To Be or Not To Be an Identity

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Bryce Canyon, Utah

To be a novelist or short story writer, you first have to pretend to be a novelist or short story writer. — Charles Baxter

But love cannot come into being through any practice. It can come into being only when you cease to be, that is, when you are no longer concerned about yourself, your position, prestige, ambitions and frustrations, when you stop thinking about yourself completely. This occupation with oneself is the same, whether it be that of the man who is pursuing what he calls God, or working for a social revolution. A mind so occupied can never know what love is. — Krishnamurti

What is identity and is it even necessary? The answer to that question is probably yes when you’re young, but does an old person need to think about how others imagine them? Do they need to cultivate a persona in the world?

In my case as I approach eighty years old, I’m finding soul and meaning more interesting than identity.

I’m more attracted to universal meanings than personal advancement. I want to find something in myself that can contribute to life on earth. Not that I don’t care about being paid for my contributions. I do like to eat.

I put less and less energy into creating an image of myself that projects an edited version I prefer to show the world. Basic self respect keeps me clean and presentable so I can go about my business without offending anyone.

Because images are so commonly used to sell fictions, I think we have to learn to look through or beyond them. We can sell ourselves a fictional idea of who and what we are, if we’re not careful. Watching our own thoughts as they arise is a useful practice in this regard. We can learn a lot just by paying attention to how we function emotionally and conceptually.

I chose two quotations that contradict each other, to help me think about the issue. The first one is funny and has the ring of truth, but then Krishnamurti dives a little deeper and asks you to question the whole issue of identity.

I don’t think a young person is well served by trying to become identity-less, which is in any case just another identity. I do see his point though, that the self focus needed to create a defined sense of self begins to exclude love because you are so self defended against the world. You are trying so hard to craft an acceptable or impressive image of yourself in the minds of strangers, you can’t accept and love yourself. Not loving yourself, you don’t love anybody.

Love starts at home.

Still, I like the idea of pretending to be a writer in order to become one. That’s kind of what I’m doing here on Medium, I’m pretending to be a writer. It seems to be working. I think I’m becoming a writer.

Try it. See if it works for you.

On the other hand, I don’t know if that method of shape-shifting will work for everything. Pretending to be a writer is getting on a path I’m already on. Imagining I’m a trapeze artist could get me killed. Also, after I decide I’m well and truly a writer, how is that different or better than who I have always been?

It seems to me the important thing is the work, not the identity of the worker. If you love the work and apply yourself diligently to it, calling yourself a “something” seems like playing games with yourself. If you need to do that so you can do the work, then OK, do it, but I wouldn’t attach too much importance to it.

It might be better to let the work create the worker rather than the other way around. If you just apply yourself to the creative process so that something worthwhile is created — without self image coming into it at all — the result of that effort, that digging into yourself, will fashion a person who can write something worth reading. That person can be justifiably called a writer, but that writer person doesn’t really care what you call her.

The real question is, is what was written worth reading? Whether or not the person who wrote it can be called a writer is of no moment. That’s just an identity question.

Completely beside the point.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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