Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Who/what am I, anyway?

Well, I finally got around to updating my sidebar to include links to some of the lovely and talented bloggers I've been reading lately. Now I'm fighting that nagging feeling that there's someone I've missed...well, if so I can add it later. Next I need to alphabetize them, and then there's always the "About" section to be improved. One thing at a time.

I've been thinking about self-identity. How do you identify yourself? Does what you "are" have any direct correlation to what you "do"? It doesn't, for me, currently. I consider myself a singer and an actress. That's what I've studied and trained for--but it's never been my primary source of income. The reasons for that are varied--it can be a hard way to eke out a living, if you don't want to teach (which I don't), and don't want to live with half a dozen other people in a shoebox of an apartment (which I don't), and aren't particularly lucky when it comes to being in the right place at the right time with the right look, etc. (which I've never been). It makes it a little complicated to answer the standard opening conversational gambit "What do you do?" I usually end up stammering out something about how I'm an singer/actress but to pay the bills I (insert day job here). It's not a very satisfactory answer, but it serves, I suppose. I'm finding myself sort of...irritated lately when people hear me sing or see me onstage and ask why I'm not doing that professionally. Maybe it's not so much irritation as frustration. Why AREN'T I doing what I love for a living? Of course, I know all my reasons and they're valid (umm...because I like to eat?), but still it's frustrating, you know? When I was young enough to have the energy to pursue that sort of dream, I really didn't think I had the talent. And in retrospect, I think I was right. I didn't. Now I know I do have the talent, but I for damn sure don't have the energy. Catch-22. Maybe the answer for young wannabes is to blind them with your youth and energy (no I did NOT say vagina, Miss Lohan!) until your talents have a chance to mature. At any rate, I've made a sort of compromise with myself. I no longer take jobs that will get in the way of doing what I love. I won't work nights or weekends. I want to be free to do a play or take a singing gig without worrying about losing my rent money. And maybe eventually I'll stop getting those little twinges in my heart when well-meaning people say "You're as good as anyone I've ever heard," or "Why aren't you doing this for a living?" 'Cause truthfully, I hope I NEVER stop hearing those things. They gratify me as much as they frustrate me.

I know I'm not alone in struggling with these feelings. My brother has for years played trumpet in one of the military bands. It's really the only job he's had as an adult. He's planning to take retirement next year and he's freaking out a little bit. Good orchestral jobs are increasingly hard to come by, and he's never done anything else. "What the hell am I gonna do now?" he asks. I'll tell you what you're gonna do, big brother. You're gonna keep playing the trumpet, 'cause that's who you ARE, and you're gonna do whatever else you need to do to keep a roof over your head and food on your table and kibble in your dog bowls! And you (hopefully) are going to be damned thankful you were able to do what you loved for so long without having to ask those questions, and thankful for your military pension, 'cause that's SOOO going to help! (And no, I don't really get to be jealous about that, because years ago when he suggested I try out for one of the military bands as a vocalist I laughed long and hard, because me in the military? So not going to happen.)

Okay, this has been long and rambling and no doubt boring as hell, but I really am curious. How do YOU identify yourselves? Many of you are such wonderful writers and photographers, etc., but don't necessarily make your living that way. Do you think of yourselves as writers, at your core? At the most basic level, how do you finish the sentence "I am a _______"? Certainly I do know a few people who can finish that sentence with their actual occupation. "I am a veterinarian." "I am a doctor." "I am an engineer." But I also seem to know an awful lot of people like me. Musicians, writers, actors, artists at their core, doing whatever it takes to get by. Maybe we should just all stop asking each other "So, what do you do?" and start asking "What do you love to do?" or "What are you compelled to do?" I can't help but think the answers would be more interesting.

13 comments:

guinness girl said...

I almost always answer, "I'm a disgruntled attorney." It's a total conversation killer. I once told a guy in a bar I was a poet, specializing in haiku, though. Heh.

-R- said...

I hate asking people what they do for a living because it's not like work defines a person, necessarily. But I do ask it because it is an easy way to start a conversation. When asked that question, I say that I'm a lawyer because I am and saying, "I'm a library patron" or something else just sounds kind of weird. I don't have some secondary passion, although I kind of wish I did. It is really cool that you have grown confident in your singing abilities and are able to perform a lot without it being your full-time thing.

Stinkypaw said...

That's a tough one in today's society where a lot of people are define by their job. When asked I say I'm a self-employed contractor doing bookkeeping, which is one of the thing I do!

stefanie said...

Identifying myself by what I do is the easy way to answer that question: "I am a technical writer and editor," I can say. But does that actually define me or what I'm about? I don't think so. If I had to come up with that sort of "real" answer, I'd have no idea what to say.

Incidentally, lately, when people ask me what I do (meaning what's my job), I've taken to answering, "I write things that no one reads." It usually gets a little bit of a laugh, and then when they ask me to elaborate, the glazed eyeball look doesn't come quite so soon.

Also, GG--you are totally a haiku poet! And a Match.com profile writer as well! And R--I love your "I'm a library patron" answer. I should use that, except people would probably then think that I'm homeless. I'd have some explaining to do.

Jasclo said...

GG, HA! Love it. Haiku.

Lizwig, my husband is going through a similar thing right now. He's an artist. But he has a regular job too. And the regular job gets in the way of his art.

As for me, I don't know. If someone asks me what I do, I tell them. Sometimes in fear of getting that "damned liberal media" speech, but whatever. My job isn't my whole life. And I think for people whose jobs are their whole lives, that's kind of sad.

So do what you have to do to pay the bills and live your passion any way you can because you never know where opportunity might arise.

gorillabuns said...

i can totally identify with this post. i'm an artist that doesn't have the time or energy to create. i studied art in college but after graduation i had a bunch of crap-assed jobs, basically ending up a pharmaceutical rep to make the cash. now, i stay-at-home with the kids while helping my husband with his business.

at times, i have totally felt like a sell-out.

Sparkling Cipher said...

This kind of question is why I can't bring myself to get personalized license plates. Sum myself up in 7 characters? There are so many parts of my life that have equal importance that a few words or a sentence just won't give anybody an accurate picture. So I say, "I'm an accountant," and hope they make the effort to get to know the other parts, too.

lizgwiz said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has these issues!

GG, I think you should always answer "haiku poet"--that's hilarious.

-r-, maybe you could say "lawyer...and library patron" just to watch their faces.

stinkypaw, that's a nice, straightforward answer!

Stefanie, always good to start 'em out laughing!

Jasclo, personally, I love a good damned liberal!

Gorillabuns, I feel you, but you're raising your beautiful children, and there's nothing "sell-out" about that. Right now, they're your "art."

lizgwiz said...

sparkling cipher, I'm sure there's more to most people than is revealed by their "stock" answer. Maybe my real problem is that my deep-seated insecurities make me afraid that no one will take the time to get past "I sell computer supplies"!

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georgeious said...

i'm in the kerfuffled stage of saying "i used to be..." right now, because that's all i know when it comes to one part of my passions. (haven't busted into that scene here just yet) i usually follow up with something along the lines of "and now i stick stuff to other stuff for fun." this is a good way to arouse curiosity and get some chatter going about what people really like, what stimulates them.

hey, i like the idea of declaring yourself a library patron! it's mysteriously honest.

lizgwiz said...

George, you know you MUST, at some point, bring your own particular magic to the Seattle theatre scene. (Until such time as you come to your senses and return home to us. Hee.)