Spare some change?

Been thinking about change a lot recently. About how we can become so resistant to it, so afraid of it. How who we think we are is dependent upon some aspect of our life not changing. Identity = stasis, for many of us. So then, does change = identity crisis?

I remember when I had to fill out my fist tax returns. I was bartending then to make money, but I was damned if I was going to put “Bartender” on my tax return as my occupation. I was an actor, dammit. But as far as the government was concerned, saying so meant I had to prove it economically. This really pissed me off. “Who cares?” some wiser friends told me, “You know what you are, just tell the government what will make sense to them.” In one of the many ways we are molded by the culture we live in, I had internalized the message that identity = job = income. What a horrible state to find oneself in at age 22. I am my tax return.

This journey played itself in a different way fifteen years later. This time, it revolved around my battle with the evil slogan “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. Was I a teacher or an actor? What difference did it make? Was teaching just another form of bartending: a day job to pay my bills with as I pursued my calling? Did teaching mean I wasn’t really a “good” actor, because “good” actors don’t have to do other things to make money? They can pay their bills just by acting. Right? (Wrong actually – but I digress.) I worked myself into a swivet yet again. Oh, the angst, the domestic drama, the self-doubt.

At the height of this iteration of my ongoing identity investigation, my full-time teaching job was taken from me and I simultaneously wrote and published a book. This book, I can see now, was a fairly obvious way for me to work out all this stuff in a fiction. I am good at this. It’s what actors do. We work out stuff in fiction. But something else had risen up in the meantime: the concept of a spiritual journey, a soul, a mystery at the center of oneself that was alive and true and completely unconcerned with the business of living. It was concerned with the journey of being.

Something rose up inside me which soothed me. It said, you’re an actor. Relax. You don’t have to prove it to anyone anymore. Oh, and look around. Your life is full of miracles. Here’s a mirror – there’s a miracle. You have universes inside you and the world is wide. So you’re an actor. That’s great. Really, it is. Now, what else can you do?

But wait, I said, if I’m not obsessively focused on being an actor 24/7, then what am I?

You can’t “be” an actor, the still small voice said. You can act sometimes, and you can do other things, like go swimming, help other people, raise your children, support your wife. All you can “be” is a human being. Human. Being. Get it?

I was skeptical. Soooo  . . . I replied, I can just like, do what I want, not act for a while, and still say, “I’m an actor.”

Ben, the voice said, you can say whatever you want. It’s what you do that matters.

But I could do anything!

Exactly. You can change. You can be free.

It’s amazing the panic I can feel around this concept. The stasis of my self-definition was comfortable, even as it was paralyzing me. It’s like the old joke: it may be a shit-hole, but at least it’s my shit-hole. But the open road of possibility? Vast. Empty. Unknown. How do I walk into that?

With faith, that’s how. Along with the still, small voice I discovered along my spiritual evolution was this: the voice wasn’t mine. No. My voice was the one saying – don’t change! The still, small voice came with the suggestion of comfort from another source. But here’s the key – I had to accept it, acknowledge it, listen to it, work with it, dance with it. Which can make you feel like like a fool – or a little nuts. Then I remembered: I’m an actor. I’m already foolish.

In fact, being an actor has assisted me with the concept of change. Who is more transitory and malleable than the actor? What is it we do, but change identities even as we never know where the next job is coming from? What an extraordinary sense of faith we must have, to believe the next job will come and we will be okay, even as the spare change gets more and more spare. How’s that for a divine paradox? The identity I was terrified to let go of taught me how to let go of it.

See, I feel change at work in my life big time these days. But instead of freaking out about it, I feel like embracing it and celebrating it. I may not be doing the same things next year I’m doing now. How cool is that? But then, who will I be?

Me, that’s who.