The Songwriting Identity Police!
By Paula Carpenter - 01/20/2002 - 03:53 PM EST
Copyright 2001 Paula Carpenter, StarBright Music. All Rights Reserved.
(Greetings! Just returned to Texas from a Nashville trip -- a most wonderful one -- and am posting the article I was supposed to post before I went! :( Jodi is a most patient web-mistress...thankfully! Let's hear it for Jodi!)
Hey everyone, hope this finds you doing well. I just got a brain-buzz, to write about the SONGWRITER IDENTITY POLICE, and how you can escape them!
What's that, you say? What in the world are the SONGWRITER IDENTITY POLICE???? Well....they're those imaginary POLICE that you think are gonna come arrest you, if, when someone asks you: "What's your line of work?" or "What do you do?" you (who in your day job are an attorney, or President of the Bank, or a 3rd grade teacher, or even MORE important...a stay-at-home Mom or Dad) think that if you say "I'M A SONGWRITER", the SONGWRITER IDENTITY POLICE will come arrest you! Or at the very least, give you a major ticket for lying.
I know you. I know you people, because you are "my people", and you think like me. When we are just starting out as songwriters, or even if we are accomplished in our craft as songwriters but not yet published in the way we'd like to be -- maybe we're known in our OTHER careers -- and we say "I'm a songwriter", it feels at first like we might be telling the WHITEST little lie, or making ourselves out to be something we're not--when in reality...we ARE that: we are Songwriters!
Now, at the risk of boring you all completely to TEARS with more stories about my professional songwriting beginnings (hey, these are MY stories...whose else am I gonna tell??) let me just...tell you anyway. Boring or not, here I come.
I was at the aforementioned (in my other articles/intro) seminar...my first, coming up on 17 years ago, and I am listening to this lady, a much-published and admired writer, telling us that she was indeed...a former teacher (as was I) a Mother (as was I) and did NOT live in Nashville (as I did not) and how she had accomplished her dreams beyond her wildest imagination...(that's where the similarities at that time, stopped -- I had not!) Soooo.....she went on to share part of her story, and this story I'm about to tell really stuck with me, and has turned out to be one of the most valuable things I took home from that life-changing summer music biz seminar...and at the time, it seemed kinda like nothing much, I'm sure, to many there.
What she said was, that when she was trying to make this mental transition in her OWN mind, of starting to think of herself as a REAL songwriter, instead of a "hobby" songwriter, (you know, "oh thanks, but I just do this as a hobby", or "oh thanks, but I just do this for my friends' weddings", or...you get it)...the time when she MADE THE LEAP...in her OWN MIND...came when she decided to, upon enrolling her son in (whatever) grade in school, on the form where it said "Mother's Occupation", where she'd written "homemaker" in the past, since she wasn't teaching at the moment--where she'd written "homemaker" for so many times before, it suddenly hit her!! She would write down SONGWRITER, and see what happened! And you know what happened! THE SONGWRITER IDENTITY POLICE did NOT...repeat did NOT...come after her and arrest her!
Well...that bit of good fortune, the not-being-arrested part, or even TICKETED, was only the START of the good stuff. The deeper benefit was, that in her own mind, she started thinking of herself as: a SONGWRITER.
So she shared the story at the seminar. It made an impression on me, 'cause I was REALLY seeing myself there, big-time. We human beings are all SO ridiculously over-senstive (many of us) about how other people perceive us. We worry WAAAYYYY too much about what the friend, or the acquaintance or the co-worker...is gonna THINK if we suddenly start DEFINING OURSELVES in the light in which we WISH TO BE SEEN...or as a part of the business/industry/world/dream to which we ASPIRE! (In reality, did you know that people think about us far less than we imagine they do? 'Cause they are way busy, worrying about their own lives, instead of dissecting OURS like we sometimes think). Anyhow...back to the seminar: I was right there with everyone who's EVER felt like..."Oh! I can't say that...can I? That I'm a real songwriter? I mean, what if somebody...like...ASKS me, what SONGS I've written, or who I've written for? What would I say??" Waah, waah, waah.
I heard her words, and thought, you know, this really is important. It seems at first glance like a little thing, but it really isn't. In a way, it's a mind game you play with yourself. You have to decide that YOU ARE INDEED --- a SONGWRITER, with a capital S !! Because until you do...you won't be. I mean, if YOU yourself don't think that you are one, who else will? So it makes it seem really FOR REAL, like taking the marriage vows instead of just living together, I suppose .... if you actually SAY IT or WRITE IT DOWN on an official document : ). I am being a little bit facetious here, but not much. Because as trivial as it sounds, this self-psychology MATTERS!
Ok, then...for me. When I returned home that summer, to Texas, before long, it was time to take my young twin daughters to the Dr. While there, and filling out forms...VOILA! There it was--The Question! :
(which in my mind said: "ARE YOU A SONGWRITER, or NOT???")
My moment of truth. Don't laugh. Don't EVEN laugh at me, stop it right now. Don't even snicker. It really IS that important. I had to decide, then and there: will I ever be a REAL songwriter? Am I going to follow this dream? Am I serious enough to write this down, and then answer this receptionists' questions when she says "Oh, I didn't know you were a songwriter! Who have you written for? Would I know any of your songs?" (which she did ask)
I decided to go for it -- no more of this "shacking up" with my pipe-dream to be a great songwriter -- I was about to TAKE THE VOW. I WROTE IT DOWN. I loved it! I was so proud! And...I started to believe it. She asked the questions...I don't remember what I said. But the most IMPORTANT THING had happened: I WAS A REAL SONGWRITER IN MY OWN MIND. And that was MORE than half the battle.
Oh, and also: No police sirens, no squad cars, no SONGWRITER IDENTITY POLICE hauling me in for questioning (the receptionist did that). Yes, there WAS a lot of excitement -- but it was all inside ME. I was on my way! (with a short detour to the ice cream shop, for my daughters, who'd been good little kids at the doctor's office...)
We go into the ice cream shop. One blonde cutie orders Rocky Road, the other orders Cookie Dough, and I, who am usually terminally watching my weight, thought, "What the heck? I did a great thing today!! WHY NOT ME??! How about some Jamoca Almond Fudge?? "
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