“Who am I?” is a more-difficult-than-face-value sort of question, isn’t it? As questions go, it is one of the only ones I can think of that was once capable of spinning me into full-on freak out, real emotional meltdown, just to contemplate it under any sort of pressure to deliver an answer. Thankfully, I outgrew that at some point, and became free to fully consider the question for myself.

“Who are you?”

I wipe paint off my hands with less care than would perhaps be ideal. In the moment, it is enough to be certain of not leaving pigmented finger prints on every carelessly touched surface, and to limit the risk of ingesting paint. I am taking a break from painting, and considering the notion of “identity” – how I choose to answer the question “who am I?” matters greatly to me, although it has little to do with how I am identified to others. An odd byproduct of my musings, I find I am understanding with greater clarity how hurtful it can be to refuse to use someone’s chosen name, insisting on using a given name that they resent, dislike, or that simply doesn’t reflect who they see themselves to be. It’s a dick move to refuse to use the name someone chooses for themselves, regardless why they chose it, or what it may mean to me; it’s their name, they get to choose it if they wish to. Simple enough.

I can extrapolate that same thinking to cover most any characteristic someone might choose to identify themselves by. Me, for example… I take hundreds of pictures a month, thousands every year (some are even quite good… take enough of them, that’s gonna happen eventually). I don’t consider myself “a photographer”. I write poetry… one or two poems, reliably, every week at a minimum. Many hundreds over a lifetime. I rarely refer to myself as a poet, and this in spite of the fact that my one currently completed (as yet unpublished) manuscript is a book of poetry. I don’t paint every day, or even every week – in fact, there have been even a couple of actual entire years during which I did not paint, or sketch… but I do consider myself an artist, specifically a painter. Funny which things become part of my sense of self, my “identity” and which do not. Stranger still how little the qualities that define me, for myself, have anything whatever to do with how others may define me.

Letting go of attachment becomes most challenging when I am asked to let go of my attachment even to the words and ideas I have used to identify and define myself, within. I am an artist whether I paint or not – why is that? Is it any more “real” or “true” than any other element of my “identity” and sense of self? Am I harmed or changed in any way by not having defined myself as a photographer or poet? I still take pictures. I still write poetry. “Who am I?”

I find myself living my experience less tied to the words that may be used to describe it, just enjoying the rain as it falls, drenching meadow and marsh. Sipping a fresh cup of coffee, watching paint dry, and contemplating something beyond the words of the question “who am I?”, and living each moment awake, and aware, without being particularly concerned about who I may seem to be… even to the woman in the mirror. Today it is enough to stand naked and free and to answer the question “who are you?” with the simplest of wordless replies, “I am”. It is enough to be. 🙂