Are you a writer? I'm not, apparently. I recently failed an “Are you a writer?” online quiz.
Yeah. I know. Lame to take it, lame to care... But it caused havoc with my writing this morning.
I want to rephrase what I hear some Buddhists say: you can only call yourself a Buddhist if you meditate (if you Bhud? Bouder means pout in French...) and you are a writer if you write, a painter if you paint, etc.
But those statements aren't always true. Sometimes awareness of yourself not meditating is what's happening, a story is hibernating for the winter, or a new way of seeing a landscape is hatching.
Anyway, how are we not setting ourselves up as jerks if we start declaring that what is or isn't happening in the moment defines a person's entire identity?
Which leads me to think that identity is the problem. I clearly care way too much about what I call myself, and what others call me. Every time I show a painting, it feels like I'm exposing the most fragile part of my soul, and that's as hard as it sounds. I think I'm seeking shelter in another title, another creative world, so I can protect that too tender part of myself.
It isn't only cowardice, this focus on writing. First and foremost, I love it. Even though it's mind dessicatingly hard, and plots don't seem to want to visit my brain without serious cajoling, and I'm totally disorganized in my rewrite process. Secondarily, I've been told to be a writer by people who have read my work, which may just have been a kindness, but still... Workshop leaders, brutal grad school teachers, and published writers have said these kind words to me, so I tend to believe them.
But putting that label on myself seems like such hutzpah. I've been told that calling myself “an artist” is pompous – words really have power when applied to an identity, as that response reveals. Wouldn't that person have said the same about calling myself “a writer”?
Now I'm going to attempt to be zen about the whole question.
I write, but I still think words are poor arbiters of reality. Look around your room, the train, wherever you are. Feel the surface under your feet, or your bum, your back. Feel the gravity, see the light, feel the weight of yourself, hear your breath... Does any of that care whether or not some definition comes in to pretend to slice this from that, writer from non-writer, art from not art?
Maybe you are more of a philosopher than I am, and trying to answer the questions of art and not art really excite you, in which case – great! But me, I think those attempts at answers are often used unintentionally to cause harm, both by outside people applying it to others, and by uncertain selves hoping for some safe haven, some solid ground.
The greatest kindness might be to take away those words, and all our tools we use to dissect, and stop bludgeoning ourselves and each other – instead, just observe, and when we have questions, don't pretend to have answers.
As my meditation teacher says, “Ask 'what'.” The answer isn't always important.
If you have thoughts about what labels mean for you, I'd love to hear it! Musician, writer, artist, stay at home dad...
You can post down below in the comments, and it'll show up after I get to see it. Sorry about the delay: I have to weed out spammers :(