Identity Matters.

A couple reflections on the delicate thing that is self-perception.

Since I began wearing wigs for universal autoimmune hair loss in 2017, I have consistently maintained a strict visual delineation between my work self and my, shall we say, unshackled self. Yes, there are practical reasons that one’s work wig of choice might be plainer, straighter, more conservative than one’s weekend hair – but once the pandemic started, I found myself taking that dualism to extremes. Resentful of the endless continuum of customer service performed out of my living room, I let myself become, not just low-maintenance and comfortable, but increasingly dowdy. It was a type of rebellion: I would give that role only so much of myself, and reserve the real juice – the charisma, the sex appeal, the effort – for the time that was solely my own. And lemme tell you: a dense, almost-too-springy professional bob never looks wiggier than when it’s on a bare naked, groggy, and un-amused face.

Recently I realized the divide was becoming increasingly surreal. The technicolor of my weekend self (extra pounds be damned) seemed wholly unrelated to the proverbial cog who slouched pallidly, steeped in sweats and sack-like dresses, in the contact center hot seat throughout the week.

It was literally two nights ago that I decided the madness needed to stop – that turning myself back into someone I recognize during the workweek is probably just as instrumental to progress as another thing I just did: signing up for a community college technical writing course. As much as I dislike taking calls, it was probably making me feel even worse to answer calls as the embodiment of a bag of russet potatoes.

I looked at DP and said,“I need to start going to work as myself.” He shrugged and said, “OK” (which is why he’s a good DP).

The other impetus for today’s musings on identity is that Rich Tarbell just released “Regarding Charlottesville Music II” (pandemic edition, ‘20-’21). Being a music-maker myself, but one who tends to isolate herself even under normal circumstances, it was powerful and enlightening to hear the perspective of more communal musicians whose sudden inability to perform last year undermined their entire sense of self-worth and purpose. It was a stark reminder that, though I am no stranger to feelings of inadequacy, I have never crossed the line into feeling that my value as a human was externally determined. Nor have I linked my identity to one particular label or activity. I’ve always had a non-descript but strong impression of my own fundamental essence, independent of what I did or what I was called. Perhaps in that way I have been fortunate.

Not only that, but hearing others describe performance primarily as a collective energy exchange reinforced how much, for me, it’s never been that as much as a way to present myself to society on my own terms. I am reminded of something Sarah Mary Chadwick said in an interview, to the effect of she finds it weird when fans claim certain of her songs as their own, because she created them primarily for herself. She indicates a possessiveness, a reluctance to relinquish, that I find deeply relatable (even as the SMC fan in me bristles slightly).

That is not to say that loner/introvert musicians like me are unconcerned with connection, though. What is the ultimate aim of our meticulous, controlled presentation of self, if not to make ourselves understood? That experience of understanding, of minds meeting, could just as easily be described as a feeling of connection. Plus, we know there are others a lot like ourselves out there; perhaps in sharing art we hope to spare the rest of our ilk some of the burden of self-explanation.

For today’s performance, the role of L. Manuel will be played by L. Manuel

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