Friday, February 5, 2016

Because you are what you do


One of my favorite teachers once talked about how when he was a young writer he would introduce himself by saying, "I'm Cirilo. I'm a poet." Eventually, he said, he came to realize how pointless that was. "You are what you do," he said, no other introductions were necessary.

Those words have been floating in my head since I first heard them. I'd heard them before, of course, in different variations, but hearing them said by a brilliant writer, one who speaks and writes and laughs about this loathsome heartbreaking lovely cursed art, made them truer than ever.

Last year, in conversations with close friends, I had confessed that I didn't feel like I could call myself a writer anymore simply because I wasn't writing. I was still doing a lot of writing; I had a job developing training materials, after all. But it wasn't writing writing and I was feeling more and more removed from a dream I had nurtured since I was 13.

Then later last year, I came to discover that writing wasn't my only passion. The opportunity to try corporate training fell on my lap, and I jumped in despite the voice in my head giving me a million reasons why it wouldn't work out. It was terrifying; it was amazingly fulfilling. Now I have a brand new happy path to pave.

So I told myself, "Maybe I am more of a trainer than I am a writer." I toyed with the idea of giving up creative writing completely. I imagined myself fifty years from now wistfully telling a future grandchild that I used to be a writer. I even won a literary award, I would tell her, reliving an old forgotten glory like too many old people do.

I could still be happy, I reasoned out, I would still be me.

But then in October I met a mirror: a sixty-something woman home from Canada for a Christmas visit. We were having coffee, and when she found out I had studied creative writing in college, her eyes lit up in recognition. "I used to love literature," she said, "Ask me about any writer, and I would know his work."

But when did you stop? I wanted to ask her. Is it even possible to stop?

These days, I have come to realize that if there is one thing I must stop, it's this silly business of telling myself who I am based on who I think I am and who I think I am not.

Am I a trainer? Yes, and I'm writing this in the hour I gave my 15 learners to prepare their final group activity.

Am I a writer? I hesitate, because there is still a grad school thesis that needs to be picked up, but I also have two professional writing assignments lined up.

I think I wasted too much time ruminating on being a writer--or being something or someone else, for that matter. This is the time for doing, and that should be enough.