1. Who are you?
2. Where did you come from?
3. Where are you going?
3. Where are you going?
Who am I? That's a difficult question. Having a defined identity is supposed to be a good thing, and we know many people who enjoy the certainty of knowing exactly who or "what" they are. My father was a Texan - that was his identity, despite the fact that he lived away from Texas for some 45 of his 78 years of life. Some people proudly claim their humble origins, being Just an Okie from Muskogee, or Jenny from the Block.
Others see themselves in terms of their job - a Mechanic, a Nurse, a Lawyer or Chef. Some jobs seem to be better suited for taking on as one's identity - you can even imagine the proper costume for a Professor, a Ballerina or a Rock Musician, but it's hard to embrace an identity if you're a Marketing Manager, for example.
For many women, their role in the family is their identity. A Mom. A Grandmother.
"Do you know who I am?" asks the affronted celebrity, CEO, or distinguished professor when treated with disrespect. But, somehow, it's worse when their identity isn't even acknowledged!
Some people run away from their identity. You think of figures like the Duchess of Windsor, who did everything she could to escape the stigma of being a poor relation raised in a Baltimore rooming house. Or P. Diddy, now an icon of mainstream fashion in the Hamptons - no longer a kid from the Harlem projects.
So who am I? Once I was an outsider. My family moved from town to town, and I was always the new kid in school, the one who didn't fit in, the tomboy in the girl's gym.
In my 20's I fell into the profession I practiced for over 20 years - a theatre stagehand - and it became my identity - I was a full-fledged member of an exclusive club. When I joined the union, this sense of exclusivity intensified. We had our own language and our own shared experiences. We worked at night when other people slept. We did dangerous work, and watched each others' backs. We took risks, and covered up for our own and our brothers' aberrant behavior. When I met stagehands from other cities, there was an immediate bond, because our club had many chapters.
It is not unlike the kind of bonding I hear about from fire-fighters or policemen. Or - to pick a less noble profession - prostitutes, who, in what might be the penultimate expression of identity, say they are "in the life."
I held my stagehand identity for a long time. For me, perhaps, it was so important because it was the opposite of what I was before. No longer the outsider, I was a dues-paying insider. I knew what lay behind the scenes. When I stopped doing that kind of work, I remember how wrenching a break it was for me to realize I would no longer "be" a stagehand. And yet now I can't connect with that emotion anymore.
So, what am I now? I don't know. I am not a "role" - I am a wife, but I am not a capital "W" Wife. I am a mom, but my son is now an adult. I can no longer claim that I am a "one-word-profession" - my current job is so bureaucratic and functionary it takes a whole paragraph to describe it. Having lived all over the U.S., I am not of any one region, and even my economic class has fluctuated up and down over the years, so that I move now in realms I'd never have dreamed of before.
And I'm not sure I really want to "be" something. I think it might be, for a while, more interesting to be an observer, a camera, as it were, to see things. Or a sponge, to soak in what the world has to give.
Where did I come from? I can only think back to where I started and how I traveled to where I am. I came from small to big. I came from a place that looked inward, and then one day I looked outward and I left. I came from narrow horizons, and now mine are wider. Yet they're still not as wide as they could - and should - be.
Where am I going? That's easy to answer. Everywhere I can go. Show me more.