It was suggested to me recently that I’m having an “Identity Crisis”. I guess that is one more thing to add to my extensive list of “Issues”.
This came about because I was having another wail about Church People just seeing me as “The Pastor’s Wife”. This variation on my 25-year old long-running theme was a specific gripe, due to me feeling taken advantage of over a current issue, too convoluted to relate here, but one aspect being playing Pipe Organ in Church five out of six consecutive weeks. Which I actually enjoy doing. But, while at the same time, there had been some question raised over my qualifications and skills as an organist. The irony of the confluence of these two things was not lost on me.
I have reflected before on how we go through life being identified, I feel, in relation to other people and other things. Which is natural. Someone’s child. Someone’s sister or brother.
As a student at a particular school.
As a member of a sports team or club perhaps. Or, at a Music or Ballet school on the weekend.
Then, later, as someone’s husband or wife. Then parent of our child or children. By the job that we do.
But to what extent is our identity just “ME”?
My long-ago, long-term Piano Teacher’s wife, Beryl Kimber Leske, an eternal matchmaker, was extremely excited, a quarter-century ago now, when she discovered I was engaged and wearing a diamond ring. One of her first questions was “What does he play?” I explained my fiancé was a “Nice Lutheran boy” (I thought this might go down well, as the Leskes also have Lutheran connections). She was a little taken aback to learn that Neil was not a musician per se (although he does sing well). But then she brightened, stating “Ah, well, every Performer needs an Audience”. She had assigned a Role for him that, in her world, worked.
On Thursday of this week I did the closest thing to “Work” that I have since I resigned from my school teaching position in September 2016. My daughter’s violin teacher had asked me to assist at a “Strings Day of Excellence” at the local High School where she teaches. This involved the resident String Orchestra of the host High School, plus invited String Students from five nearby Primary Schools. The purpose of the day appeared to be twofold. Firstly, to give the younger students the opportunity to participate in a larger, more proficient group of musicians, and to inspire them to continue studying by seeing and experiencing where they might be in a few years’ time. And secondly, as a PR exercise by the High School to showcase their Performing Arts options – because they would be looking to recruit students from these Primary Schools.
I arrived early to an assembly hall already set up with 150 chairs and music stands, a few staff getting ready, and a handful of High Schoolers. A few “early birds” – anxious small uniformed children – started trickling in with parents in tow. After checking the plan for the morning, I amused myself how quickly I unconsciously slipped into “Meet and Greet” mode, as the trickle of visiting Primary children became a flood. “Good Morning!” “Welcome!” “How lovely to see you” “Please unpack your instrument over there”. And then “Let me help you tune your violin”. I looked up and realised a queue had formed in front of me of a dozen children all waiting for me to help tune their instruments.
In the middle of all this, a harried looking woman approached me and stated: “I’m one of the other String Teachers”. And then, in an irritated tone: “Nobody told me what time I had to be here, or what I was supposed to do”.
“I’m just borrowed for the day” I volunteered brightly, and carried on tuning fractional-sized violins, violas and cellos. There was something resentful in the other teacher’s tone, which I deliberately did not pick up on. I noticed, however, that neither did she instinctively start another “tuning station” which would have prepared the children more quickly. She simply disappeared in a frustrated huff.
I’m sure we all have “Family Folklore”, those little stories which our parents and Grandparents love to tell of times gone by, as some type example or thing to remember. In our family there was one such tale of a relative who consulted her mother about her current boyfriend. Who she found perfect in very way. Except one.
She was concerned that “John” was not very much of a self-starter where domestic things were concerned. That he did not seem to notice that a table needed to be set or that dishes could be washed. That she was worried that if they were married, she would shoulder all of these things herself.
Her wise mother thought for a moment, and then counselled her. “There are two types of people in this life. Those who “see the need and do”’ and those who need to be asked. Perhaps your young man just does not “see” and you need to “ask”. “Try it”
So her daughter tried this tactic. “John, would you please set the table for me?” “Certainly, dear” and he would immediately leap up and do it. A more helpful, loving and giving person you could not wish for than John. Her mother was right. John just did not “See”.
I have long wondered if this is partly typical of men of this era (“John” is now in his 80’s) – those who were children during World War II and grew up in a time when male/female roles were much more defined such that males were typically “Breadwinners” and females “Homemakers”, so there was an assumption that certain things were “women’s work”. Because I have noted this same lack of domesticity in other men of a similar age.
However, it’s not necessarily restricted to senior folk – “Generation Y” appear to have many, if not enhanced of these tendencies – the ability to be in a room totally oblivious to the fact that others are busily working or things need to be done. “Millennials” – according to one expert – are accused of being lazy, self-involved, cosseted, politically apathetic narcissists, who aren’t able to function without a smartphone and who live in a state of perpetual adolescence, incapable of commitment.
But that’s probably a discussion for another day.
All that said, I believe that being such a person, one in the “See the need and do”’ category, transcends Gender and Age.
It is a way of thinking. In the much bigger picture – A way of defining yourself.
Because I think I have finally got a handle on this “Identity” thing.
(Hallelujah! say long-suffering friends).
I am the See-the-need-and-do person.
I am the Whatever-it-takes person.
I am the Above-and-beyond person (which was the “Theme” of my previous school the first few years I worked there.)
For years, my Facebook “About Me” section has included a statement I wrote some years ago, in reaction to someone who had been quite dismissive and negative when I had suggested trying something more challenging than had previously been attempted in a certain situation. I had found her attitude really frustrating. and it had prompted me coining the statement:
Kylie warns those who say:
“It’s too hard and it can’t be done”, I consider that a challenge and I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG!!
I also found the following quote, printed it out in an attractive font and hung it on the Office wall, where it stayed for some years:
Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly. (Robert H. Schuller)
The last – now five – months of being “Gainfully Unemployed” have also been a time of considerable reflection and soul searching for me, much of which has been personally difficult.
And trying to rationalise and compact so much down to try and work out what, ultimately matters about it all.
Spending seven years of your life going, yes, “Above and Beyond” in a place, working closely with particular people, establishing relationships, building something substantial (in the case of the Strings Program) and aiding in the growth generally of something that is meaningful to you (the Music Department of a school), having the opportunity to impact the lives of young people.
On a personal basis, coming to the “Big Smoke” from a small, regional town where you have built up a life for yourself, including a network of supportive friends, and having to start again from nothing. For the first two or three years counting only three people as friends on the Gold Coast. This sprawling, soul-less, artificial, fake, somewhat seedy place. And two of the three “counted as friends” people being colleagues at the school.
So, over seven years, the school is not just a place you go to, punch the time clock for your allotted hours and leave.
It is Family. It is Community.
And what is “My Role” “My Job”?
Interestingly, I never had a printed Job Description. I was employed as “Instrumental Teacher”. And so, I made the role my own. Whatever needed doing, I did it. So did, at the time, my colleagues. Amongst things my former colleagues did … costumes for Primary Musicals – sourced in lunchbreaks. Sets? Paint them yourself. Christmas Carols to be sung? (as related previously) – throw a choir together. The students have never heard a Symphony Orchestra play? Research and organise a Group Excursion and put them on a bus to Brisbane. As my Mum used to say “If you want something done properly, do it yourself”.
One year I was drafted into playing Lead Piano in the High School Musical 10 days before Opening Night, in response to an S.O.S. from the High School Music Teacher. “Kylie – I need you. Please help”. I dropped everything and learned the entire score – eighteen complete songs – for “Aladdin” in one weekend.
Whatever it takes.
However, this exact same approach has got me “into hot water” repeatedly. I have a long history of rarely sticking to my “Job Description” (when I have actually had one). 23 years ago I assisted a hardworking small business owner in England with his accounts and paperwork, including some letter writing and legal work as, English being his second language, he had got into arrears with some payments and was very stressed and concerned about losing his business. [I was actually employed to sell accessories at 40 pounds cash per week.]
Later, I had a part-time job as coffee-maker and telephone-answerer for a Graphic Design Company in North London. By the time I left there for Australia, the Director had indulged me by calling me his P.A. (which does look good on my C.V.)
Where people have wanted to “pigeon-hole” me and required me to “stay in my box” and “do what you are supposed to do” I guess I have literally felt boxed in. Sometimes their attitude is couched in terms of apparent concern for my welfare – suggesting I should not overwork or overstretch myself – that there are other people who can/should be/are actually employed to do those additional tasks which are “not your job”.
But what is often missed is that much of what I actually enjoy doing is not in the “Job Description”. And one of the things that frustrated me mightily last year was, when I stopped, by request, doing things I was not “supposed” to do, many of these were not picked up by other staff, by anyone – they just ceased altogether.
And – witness the lady at Thursday’s Workshop – I seem to have an innate ability to Irritate people by simply existing. By just diving in and doing what needs to be done. She at least appeared to be put out that she did not know who I was, yet I was doing obstensively “her job”. Yet, importantly, I noticed that she allowed her pique to come to the fore. Instead of taking over, or taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and setting up beside me – after all, why can’t we work TOGETHER in life – she chose to take offense.
Amusingly. my ACTUAL role for the day was “Designated Pianist”. AND I was slightly late for the first part of the rehearsal (for the role I was actually hired to play) due to the fact I was busy tuning literally one hundred instruments – something this lady was skilled and able to do. And which was actually her role (probably). But it was not me, but her attitude which prevented her from fully assuming it.
Fortunately, the organiser of the Workshop, my daughter’s teacher, who had invited me to participate, was the exact opposite. She appreciated all my assistance and thanked me for “pitching in” and helping out wherever needed.
At the risk of sounding like some religious group (and Mr. Google tells me there are a number with this exact name) there comes a point where we all need to step forward in faith.
To stop looking behind ourselves, second-guessing and mistrusting.
To realise that the exact same qualities we have which make one person love and appreciate us, may make another resent and even hate us.
And perhaps true Maturity is finally being able to be content with that.
This is the year that my contemporaries and I reach “Round-number” birthdays, and already some are asking how I might celebrate it. Well, I’m not really intending to. Because there are plenty of people who have walked this earth longer than I have, have achieved more than I have, who have contributed more than I have.
Equally, there are many who have fallen by the wayside, whether that being simply not achieving their potential, or they are staring into some mid-life crisis or have suffered ill health or pain, anxiety, or depression. Or perhaps have tried to deal with life’s complexities, its ups and downs with the use of medications or alcohol or drugs or other therapies.
None of us are perfect and none of us are getting any younger.
This week I came across a handful of letter copies I had written home during my early efforts at word-processing when I first moved to England twenty-five years ago. Including quite lot of “life advice” to a younger friend was I pseudo “Big Sister” to. Reading it now, in some ways I seemed wiser then than I seem to be now.
But equally, I think perhaps I have learned the odd thing in the past quarter century.
And this month, perhaps I’m a little closer to learning Who I Am.