (my own, others’ when possible). Dreamer. Wishful thinker (kind of painful, put that way). Trip organizer. House captain (admittedly poor at it sometimes). Projects person (a role which needs to become more prominent, based on my scatterbrained thinking). Reader. Listener. Viewer. Complainer (yup, that too). Progressive activist (at least, in my mind and to my friends). The list goes on and on. In fact, it has no practical end.
I’m a runner, for example, but I don’t list that as an identity (though I used to do it frequently and have one marathon and several half-marathons under my belt). Maybe I didn’t list “runner” above because it’s not something I prefer to be and do (unless it’s on a soccer field).
Add in “hiker” though. I don’t do much now, because of the kids, but will do more as they get older. At some future point, we’ll haul our tired and sweaty selves (with other kids and parents) to the top of Mt. Dickerman, take in the panorama, and I can say, “I told you so.” I know what beauty is. Climbing 3,800 feet for that view will quality as a beautiful thing.
Okay, I got off track. Who am I foremost? When I clamber out of bed (typically, still dark, only the cat awake) what is my first non-coffee thought? I get up to write. It’s my thing, it’s a worthwhile pursuit. There’s no money in it, so far. My conservative estimate puts my balance a few thousand bucks in the red (if you count all the paper, ink, coffee, dedicated hours drafting and editing and researching, plus a few writing weekends away). It could be downright depressing. But people tell me they love the stories. To keep going. Author Terry Persun encouraged me to keep producing–that being prolific counts for something. (I can only hope this applies to me in more than the “moral victory” sense.) So I do. More work on its way, trumpets and drums being readied. And if the book doesn’t meet hopes (readers, reviews, revenue) will I still be foolish enough to think of myself as a writer?
Yes. I have to. It’s what I do. Is that foolish?
So what about the painter who spends hours and hours trying to get a watercolor tree correct? Or the cartoonist who can’t perfect her chubby cat’s expression? Or the drummer who, with all of his skill and paid studio work, may not feel right about calling himself a musician when he hits that ‘snooze’ button? He should, though. He is what he is, despite all the other hats he wears (which don’t pay a dime, as if revenue is the only worthy motive in the world).
My point is, we all wear a lot of hats. Sometimes the hat or label or face doesn’t fit, and we make the call to take it off, to quit. But we each have to decide for ourselves (and not let anyone else decide for us) which hats fit the best. You are what you are. Perhaps William Ernest Henley said it best in Invictus. “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”
Tomorrow, like yourself, I will get up in the morning and, regardless of today’s successes or shortcomings, I will have to decide who I want to be–or who I am. And I’ll wear those thirteen or thirty-one hats because they are my job. And, with a grumble or a cringe or a eureka moment, I’ll know which hat fits best.
What about you?