There’s a part in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love (and in the film adaptation of the book) in which Giulio, one of the people Gilbert meets in Italy, explains that every city has a single word that defines it and identifies most people who live there. Rome’s word, he declares, is SEX.
This rule also applies to people and so he asks Gilbert, “What’s your word?” In the book, Gilbert is stomped and can’t answer. In the movie, however, Julia Roberts, who plays Gilbert, takes a stab at it. She talks about how once her word was “daughter,” because she was good at that. Then later “girlfriend” then later “wife” but that obviously didn’t work out because she’s now divorced.
While she’s saying this I’m squirming in my seat. How it is foolish to define yourself by what you are to other people, I thought, sitting upon my high horse in my saddle of feminism. You have no control when you define yourself that way. Your word is writer, I wanted to yell at the screen. Seconds after I think this, she says just that, that her word is writer. But her Italian buddy quickly counters, “But that’s not who you are that’s what you do.”
Ouch! (That’s me falling off my high horse and onto my ass.) Is it just as silly to define yourself by your career, especially in tough economic times when people are being laid off or feel compelled to change career paths because they need more money or job security?
Gilbert declares she doesn’t know what her word is and another friend suggests, “Perhaps you are a woman in search of her word.” And with that I realized that I am too. Maybe.
For years I was certain that my word was writer. No, it wasn’t simply something I did, it described who I was. Being a writer affected how I processed anger, sadness and joy and even how I viewed a clear blue sky. With words I showed my affection for my loved ones. I even write down prayers to my God. And I didn’t decide that writer was my word after someone placed a press pass in my hand. I was calling myself a writer before I had a driver’s permit.
But now I’m no longer a journalist. I’m an educator and though as a literature teacher I still work with words all day every day, it’s not the same. These days whenever I refer to myself as a writer I feel like a fraud. So maybe it is just as foolish to define yourself by a career as it is to define yourself by a relationship because instead of putting the power to determine who you are in the hands of boyfriend, you’re handing it over to your boss.
Then one day while mulling this over in the shower (which is where the ideas for most of my blog posts are born) I had a revelation. The problem here is that I gave over this power when I didn’t have to. I have determined that I am no longer a writer because I no longer have a major media conglomerate paying me for my words. But if I truly believe that writer isn’t just something that I was born to do, but also what I was born to be, doesn’t that mean I’m a writer no matter what, whether I’m getting paid for it or not?
Maybe. Honestly, I’m not sure. A part of me feels like I’m too old to go around calling myself a writer when I no longer have much to show for it. Wouldn’t that make me sound like some wannabe rapper who never makes money off his music. But another part of me believes that a true artist will pursue his or her art regardless because that’s what passion is all about.
I’m simply not sure where I stand and for now I guess I am a woman in search of her word.
What about you? What’s your word and what word do you feel describes the city in which you live?