I was listening to a kind of eulogy for Studs Terkel over the past few days on a Transom podcast. I saved little bits up to savor. He is a bit of a hero of mine, so I made it last.
The podcast was recorded five years ago, the voice of Studs through the years, interviews of the producers and assistants who worked with him at WFMT radio in Chicago, and his book transcriptions.
A reflection of Studs’ caused me to reflect. He was always fascinated and enthralled with the lives of people he spoke with in every walk of life, and said those interviews informed him about himself.
About who he was.
So I thought, if I had to define myself, how would I do that? With what terms, descriptions or relationships do I stake my claim as me?
Part of this has come up in mind recently because of the Black Lives Matter movement. I wonder about race, and if I define myself first as a white person.
I don’t, and maybe that’s because I never had to. Some people would say that makes me lucky. I only know this life, but I can imagine that not having to define myself by my race is both a fortune and a loss.
I am largely cultureless. I do not have a rich history marked by pain or by heritage.
I am female, though I’m not sure if I would first define myself as woman. It often seems incidental, but again, I may take it for granted.
I am 45, so middle-aged, I am a daughter, a sister, a friend and a spouse.
I am two times divorced, heterosexual, a lapsed Catholic, an animal lover, recent violinist, former horse trainer, art teacher, I am a writer, a journalist and a photographer.
I am right handed. I am born American, live in Australia, employed full-time.
These things don’t seem adequate to pick as my first defining quality that makes me me.
I thought hard and figured these might be the qualities I reach for to define myself:
- I am very curious
- I am the person who talks even if people aren’t listening
- I seem to exist where my mind is at any time
- I am overly empathetic
- I never seem to catch up with myself
When I step out of the shower, I wipe the mirror and begin picking through the tangle of my hair to find a part. Then I look up and there I am to face another day.
It seems that I look at myself, ageing face, broadening swashes of silver woven through the brown of my hair, my lumpiness, but I am not there.
I am already in the car, wondering what I will find on the road, in the office, dreading the day, nervous again, or a little excited about an interview, I look around my bedroom and imagine coming home at the end of it all, that I might have energy left over to do some homework or write a web site post.
If I get home while it is light, I am on the road, walking or riding my bike, watching the dogs run along, the spin of cockatoos overhead.
I make dinner. I am a dinner-maker. I am hugging my guy, I am sharing a laugh.
Am I alone in this? Do other people look at their reflection and consider first their age, or gender, the color of their skin, their imperfections or scars?
All I know is my mind is my body, embedded in the moment, be it the person in front of me, the words I type out, the voice on the phone, the landscape rolling out ahead, the sound of the wind.