When I was first offered this column back in the dark ages of 2013, the assignment was both a dream and a nightmare: I was tasked to write about, you know, whatever.
The subjects I explored with my blinking cursor and dying laptop battery were to run the gamut (get it?). For me, personally, I use the space to extrapolate on whatever notion has my attention at any given time, and it’s under this latter parameter that I offer you, reader, a glimpse at what I’ve been thinking lately.
The other day, a friend described me to someone else as looking “like a writer,” and I can’t figure out what the hell that means.
I am a writer. For a long time, I bucked against saying that, partly because I’m overcautious about labeling myself anything, partly because I’ve often felt one doesn’t call oneself “writer” until achieving a greater level of literary accomplishment than my scrabbling little freelance career has afforded me. But of late I’ve said, “I’m a writer,” a few times and didn’t hate it: I’m trained to write, I write often, ergo.
But the notion of “looking like a writer” to someone else introduces a new angle to the quandary, one I really don’t know what to do with. I know that, in my function as a writer, I recently produced a piece on hog breeding for an online outlet, a series of branded articles for a major automobile manufacturer, monthly Gamuts and City Watches; I wrote a young adult novel some time back and, in my attempts to sell it, recently composed various, preform letters and other “salesy” peripherals for distribution to potential partners in getting the thing out there. I write as often propped up in bed or on the couch as I do in my Big Lots office chair before my top-drop desk; showering or non-pajama clothes aren’t required to perform the task of composition. My suspicion is that, when I write what I write, I probably don’t look “like a writer.”
So do I carry myself in the way of a writer? You know how Plato defined the notion of essence as possessing a set of predefined characteristics? Maybe I possess some prescribed set of writer’s ideals: has inkstained fingers, carries a scuffed and threadbare soul inside his chest, wears black glasses. But I’m a Sartre man myself, so I have to believe that existence trumps essence; my portfolio of past work, and my definition of self in relation to said portfolio, make me a writer.
I think, though, the root of what I’m trying to puzzle out lies in a realization I came to recently: I lack a fixed notion of self. Do you have a fixed notion of self, reader? I’ll explain. You know how some people go to work, come home to the family, enjoy a ballgame on the weekends, and when they look at the facets of their life in a moment of quiet reflection say, “Yes. This is me”? I don’t have that. I’ve manned a corporate desk, run a small business, farmed a tiny parcel of land, married the love of my life, fathered a gaggle of children, and produced a downright schizophrenic body of written work, but I can’t seem to really nail down who I am. There’s a part of me that believes I should be shepherding a small flock of sheep in the French countryside right now, and I say that in full and total honesty.
This is where gaining a comfort level with calling myself “writer,” and perhaps accepting that it’s essential to my notion of self, really gains some heft because, when I glance over my shoulder at the road behind me, or strain my vision for a peek at the path ahead, I see myself writing. Unshowered, pajama-clad and composing in the suburbs of my past, the pastures of my present, the rolling French hillsides of my future (fingers crossed). If I’m ever to gain a fixed notion of myself, it’s probably going to be through acceptance of my role in this world as a writer.
And, really, I do understand that the “fixed notion of self” is largely a construct of sitcoms and hour-long dramas. While I’m sure a percentage of folks stroll out the door self-assured and confident, I don’t believe that percentage is large. We watch our kids grow, interests shift, careers change, waistlines evolve and we wonder, the whole time, who we really are underneath everything. For me, I think there’s a writer under there, and I don’t hate admitting that. To myself, I mean—apparently, everybody else already knew.
Rodney Wilson is either a pig farmer who writes or a writer who farms pigs. Either way, he’s got a freezer full of bacon and a finished manuscript, and he’s trying to sell both.
Email them to Molly Gase email@example.com.