At a mock-Thanksgiving dinner a couple of weeks ago, someone brought up how people in the city where he’d recently moved tend to introduce themselves based on their creative work, instead of their day jobs, as opposed to the other way around here in greater Boston. I don’t know how much of this was just his impression or if it actually is widespread, but it did get me thinking about how we construct identity. It took me a very long time to be able to introduce myself first as a writer, even though I’ve thought of myself that way for years.
But with family, it’s different. And with Thanksgiving coming up, it’s on my mind again.
For one thing, you’re not introducing yourself in most family situations; maybe Uncle Edith doesn’t really remember what it is you do for a living these days, but what you did at the reunion in ’94 has cemented your identity in his mind as “the one with the macaroni.” And it’s really hard sometimes to ask the same people who saw you throw a tantrum over Lego bricks to take you seriously as a creative artist.
I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but I get this weird defensiveness about my writing in family situations that is completely out of proportion to everything else. It’s as if I feel I have to justify my work by bringing up the practicalities, the business side of things, rather than the more fun parts of it. Even though I’m very lucky in that my family enthusiastically supports what I do, there’s still part of me that expects to be asked “so how is your real work?” Call it my own insecurities poking through.
In the past few years I think I’ve mellowed a bit on this point, or at least have stopped automatically defending my work. Some of it is probably because of the books, but I think more has to do with me accepting that yes, this is my real work.
I’ll be spending this Thanksgiving with my in-laws, which means I’ll probably miss the story about the gnomes (or whatever strangeness comes out of this year’s dinner). But for all other writers and musicians and poets dreading family dinners, here’s to you and your real work. Enjoy the turkey, even if the ham’s a little dry, and remember that no amount of questions over dinner can make your work more or less real.
(Also, best thing about Thanksgiving? Pie for breakfast on Friday.)