On the cusp of losing an hour of precious sleep due to some compendium of elected officials assuming they are smarter than the God who invented circadian rhythms and an unholy upwelling of snot from my lungs, I was a bit loopy this morning in the shower.
As I stood contemplating the condition of my razor and whether or not it was worth scraping errant bits of fuzz from my person with what looked like a prime delivery system for lockjaw, I found myself considering that which makes the gender specific me, a specific identifiable gender. Someone somewhere at some point in time determined that females should not sport lush growths of hair in certain places. Keeping it family friendly, this societal bent is causing my demented, aging mother-in-law significant frustration exacerbated by, well, dementia. Not only does she struggle with the concept of which personal hygiene items are hers and what regimen the hygiene product is for, when she does take a whack at scraping the lichen off the barn, she only succeeds in removing several layers of skin whilst the walrus whiskers on her chin remain stubbornly fixed. My exhortation of “Mom, no one is going to feel the stubble on your chin,” is of little solace.
Somewhere in her malaise an alarm is sounding, and those whiskers are the flashpoint in her quest for normality. And while in her case, she struggles with any level of cognition, her distress is not entirely foreign.
We humans love to label a thing and then hold the thing to the standards of the label—even if the label is inaccurate, irrelevant, or just plain stupid.
Just like my mother-in-law is innately female, no matter how swarthy her visage, something at her core eats at her, compelling her to acts of what are now self-destructive, because at that core she is insecure in who she is. And we writers, and creative types are prone to this behavior as well.
In our competitive, hyper-focused world of me me now now me me now identity isn’t just who you are, what you believe and what you do, there’s that viscous goo glommed on everything …. How successful are you at what you do?
The convo goes a little like this: “So what do you do?” “I’m a writer.” “Oh really? I wrote a novel. I should give it to you to read. Are you published?” “Yes but I’ve only sold a few books.” “So what do you do?”
Like we walk up to surgeons and say “What do you do?” “Oh I’m a surgeon.” “Really? I cut up a frog once. I should bring it in…” NO.
For all the bazillion of us who are creative, who identify ourselves as writer, artist, musician, dancer—just because we also hold down a soul-gutting day job and in our itty bitty hearts know we may never win a grammy or an emmy or any other meme, we are still who we are. It is society that has determined that in order to say you ARE something you have to put a dollar-per-hour tag on it.
You know this to be true even as that stomach acid inducing “So when are you gonna go get a real job” sentence rings in the ears of those of you who have actually stepped out in your chosen passion, and are on food stamps or living in your parents basement because of it.
Let me tell you something. I have a day job. And a family. And a mortgage and all those identifiers that deem me “normal” and inside, curled fetal, is a banshee.
Today, after a week of phlegm and obligations, the banshee is silent. But she won’t stay that way. She is my penance for attempting to conform. The only “day job” that will ever satisfy my inner screaming she-beast would be “novelist” or “editor” or “poet laureate of the known realm.” Accountant? That is a necessary evil in my life. Writer is who I am.
So here is my horrific warning. Don’t be me.
Don’t sell out. Don’t conform. And above all, don’t develop the myopia that tells you you are not successful if you’re not making money at the thing you love to do more than you love breathing. If you allow the world at large to define you, you may find yourself bitter, old, and crusty. Which is cool I suppose if you are a crouton. But if you are a creator of images and words and worlds, crusty won’t suffice.
I didn’t use that razor this morning, and guess what. No one questioned my girliness. My identity as a writer though? For now, it’s not common knowledge, even among those who think they know me. Don’t be me dear artist.
To thine own self….you know the rest.
Tammy Boehm, Associate Editor