The woman across from me started her sentence with ‘I am not a writer, but’. And so did the young girl at the back of the room. And so did I, in my head. I say it to myself everyday.
I am not.
I am not.
I am not a writer. I am not a photographer. I am not an artist. I am not an actor.
But it is starting to occur to me that just maybe I am-a writer, and maybe a bit photographer too. After a weekend in the mountains with an amazing group of women, my brain is firing on all cylinders and I think I know why I say I am not. Why we say ‘I am not.’
It is like asking for bragging rights.
I am learning that when you are creative there just may be no true measure of success. There is no diploma, no degree, no automatic marker that you can tag yourself with that justifies your chosen path. No piece of paper handed to out that clearly says ‘you are now a writer’ or ‘you are now an artist’. It is completely subjective and feels so completely elusive.
I am finding that many people like me have not gone to college, or have, but for something other than their passion. Many feel it in their bones, their blood, are drawn to pen, paper, paint, film, like moths to a flame. Regardless of their education and training, they still find themselves staring out windows day dreaming, and creating in their heads. They were not taught their art, it came to them.
My sister is a perfect example. She is a photographer. She is so incredibly talented and focused- I am always in awe. She has always had a camera with her, borrowing my fathers, and then collecting many of her own. She taught herself how to shoot, process, develop, burn, dodge and when film disappeared she mastered the digital process like no other. She has continued to create breathtaking images without skipping a beat.
She has had shows, and openings. She has photographed and styled food and products, babies and families, weddings and sports. It is how she makes her life, it is her living and it is her passion.
She has bragging rights. She has the cards with her name on them, the website to match. She has a Tax ID number and an LLC. She has not stepped into a classroom in over twenty years and has no degree.
She is a photographer. Plain and simple, without a doubt.
But before all that, before the money came in and the website was built, she was still a photographer? Oh, very much so. If you had asked her, would she have said it? Would she have claimed herself?
Likely not. It feels awkward. Foreign. It is hard to say we are something that we cannot prove. We are always looking for confirmation for who and what we are. It is tricky trying to define something so nebulous. We want concrete and we want black and white.
It just feels like bragging. And we are taught not to brag-we are taught to be humble and modest. So the words won’t come. We cannot say it without looking down, making a joke, creating an aside.
‘I’m a writer, but it’s just doodles. I work at, but I write sometimes too. It’s a hobby, nothing serious.’
We think a piece of paper or a paycheck is what makes us worthy of our designations. That is what we do right? We frame our degrees and diplomas and display them for everyone to see. We even frame our first dollar, so we can have our bragging rights. To prove we have earned our place.
I am a lawyer. I am a doctor. I am a nurse. And I can prove it. It cannot be taken away. This is who I am and what I do because this paper says so. Even if I suck and I hate it.
I am a writer.
‘It is hard for me to say,’ I told my sister. ‘Who says? What have I written? Have I been published? Where can you read my work? Do I get paid to write?’
She smiled at me. ‘None of that matters-you are no less a writer. Read your writing. You are a writer. You always have been. ‘
How do I justify? How do I measure my words against your tuition bill? How do I compare my blog to your patient ledger? My little article to your full docket?
I can’t. But I am no less a writer.
I have written poems and stories, essays and love letters. A few have been published, many are here on this site, and most are still in my head, and there are a ton in a box in my garage. The simple act of driving to work past the fields full of cattle, the sharp scent of hay and sweat and the fog rolling up the hills in the distance make me want to pull over and write about it so you can see it too. The way the calf is nuzzled in close to its mother because there is still a damp chill in the air. The way the barn is weathered and dark against the hill, sitting at an odd angle and needing repair. I want to show you the rusty silo in the distance that used to hold grain but now sits empty. It gives me goosebumps and I want you to see it with me.
Because I am a writer.