Musings: Picking Roles and the Practice of Art

You are reading a Stream of Consciousness (aka SOC) blog entry. These are written from a personal point of view when I am right in the moment of figuring something out. People unfamiliar with my writing over the years may find it hard to follow. All are welcome to read, but keep in mind that these entries are raw and not representative of how I may actually feel/think about a given topic.

Continuing from yesterday’s musings on distinguishing between identity and role, I dig deeper into why focusing on ROLE might be a better strategy for expanding the community-oriented aspects of my personal mission.

Identity and Role Face Different Directions

Yesterday I made a distinction between one’s identity versus role. In matters of community, I have tended to first focus on clarifying my sense of identity; my reasoning is that if I understand myself better then the right community fit would be easier to find. I think this is a decent approach, but there are two drawbacks to it:

  • IDENTITY is focused on the self, not on community. This is the opposite attitude that one ideally has with a community!
  • Using IDENTITY as the criterion for whether a community is a “good fit for me” creates a lot of opportunity for conflict, generating more reasons not to be in a community.

This attitude probably stems from my long-time distrust of other people’s agendas, and it needs to change. Don’t get me wrong: using my own values grounded and sense of self had empowered me to pursue my own goals in the first place. However, the limits of this kind of thinking are becoming more apparent to me.

ROLES are another way for me to think about how I want to engage with other people. I like having a role, because it’s about working toward a community-focused result. This is easier to assess, I think, than using an identity-focused criterion like, “does this make me happy?” or “am I accepted for who I am?” Instead, I can ask questions like, “does this action improve the status quo for more people?” and “did I contribute to our shared initiative meaningfully?” I like how thinking of inhabiting a role de-emphasizes the focus on me as an individual with an implied quantity of “social worth”. Roles are to communities as tasks are to projects, and I believe that the needs of communities/projects should rise above the personal agenda of individual desire in favor of shared desire for the good of all.

Relation to the The Practice of Art

So, the upshot of this discussion is that I have yet another distinction to make between “my private self” versus “my public role”. I have tended to blur the two together because I thought it was more “authentic”. However, there is a select circle of people who “get who I am” (identity) and the larger group of those who “like something I do” (role). There’s a parallel here in how I see the practice of my so-called “art”: there’s a few people who “understand the totality of what I’m doing” in terms of design and writing as a personal journey of exploration, and then there’s the larger group of people who like some small shard of my body of work for different reasons. The negative reaction that people have to engaging the larger group is called selling out, but I have argued that it’s not selling out IF you maintain that inner core of beauty. It’s entirely OK that other people have different understandings and uses of what I do, and if I can make some kind of living doing that it is fine. It does not have to devalue the core of who I am and why I do the things I do, if I decide that this is the case.

To successfully inhabit a role, one needs to have a measure of confidence in one’s ability to perform in it. Since I’m assigning MYSELF a role, I think there’s a good chance that I can perform adequately. I know myself pretty well from all the identity-related thinking I’ve done over the years, and I should be able to define the parameters of my chosen role so there’s a good fit. Selecting a role also provides more context than merely “choosing what I want to do”, because roles require some kind of external relationship. This is an excellent fit for my productivity philosophy of making and sharing. I also like not defining what I do as “a service” or “being helpful”, because that is not my focus. I’m WAAAAY too egotistic for that :-) I WANT TO DO COOL STUFF AND BE KNOWN FOR IT. Being of service and helpfulness are hopefully the by-products of my activity because I like that, but it’s not my desire to be someone else’s support system. The whole point of creative independence is to do my own thing.

Now What?

So the next question I have is what role(s) do I want to pursue? These are like coming up with job descriptions with the added criterion of identifying who benefits. Here’s my first shot at it:

  • Host of Creative Possibilities Coworking Space (related to the LIVING ROOM CAFE project). ROLE CRITERIA: maintaining an inviting space for collaborative meeting; creating events and inviting compatible people to work together; get people excited about following through on ideas and meeting other people. SELF BENEFIT: inspiration, energy, fellowship.

  • Accessible Solo Creative Entrepreneur (related to design, stationery, development pursuits). ROLE CRITERIA: write publicly about pursuits with integrity; provide well-organized useful resources for free and also for sale; create opportunities to discuss these topics face-to-face or real time; connect people I meet with other people who should know about each other; actively grow ties with other solo creative entrepreneurs. SELF BENEFIT: get to talk shop, venting, finding resources, creative fellowship.

  • Nerd (related to everything else I do). ROLE CRITERIA: collect nerdy information and trivia; organize and share nerd information with other nerds; find more nerds and joyously assemble with them; share the joy of nerdy investigation and the cultural joy of making stuff / making stuff up; become authoritative on selected nerd sub-fields. SELF BENEFIT: glee, friendship, co-conspirators, having fun.

These roles are very much what I am doing already, but instead of just declaring that this is what I’m doing because I want to do it, I’ve made specific connections to how other people benefit too. Before, I had expressed all of these as personal goals and they just didn’t have much pull by themselves. Perhaps by reframing my goals as roles, I can get back on track.