Today I forgot my password. Three failed attempts at the security question later, the Internet was far from my mind. Instead I was intent on discovering who in the world my favorite author is. It wasn’t Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet and author of Letters to a Young Poet, the book that saw me through my roughest summer to date. Nor was it EB White, whose books when read aloud by my parents defined my childhood. I thought it might just be Neil deGrasse Tyson, even though, don’t tell anyone, I haven’t read any of his books. I still don’t know who my favorite author is.
My writer friends can slap down a list of favorites they, I’m assuming, keep stuffed in their bras. They know stats and facts about them like it’s some high school crush. They can recite whole passages from their books verbatim. I can’t. And I feel like that is sort of a deficiency, as a writer. I mean, who am I to call myself a writer if I can’t even call any writers to mind?
Actually, I have never called myself a writer. It is one of those “er” nouns I still don’t feel like applies to me even though, as you can see, I write. And in a world of labels, that just may mean something.
See, I’ve noticed that, although I have a very crafted visual representation of myself, I very rarely call myself anything someone else hasn’t called me before. I don’t not only not label myself, but I shy away from the process. Sure, I’ll tell you I’m a nerd. Or a hipster (which I’m not). Or, even, a writer. But that is because someone commented on my PBS tattoo, or they made an assumption based on my square framed glasses, or they invited me to write for their blog. They needed some sort of descriptive word, I guess.
I picked up on this when I was young and used it to my advantage (and sometimes as a defense). Before I relate this story I should explain how horribly awkward I was as a youth. Troll stages, they really get ya. One day in tenth grade, at the height of my poorly placed self-confidence, and at a new school, I was getting teased about my poor spelling abilities. How did I fight back? “Oh, yeah? Well, I bet you don’t know what a rough endoplasmic reticulum is!” They didn’t know. They also didn’t stop teasing me, the jeer only changed from “dummy” to “know-it-all.” The thing is, I really am kind of a know-it-all.
At this point, I am a know-it-all, a nerd, a hipster, and a writer, so I’ve been told. But really, I just want to be me. The obvious next question is: who is that?
And that brings us, full circle, back to my password problem. Who is my favorite author? If I don’t know what I like, how am I supposed to ever figure out what I’m like? Who knew logging into Neopets would lead to such a existential quandary? Chanting “Me? Me? Me?” over and over hasn’t gotten me any closer to knowing… In fact, the word “me” has even less value than anything else I’ve been called, especially if I deny them their meaning.
Is there a “me” without all that other baggage? Or is that baggage exactly what makes up who we are as individuals?
Maybe what I should take away from all this that even though all those descriptive words that get thrown around stick sometimes, you are what you make of them, even if they make you nervous to try out for yourself. So what if I don’t know how to describe myself? You’ll only get hung up on labels if you are hung up on labels. They just don’t matter. Sometimes, and this may be writer blasphemy, words just aren’t important. Do what you like, with who you like, and you’ll have a pretty good sense of who you are; leave the titles for your editor to worry about.