Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chain: What I am is what I am

Michelle is making all of us do a little soul searching this time with her blog chain question.

Do you choose what you do because of who you are? Or is who you are determined by what you do?

When I was in grade school my parents put up one of those giant bowl-shaped satellite dishes in our backyard. Prior to this, the only sources of video entertainment came in the form of ABC, CBS or ETV. (Our rooftop antenna wasn't strong enough to pull in NBC and we lived in the country, so cable was out of the question.) Suddenly my sisters and I had access to all sorts of movies, many of which were not age appropriate for the youngest in the family. (That'd be me.)
I lost count of how many times I heard my sisters say: "Don't tell Mom and Dad we let you watch this." Most of the time I didn't have the patience to sit long enough to fully comprehend the plot anyway.

For some reason, however, I remember watching "The World According to Garp," where the main character sets out to be a serious writer.

I remember my sister Kelly saying, "I don't know how anyone could actually write a book. That would be the most boring thing in the world."

Kristi, another one of my sisters, agreed.

Meanwhile, I sat by an ancient manual typewriter plunking out a story about a woman living in a camper.

"Yeah. That would be boring." I mumbled in agreement. And I was serious.

Now, fast forward about 25 years to a vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Surrounded by tourists from all over the United States, my sister, Kristi, waited with me and my daughters for a tour of the Cosmos Mystery Area to begin. Naturally, I started conversing with strangers, asking questions normal people probably wouldn't ask.

"So, where are you from?" I asked a dad with two teenagers.

"Alexandria, Louisiana."

"Really? Wow, that's quite a trip. How long did that take?"

"We split it up into days."

"Cool, cool," I said. "So, Alexandria, huh? Where in Louisiana is that? Were you affected by the hurricane?"

After assaulting the poor man with a barrage of questions, my sister nudged me and asked if I thought I was getting a little personal.

I realized the researcher in me -- the one I'd honed as a writer and reporter -- had kicked in. I apologized to the guy and explained why I asked so many questions. When he heard I was a writer, the roles reversed, and he started asking questions about what it was like, what kind of stuff I wrote and where I was from.

So, when Michelle asked these questions -- do I choose what I do because of who I am? Or is who I am determined by what I do? -- I started thinking about human nature. By nature, humans are curious. By nature, writers are explorers. . .we explore the what-ifs in life and put them down on paper.

I don't think I was born to write; my attitude expressed during "Garp" gives that away. I was born with an active imagination, and I started writing to explore the what-ifs it contains. I continued to write because someone complimented me on the voice with which I put my musings down on paper. That encouraged me to do it again and again until I was identified as the writer in my group of friends, the writer in my high school class and the writer in the family.

The more I identified with that label, the more I wrote and adopted the behaviors of a writer, a researcher, an explorer of what-ifs.

When you think about it, the answer to Michelle's question is like a Mobius strip that defines my personality. It's a circle that goes round and round, from one side to another, seeping into all aspects of my life regardless of whether or not I realize it.

I am a curious person. Curiosity pushes me to explore. I explore through writing. Writing feeds, forms and molds who I am.
And round and round I go...

Now, go check out what Christine has to say. Or read what Eric had to say before me.


Rosslyn Elliott said...

Cool post! My parents live in Alexandria, and I went to junior high and two years of high school there. There's a miniscule chance that the man you met was someone I once knew. THAT's a weird thought. :-)

christine said...

Excellent post Kat...I'm going to wing this baby in a different direction tomorrow...just cause I can! Mwahahahaha

B.J. Anderson said...

Great post! That's going deep for sure. I like that you asked that guy so many questions. It's good to be curious!!

KM Wilsher said...

Great post. I looove Edie brickell :). . .

Michelle McLean said...

exploring the what-ifs - I LOVE it! :D And yeah, it is a bit of a circular question huh? LOL That's why I love it so much! :D Elana and I started it, I continued it with a few other writer friends, and just had to know what everyone else thought. I am loving this chain :D Great post!

Mandy said...

What a heartfelt post! I have to say Kat, I think you've always been a writer. You were born to do this!

Eva Gallant said...

You just made me feel better about the conversations I have with strangers--my husband sometimes is embarrassed by my curiousity!

Sandra said...

I think this post shows the power of labels: the more you are labeled as something, the more it affects your identity. Good post.

Eric said...

Great post. It's interesting to me how so many current writers "thought" about writing as a career or whatever at some point and now do it. That's also a good thing that you decided to continue with it.

Cole Gibsen said...

It's so funny to me that people naturally assume all writers are introverts when I find myself approaching people and getting personal all the time - just like you :) I think being a writer makes us naturally curious about the inner workings and backgrounds of people.

ElanaJ said...

This is a fantastic insight into the life of a writer. It's almost like a pair of glasses you put on and see the world through. Interesting...

Anonymous said...

Whoa, interesting question. "Do you choose what you do because of who you are? Or is who you are determined by what you do?"

I think we choose what we do because of who we are. Sometimes we don't always know who we are though. Two years ago, I never would have guessed I was going to be a writer.


Now, I've just penned my tenth novel and you could knock me over with a feather. But it's God's plan, God's timing. I'll rest in that.

Rebecca Knight said...

I love your picture choices for this post! ;D

Sarah Bromley said...

I agree. You do have to be naturally curious to be a writer. I also agree that, with many things in life, you do grow into what you do and it eventually becomes one of the definitions of "you."

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Fantastic post! My brother fed me a steady diet of horror films that gave me nightmares. I never told my mom though.