Clark’s question was, “When did you first identify yourself as a writer?” I was a guest in his freshman composition class to talk about the practice of writing, techniques, editing, and all that. It was fun and I enjoy talking about it - mainly because talking about it demands I think about it. And thinking about it makes me better.
The question was harder to answer than it first appeared. The difference between saying “I like to write” and “I am a writer” is huge, and it reaches down to the very core of identity and perception and who I hope to be.
The first time I considered myself a writer was standing in B. Dalton Booksellers at the Midland Park Mall and choosing Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It seemed like a big step forward to spend money on a specialized book like that, a commitment to practice and improve. That was 1993. It took another 20 years before I was brave enough to say out loud to strangers: I am a writer.
How do you introduce yourself? Once you get past family and career? What is your identity? Do you say “I am a writer” or “I am a gardener” or “I am a quantum theorist” with ease?
I remember when I used to hand people notes so they could introduce me before I gave a speech, back in my government days; it was a long time before I would change my notes from “loves to run marathons” to saying “I am a marathon runner.” And that was after I’d run five or six marathons. The first label was about a hobby, the second was about identity. I figured a listener couldn’t judge me because I loved to run marathons, except to think I was crazy; but if I claimed to be a marathoner, well any listener could look me up and down and ask about my finish times and say, “No you aren’t.”
This conversation surfaced again when Cory noticed that I had not updated my Twitter profile to include “Cyclist.” Well, I made the change as soon he reminded me; I had meant to add it but forgot to get around to it.
Cory tweeted, “What is the criteria to claim it? Do we have to go through hazing, pledging, or rites of passage?” I mentioned something Dr. George Sheehan once wrote - that the difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry form. In other words, if you sign up for a race and commit to it, and run the race, you are a runner regardless of how fast or slow, lean or fat, young or old. The entry form is the threshold. Of course, a race entry is just a piece of paper, but its value is the commitment to train and willingness to succeed or fail in public.
So I told Cory, we all rode the 50K Roll for the Cure in Hobbs, NM, so we are cyclists.
Cory wrote, “This may be the first time I have claimed anything athletic to describe myself publicly.” I should add that Cory rides very well and has left the rest of us behind more than a few times. He’s earned the title: cyclist.
Maybe our hesitancy to identify with a particular label is because we think we aren’t good enough yet. Or that it isn’t the sort of thing you can claim about yourself. As in, you can’t claim yourself to be humble, or strong of character. Someone else has to hang that on you.
Or maybe we need to have evidence of identity beyond a personal claim. If I say I am a marathon runner, well I have nine finisher medals to back it up. Cyclist, a race number. Backpacker, I have the wear-and-tear of a dozen trips into the Guadalupe Mountains on my backpack. Teacher, I have 20 years of notes. Engineer, I have a university degree.
But writing? That took a while to accumulate. Now I have a dozen notebooks filled with my own thoughts, Journal Entries published weekly since 1998, two books, readers across the USA and around the world. And I recently learned about a running group in Memphis who are training together and using my book, Running With God, for their pre-run devotionals. I should be satisfied with all that.
And actually, it doesn’t take all that. You are a writer if you write. Too many people wish they had written already, or plan to start someday when they have time. You are a marathon runner because you’ve run one. Lots of people wish they had a marathon finish on their resume, but haven’t gotten around to running one yet. We are, because we do. What we do, is identity.
Are there things you do regularly but are hesitant to claim as an identity? What are they? Maybe it’s time to embrace what you do - step further up and further in to who you are.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
To learn about Berry’s books, “Running With God,” go to www.runningwithgodonline.com , or “Retreating With God,” go to www.retreatingwithgod.com ,… Follow Berry on Twitter at @berrysimpson or on Facebook … Contact Berry directly: firstname.lastname@example.org … To post a comment or subscribe to this free journal: www.journalentries.org