Identity in Action (or, DoBeDoBeDo)

A flurry of articles have floated across blogs recently. They are all versions of “I am not a writer, but I write.” The upshot seems to be money–people are declaring that they write a blog or an article and are happy to do it without getting paid, because they aren’t “real” writers. This makes me smile.

My mind went to variations of that statement. “I’m not an artist, but I art.” Maybe that should be “Make art.”  Or, “I’m not a chef, but I cook.”

This agave has both white and pink flowers. It doesn’t know it’s not supposed to do that.

Yes, I recently wrote about the importance of being professional and demanding the money you deserve if you are a writer. And I said that because I am a writer, and people writing for free devalues the profession. But I’m looking deeper into declaring what you are not.

There are reasons for declaring what you are and what you are not.

1. You are scared to death of being responsible for being a better writer, artist, chef. If you say, “That’s not my real identity,” you don’t have to shoulder the responsibility for getting better or being professional. It’s OK, even good writers need to practice and work at their skill. It’s OK not to be perfect and still identify with that activity.

2. You think you can only be one thing. This is part of our culture. You can either be a good parent or a good employee. You can either be a writer or an artist. You can not only do more than one thing, you can be good at more than one thing. Notice that I used “do” and “be” in the same sentence. You can have both of those.

This chandelier is made of both light bulbs and crystals. It doesn’t have to choose only bulbs or crystals. It can use both. And then it can be used for light and for beauty. If an inanimate object can do that, what can you do?

3. You have to have a clear identity. Well, sort of. By that I mean you can define your own identity. When people ask me what kind of artist I am, I say, “I combine words, illustration and color.” The next question is always “what is that called?” It’s easier to talk to someone if you can label them with an identity that is known to you. That is not my issue, although I can help them through it. I might add “Art journaling and collage.” But it’s two things, so sometimes I say, “Mixed media,” because that’s a larger term that covers more.

I think the answer comes down to how you make meaning. What do you do that allows you to explore yourself, your life, your world, and the thing you were born to do in this world? Whatever that thing is, it’s fueled by your creativity. That’s who you are. When you are yourself, that’s your identity. That is what you do.

In the meaning-making life, who you are is what you do. Not always well, but always with purpose. Meaning.

Today, when I purchased some black gesso and clear gesso (they make clear gesso?) I had no idea what I would do with it. But I knew it would involve exploring what i don’t know. And that makes meaning for me. I’ll show you what I did tomorrow.

How are you making meaning today?

–Quinn McDonald has two new bottles of meaning-making liquid in her studio. She doesn’t know what they do. Yet.