I have discovered that this week has a Theme. And if it has a Theme, you wonder, can a Plot be far behind?
Leaving that for the moment, the Theme is Identity, or, more plainly put, Who am I?
You’d think, at this stage in my life, that I’d know the answer to that question, but several events that week have thrown what I thought I knew into sharp relief.
Y’all know, for instance, that my day-job is as a secretary administrative professional. It’s coming up hard on The Day when Hallmark decreed that all bosses must Publicly Appreciate their clerical assistants. Says something about Hallmark that almost all bosses everywhere feel that they have to go along with this — or maybe they justly fear what might happen to their expense reimbursements if they don’t toe the line.
In any case, my employer as all others celebrates the Joyous Event. Before the days of budget crunches, Admin would invite each of the about a dozen administrative secretaries in personal email to share lunch with the couple folks from Admin to whom we all in theory report.
Nowadays, instead of the served lunch, there’s a social hour, which is of course also very nice. But with the change of event came a change of invitation. Instead of a personal email, there’s now an anonymous shout-out in the general email list that goes out to the entire college community, stating that the event will take place and providing a link to an RSVP page for anyone who would like to attend.
The “invitation” went out that way last year, and it annoyed me so much that I sent regrets.
It went out exactly the same way this year and it annoyed me again, but! I told myself, learning cannot happen without teaching. I therefore decided to teach, and wrote a polite email to the person doing the inviting explaining why the shout-out was rude and cheapened the day’s supposed message of We Know Who You Are and We SOOOO Appreciate What You Do, Even if We Forget to Say It Most of the Time.
Received back an answer explaining that “administrative professional” was not an easily defined area, and that some folks considered themselves of the administrative professional pool who had different job titles. Therefore, the general open call, rather than the personal invitation — so that everyone who “self-identified” as an administrative professional could come to the party.
I thought about that, and decided that this was both fair and inclusive. Then, I examined my conscience and found that, no, I don‘t “self-identify” as an administrative professional* — and sent my regrets.
*The stuff I do at the day-job? The keeping of lists and files and calenders, and the making of order out of chaos? That’s what I do, part of it. It has to do with being Sharon Lee, or possibly with being a Virgo, more than it has to do with my self-identification as a secretary.
OK, so that.
To recap: Who I am is not a secretary, though it is someone who values and has some skill in maintaining order.
I can live with this.
Now, last night. We went to talk to a local writing class about freelance writing. It happens that I do self-identify as a writer, very strongly. Steve and I were talking about our collaborative process and how we role-play scenes, and take on the aspect of our characters. The class listened patiently until we had finished, then one student raised her hand and said, “So, after you’re done with that part, then you go back to being who you really are, right?”
This is something of a head-scratcher.
Who I really am is a person who writes — fiction, non-fiction, blog entries. . . I am a writer. Being a writer isn’t a flat job; it has a lot of dimensions, including the above-mentioned role-playing, some performance art, and the facility to step away from yourself, there inside your head, and let the characters have center stage.
People who have called me on the phone when I was in the midst of writing inevitably ask, “Did I wake you up?” because I sound really dopey when I’m scrambling to reconnect to non-story-world. The reason I often can’t remember what “I” wrote today is because I had stepped back and made room for the story.
So the question of who I really am, the person that I return to being after I’m done doing the most important thing that I do. . . Wow. How do you even begin to start thinking about that, much less answering it?
. . .It occurs to me that we partly deal with this question during our sometimes Guest of Honor presentation, when we allow the audience to invoke and ask questions of our characters. That gig started because almost every single person we meet (who has read our stuff, let me add) almost immediately says, “I love your characters.” Well, sure they do, our characters are much more interesting than we are — they have adventures while we sit at home and type.
Maybe that’s it? I’m a woman who keeps order and who types. Or, I’m a woman who encompasses dozens and every single one of my characters and my stories is who I really am. . .
So — who are you, really?