Monday, May 3, 2010

Day 107: from verb to noun

I met with a director the other day who told me she also writes, but doesn't call herself a playwright.  She feels that word is sacred somehow, and doesn't feel she qualifies.

My boyfriend always makes a point to distinguish between himself as someone who "sings", rather than someone like me, who is a "singer".  It is something he does, but not something he has cultivated enough as a craft to feel he deserves the title of "singer".

When does one graduate from doing something to being something?  Or, if one does something, is one by definition an -er of that thing?  When does the verb become the noun?

What does it mean to be an -er of something?  What does it mean to be a writer, for example?  Does it mean I make my living at that? (I don't). Does it mean I spend a large portion of my time writing? (I do). Does it mean that I choose writing over everything else? (I don't).  Does it mean I always walk around with a notebook? (I do). Does it mean writing is my primary mode of expression? (I don't know).  I haven't felt like much of a writer the last couple of days.  The only reason I even started writing this blog post was that the sudoku puzzle I was doing at the wine bar was too hard, and I got frustrated and pulled out my notebook instead.

When I gave up my opera career a couple of years ago, I put a lot of effort into redefining - no, UN-defining myself.  I had been "Natalie the opera singer" for so many years that I didn't know who I was if I wasn't doing that anymore.  I bristled every time someone introduced me and said "she's an opera singer", or when someone called me by my long-held nickname "diva" (which I earned for my singing, not my attitude).  When someone asked me what I did, I didn't know what to say -- I didn't want to be defined by how I was earning my money (at an admin job) but wasn't sure I deserved the title "singer" anymore.  I turned this self-consciousness outward, and stopped asking people "what do you do?" and started asking instead "what keeps you busy during the day?"

We are living in the era of the "/" - where everyone you meet is an actor/singer/waiter, or director/writer/yoga instructor, or musician/IT guy/biker.  Hardly anyone has a single career throughout their lives anymore, and amongst artistic types, few have a single career at one time even. Even in this era of the "/", we still have an incessant need to label ourselves, to define ourselves by what we do, to turn our verbs into nouns.  I'm guilty of it as well -- I'm a singer/actress/voice teacher/playwright.  (And that doesn't even include my admin job, or my currently-very-quiet Reiki practice.)  It's enough to give a person split personalities.

Can we just agree to eschew the titles altogether? 

Hi, I'm Natalie.  I do lots of things.  But I am me. 

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