Something interesting happened a few months ago when I sat down to work on a scene for my book, I had a job to do, and I knew exactly how to tackle it. It was such a surprising and welcomed change from what I had been experiencing up to that point, which felt more like banging my head against the wall for 6 hours a day than any kind of artistic endeavor. It was the first time since I began working on this project that I felt like an actual writer.
It reminded me of that scene in J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek where Chekov races through the ship, in a mix of excitement and terror, screaming, “I can do that! I can that!”
You may be reading this and thinking, “but of course you are a writer! Just look at what you have accomplished so far.” But I think that’s the point, when it comes to identity, there is often a disconnect between the way others see us and the way we see ourselves. For me, this disconnect was rooted in the somewhat contentious relationship I’ve had with writing for most of my life, which was the focus of my previous essays, Feeling Like A Writer (Part 1) and (Part 2).
Identity is a subject I’ve thought about a lot over the past couple of years because it is a significant theme in both my book, Waking From Innocent Dreams, and in my film, Identifying Nelson/Buscando a Roberto.
In my book, I write about feeling torn between my American identity as Nelson and my central American identity as Roberto.
Am I Nelson, the frisbee-playing entrepreneur, or am I Roberto, the prodigal son who works in the family business? The easy answer is Nelson because I grew up in the U.S., but over the years, haven’t I regained some of the culture I lost when we were separated? So what if my Spanish isn’t perfect, I still love listening to Marc Anthony and dancing salsa into all hours of the night. Doesn’t that count for something?
What I find most interesting about identity is the way it often lags behind where we are in life. Often others perceive a change in us before we are ever conscious of it. They see us as writers, leaders, teachers, (or even adults) long before we actually feel like one. I’m not exactly sure what causes this delay in recognition, perhaps it has to do with the imposter syndrome, but I think there has to be more to it than that.
I think in order to identify as something, we need to feel a sense of ownership or agency over it. We need to accumulate enough life experience with this new way of being so that it doesn’t feel as complex or involved as we first thought. Alternatively, living in this new identity could be as difficult as we imagined, but with experience comes the realization that we can handle this complexity.
In my case, it was the years of study that I put into learning story structure and narrative theory that led me to a shift in identity. That work, while technically challenging, made me realize that writing, especially storytelling, is more than spelling and grammar.
While I will never be good at those aspects of writing, thanks to apps like Grammarly, assistive technology, and great editors, I don’t have to be. And for someone like me, who always struggled to share what was going on in his head, that sense of empowerment is incredible.
I hope that wherever you are in your journey, you give yourself credit for the process you have made and maybe even try on your new identity, even if it’s just for a day. You might be surprised by how well it fits.