When I Look in the Mirror
December 13th, 2010

I have long struggled with the difference between “secret” and “private.”  As a kid it was ingrained in me that if I there was anything in my life that I couldn’t share with my parents, then it was probably something I shouldn’t be involved in.  Nothing in my life should be secret.  Period.  It took me until I was out of college to arrive at a place where I was comfortable having components of my life that were private; where I didn’t assume that keeping things private was some sort of acknowledgement of impropriety. 

Nevertheless, as an “open book” kind of person, even with that level of comfort achieved, there was not much about my life that I wasn’t willing to discuss in casual conversation with just about anyone.  That held true until January 1st of this year.  That was the day I launched this blog.  I publicized it to friends and family, but – very intentionally – not to any of my coworkers. 

I kept it a secret.  At least that was how it felt.

Then last Thursday, after weeks of equivocation, I spilled my secret.  I am working with my sister-in-law/blog designer to make a few updates to this site.  We have come up with some new graphics and I was interested in an outside perspective, so I very quietly asked the graphic designer at work to stop by my office when he had a few minutes.

I was shy.  I was a sheepish.  I was unsure of myself and felt awkward about the whole thing.  My colleague, on the other hand, was unfazed by my embarrassment.  He offered his candid feedback, which was insightful and helpful in a variety of ways.  Then when I began to apologize for myself and my concerns about keeping my “secret” he countered.  

“It’s not a secret,” he said.

“But no one else in the office knows about it,” I responded.

“That doesn’t mean it’s a secret.  It’s a private passion.  Artists have private passions all the time,” he said.

“I guess I don’t think of myself as an artist.”

“Well maybe you should.”

And that was where the conversation left me without a response.  Maybe I should.  Maybe I should think of myself as an artist.  Maybe I should broaden the list of descriptions that I typically apply to myself.  Maybe wife, mother, and marketing professional do not adequately encompass the full scope of Gale. 

As I have thought further about this conversation I’m still not sure that “artist” is the right word to describe me.  But I like the idea that there are more words to describe me than I have perhaps previously acknowledged.  And I wonder how my existing list of descriptors has limited me up to this point.  How many times have I made a decision not to do something with the subconscious refrain of “Well, I’m not a(n) X” running through my mind?  How many more things might I have tried?  How much more freedom might I have given myself?

When I look in the mirror I see a wife, a working mother, a sister, and a friend.  But do I see an artist?  Do I see a writer?  Do I see a humanitarian?  Do I see a risk taker?  Do I see someone who is brave?  If the answer to those questions is No, it surely influences the way I live my life.  But to what avail? 

I like the idea that I may live a more interesting version of my life if I open the door to a broader range of identities.  I like the idea that I can be (or perhaps already am) something I never imagined.

10 Responses to “When I Look in the Mirror”

  1. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    Oh, how I love this. Identity is a shifting sea and thank goodness for that. I am forever intrigued by the secret/private dichotomy as well. And as someone who has been reading your words for a while now, please believe that you are a writer. An artist indeed.

  2. Gale Says:

    Aidan – I agree that the “shifting sea of identity” is definitely a good thing. It frees us to imagine ourselves in new ways. However, it can also be intimidating because it then urges us to leave the comfort of the identity we know to try on something different.

  3. Jan Says:

    Gale, I never thought of myself as “creative,” until one day you told me that I was. I still don’t think I’m creative, in the sense that your idea of an artist is creative, but it’s a nice little conceit. So maybe I’m creative and you’re an artist. Really.

  4. Gale Says:

    Jan – I remember that conversation. And I stand by it. In the purest sense of the word you are very creative. You create things all the time. You cook, you sew, you draw. Where there was nothing, there is now something; something that you created.

  5. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    As someone who sometimes says she’s “a writer” and cringes, feeling like a fraud, I understand your misgivings. But I do love coming here–you always make me think, which is something artists aspire to, correct?

  6. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Very provocative post. I think we all have many versions of ourselves – they play and hide and seek (along with our confidence in their presence) – and do so at different stages in life. I love that we have such capacity for so many people and perspectives, as well as things to learn.

    Creativity hangs in; if it is strong enough, it remains patient and insistent at the same time. It will have its out. Or perhaps I should say that our creative selves will have their out.

    As for privacy and secrecy, many people mistake the former for the latter, when they are quite different animals.

  7. Cathy Says:

    As someone who does not feel content with her current career and who has had at least four careers in the almost 20 years since college, I cannot help but feel that there is always opportunity to redefine. The possibilities are endless.

  8. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Terrific post. You’ve hit upon something I think about all the time. Like you and like TKW, I feel funny calling myself a “writer” (especially when talking to people who are employed as writers or in other creative fields), but I like what you have to say here about the potential that might come when we think of the answer to a question as “yes” rather than “no.”

  9. Katybeth Says:

    Mirror, Mirror on the wall…Our reflections are always changing…its a nice gift when someone points out our reflection from a different perspective. I cringe from the risk of appearing to be a “show-off, special, talented,” in any given area, Its to easy for someone to say “You are not” or for me to hear, “You are not,” in their tone. I often keep things private or secret until I feel safe sharing them; less vulnerable.
    “Opening the door to a broader range of identities.” is at least a 10 dollar thought!

  10. michelle Says:

    this is great! And I so relate….