Identify Yourself by Your Passions

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about labels and identity.  The consensus on the internet seems to be that if you write, you are entitled to call yourself a writer.  (Calling yourself an “author” is another matter).  I agree wholeheartedly: I write, therefore I am a writer.

Out in the real world, however, this doesn’t seem to hold true.  People have expectations.  Anywhere except maybe at a convention, if I introduce myself as a writer, people will think that means I make money at it.  If they follow up and discover that I’m unpublished, they’ll assume by “writer,” I really mean “unemployed.”

A couple months ago, I ended up sitting on an airplane beside one of my teachers from high school.  One of my English teachers, to be precise.  And yet, when she asked me, “So what do you do?”, I still told her I was an engineer.  Not a word about writing.  It didn’t even cross my mind that the question could have meant, “What do you most enjoy doing?”

Now, to be fair, I don’t remember doing so much as a page of creative writing in her class (5 paragraph essays, anyone?), but I don’t think that’s it.  And it’s not that I don’t like telling people about it.  Heck, that trip I spent the whole weekend telling obscure relatives and friends-of-my-parents about how I’m working on my third novel.  But all of them already knew that I was a writer.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just a privileged upper-middle-class white America thing, but people are awfully obsessed with money, especially for a society that thinks it’s impolite as a topic of conversation.  Is there any other reason to identify ourselves by our jobs, than to provide others with an estimate of our income, intelligence, and skill level?  It certainly isn’t the best indicator of who we are or what we enjoy; otherwise, why would anyone retire?

I was listening to the audiobook of The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and I was struck by how simply the main character, Imp, put it:The Drowning Girl Cover

“I think of myself as a painter, because painting is what I love to do, what I’m passionate about.  So, I’m a painter.”

I love that.  I wish more people thought that way.

I don’t have much opportunity these days to meet people who aren’t connected with work, where “ground support design engineer” really is my only appropriate identity, but I hope that next time I run into, say, an old English teacher, I’ll remember to tell them “I’m a writer.”  In the meantime, it’s nice to have this little corner of the web where I can define myself as I choose, by what I love and what I’m passionate about.

3 thoughts on “Identify Yourself by Your Passions

  1. Nice set up for a blog. Even though your name is a tiny bit hard to read up there.

    Nice post too. You said what needed to be said without being too wordy–pardon the crit as a fellow writer with lots of practice critting it’s hard to not crit a writter’s words.. :)

    One thing though with why tell someone else about your work. It can be a matter of pride and for many guys it’s their ID. A bit of a stereotypical comment there but it’s true.

    Have fun with your blog.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Louis.
      I think it’s great when people love their jobs and that becomes part of their identity, and a matter of pride, as you said. It’s when their heart is elsewhere, or they’re only in it for the money, that I question the value of measuring everybody by their job.

  2. It’s true what you say though sometimes I wish things weren’t as they are.

    When people ask me what I do, I usually reply with uncomfortabe silence simply because the answer is not short and simple. People are always expecting a simple answer, an answer that would instantly put me in one of their pre-planned drawers. That’s what most people do to keep the world around them in control, they invent labels and plant them on people the moment they get the smallest information. But if I say “I’m a physicist,” that would be wrong. I studied physics. I graduated in physics. I don’t see myself as one. But a writer? Hm, that would certainly make their lives interesting because they would probably have to invent new labels.

    Similar to when people ask me where I’m from. They expect me to give a simple answer but I don’t have one for them. Is it important where my parents come from? Where I was born? Where I spent my childhood? Where I went to school? I don’t feel a part of any of those places so how can I reply to that question?

    I have to come up with really smart answers to these questions…

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