An Identity of Your Own Making
This series explores sustainable artistry by breaking down the starving artist myths and giving mindful support for blazing your own flexible, dependable path. Join the revolution of artists and educators unsatisfied with day-to-day surviving and hell-bent on everyday thriving in that improvisational space called an artful life. Have a topic or question for a future post? Drop me a line @creativelyindie.
Whether you’re claiming your horizon or defining your non-negotiables, there is one solid ingredient that you must own first: your identity. We all have one (or many) we actively use, but were they consciously created? That’s where it gets tricky.
Often the past and our expectations of the future define who we consider ourselves to be right now. But the past is cemented by stories which could more accurately be described as historical fiction and expectations might as well be sci-fi soap operas. Neither is completely real. Neither is absolutely true.
No one lives in a bubble. Too often our identity is built from a mixture of stories (ours and theirs) of past experiences, current labels, and future expectations. My past experiences—from falling off my bike to receiving national awards—are muddled memories of emotions, guesswork, and others’ stories. My current label, Artistic Director, is heavily influenced by the fact that female artistic directors in 2015 are in low numbers, which colors my identity. It also influences my expectations. Oh mama! Talk about the weight of “should” and “have to” being in this unintentionally small club. “We few, we happy few.”
Navigating through “What is real?” and “What is fiction?” is a lifelong practice. Though daunting at first, these conscious questions can free you from an invisible web of assumptions.
If you aren’t thrilled with the opportunities being presented to you, take a hard look at the inventory you just did. What identity are you putting out there to attract those offers?
In the arts, identity can be even more confusing when you add public perception of the art you create. Actors’ identities are often blurred with their characters, so much so that even the actors themselves become confused. I’ve coached many artists that had to rip themselves away from unsustainable identities: The Muse, The Diva, The Rebel, The Go-To-Guy, The Funny One. Any sound familiar?
And I say “rip” because our minds hold identities like the body holds on to a foreign object, like a splinter. Catch it early, you can ease it out without too much pain or scarring. Ignore it, push it in further, and the body adopts it as its own. This new identity changes the way we move, how we feel about ourselves, and after time it’s easy to forget who we were before it came.
So, before you craft your identity consciously, you’ve gotta do some spring cleaning. It’s time to take inventory to see how many identities are tucked away in there.
- ASK yourself, “Who am I?”
- LISTEN without judgment.
- WRITE it down without judgment. See it in black and white.
- No joke, conscious breathing is huge. When I teach and direct, I use the breath as a grounding point: Inhale to see the expanded possibilities. Exhale to act on one.
- SIFT through which ones support you and your horizon.
- FLIP the negative ones.
- For example, my identity as a mother in the arts isn’t often seen as positive: split-focus, depriving the child, watered down artist (you get the nastiness, yes?). So, I flipped the negatives into: an artist actively engaging in play as the evolutionary tool given to us all as children, a nurturer, and a creator of life on and off stage. These sustainable aspects of how I’m a mother/artist help me own this identity and move forward.
Taking stock, sifting through, and flipping the funky takes time. It takes patience with yourself. It takes a lot of humor. If you can’t look at all these identities and fall down laughing, even a little bit, it will drive you crazy. So, find the joy. You’re freeing yourself, one label at a time.
Your Identity is a Magnet and a Divining Rod
People offer and withhold opportunities based on how they perceive us. Our identity is a magnet, whether we own it or not. How often have you heard, “I saw this and instantly thought of you?!” How often have they been spot on? And how often were they completely off the mark?
If you aren’t thrilled with the opportunities being presented to you, take a hard look at the inventory you just did. What identity are you putting out there to attract those offers? How do you want to flip that? The joy of a magnet is that it attracts and repels. Get clear with your identity and those funky offers will bounce off you with ease.
Identity is also a divining rod for clear choices as we make minute by minute decisions. Decisions like: the roles we audition for, the artists we hire, the classes we take or teach, the parties we enjoy, the books we buy, the amount of grief we give ourselves after a failure, the amount of celebration we allow ourselves after a success.
A conscious identity makes deciding so much easier. I can’t even tell you! Imagine the ease of looking at casting calls and knowing in a matter of seconds which ones to circle and which ones to cross out.
The alternative is a maddening fast-paced Sondheim-esque argument in your mind of “I’d love to go out for this role…but no one knows this playwright. I’d audition, but I’m not right. My teacher, I know, won’t approve. Who wants a heavy ingénue? I’d bomb, I’d choke. The part’s too big. My hair’s too short, I’d need a wig…”
We’ve all been there.
We are there.
Now, let’s build scaffolding to work our way through it.
An artist who owns their identity has the space to then embody others, for a time, to play, create, and let go. I encourage you to stay present in your identity creation; to stay conscious. What you craft, how complex, dramatic, or simple it becomes, is a much needed and future conversation (a.k.a. Identity, Part Two).
For now, get into the practice of asking, listening, and making conscious choices about who you are today.
I’m Jess, a revolutionary arts educator who uses the play she’s learning from her children to provoke and inspire.
Who are you?