October 20, 2020
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity. In a matter of weeks, I finished a draft of my debut novel, Manflu, and closed a deal with a publisher, turning me into a published author overnight when I barely even feel like a “real” writer.
This “writer” identity is a new and delicate thing for me. There are other identities that feel more worn and comfortable. I have been a mother for over nine years and a wife for nearly fourteen. I am a daughter, sister, cousin, niece, and also aunt, plus the in-law versions of those. Also important are friend, employee, and co-worker. I could go on and include American, woman, etc., but I won’t.
Where I want to go is not broader, but deeper. On that deeper level is not just the role I play or the groups I identify with, but who I am fundamentally. How do I see myself? I’m a person trying to take care of my family, make the world better, and enjoy life a bit along the way. I like to think I’m logical, kind, thoughtful, and competent. These characteristics are at the core of my self-perceived identity.
I recently received critical feedback on a draft of my novel from an anonymous reviewer. This type of feedback is essential to making the finished book the best it can be; however, it was still difficult to read. As I sat with the discomfort I felt upon reading the criticisms, I thought about what specifically was so painful. I realized that each comment chipped away at my fledgling identity as a writer – or would, if I let it. Not only that, but also my identity as someone who is competent was being challenged. Am I a competent writer? Will my book be any good? Right now, I’m optimistically uncertain – but I can live with that because I know that I am competent at many other things. That’s the benefit of being a nearly forty-year-old first-time author.
Also lately, I, along with the rest of the country, have been thinking a lot about the election. On a podcast recently, I heard that 2016 clip of Hillary Clinton saying that half of Trump supporters could be put in “the basket of deplorables.” I thought about what a mistake it was to attack people at the core of their identity like that. Listening to other podcasts where current Trump supporters have been interviewed, it strikes me that almost no one wants to think they are racist, sexist, etc. These Trump supporters go so far as to say that Trump is not racist when he clearly is because they don’t want to see themselves that way. Most people want to think that they are kind, hard-working, fair, and doing the best they can for their families.
Biden’s campaign clearly understands this and is doing a better job. Biden is selling himself as a blue-collar candidate. He said “I view this as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue.” And also: “And guys like President Trump, who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited, are the people I’ve always had a problem with. Not the people who are busting their necks.” He’s appealing to an identity a lot of people can relate to, an all-American, hard-working underdog. I hope with my entire being that this strategy works.
If I am unsuccessful as a writer, I am confident that I can move on and find satisfaction in other pursuits. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much faith in the future of this country if Biden’s appeal to Americans’ better identity fails. Every day that Trump remains in office, he becomes more brazen in his racism and pulls along multitudes of Americans with him, even if they are unwilling to admit it out loud or even to themselves. Hopefully, it is not too late to reverse course and refocus Americans on a shared positive national identity. I’m voting like my life depends on it.