Releasing from Restrictions of Role-Play

January 20, 2010

One of the things I do, is act, or role-play, so it may seem strange to take advice from me on  breaking free from what I love to do the most. When I say role-play,  I mean in the context of our daily lives. This includes our many faces as mother, sister, brother, friend, lover, or co-worker. We have those faces, and then we have the faces given to us by society or designated by our professions. For instance, the statement, “I am an actress.” Some other people may say, “I am an African American actress.”  People are thrilled by statements like these that include our daily descriptors of race, profession, and gender and are expected to limit the scope of a person.

You know those annoying, sometimes banal conversations you have during late night networking parties: “Oh, so what do you do?” You take a long sip of your cocktail before choosing to answer. “Oh, I am a lawyer.” The interrogator almost sighs with relief, because now he or she knows which box you fit in. 

When it comes to ethnicity, I am an interesting case study. Depending on the day, I actually might find it entertaining to watch someone struggle with where I am from.  I’ve heard everything: “Somalia, Ethiopia, South of India?” I shake my head to indicate, no.  “Then it must be Eritrea? Rwanda? Jamaica?” I shake my head again, and the inquisitor is completely baffled.  I have learned to stop telling the truth, because it’s not what they want to hear. They don’t want to know that I love that I could be from any of those places. What they are dying for me to tell them is some cockaninny story about me growing up in a one room hut in Ethiopia, but I usually just let them struggle. When I do tell them the truth, after being egged on way too long for a definitive answer, that I am neither Ethiopian, nor did I grow up in a shack, they are almost offended that I would utter such nonsense.  As if I somehow did something deeply wrong, by shattering their accurate perception of who I am. All I can do is shake my head, and walk away.

Getting back to creativity…It’s amazing that we do this to ourselves or allow others to do this to us, to minimize our entire essence into one title or label. Of course we do it because it creates a sense of order, and because if we said “Oh, I am an actress, who makes films, writes screenplays and also enjoys writing non-fiction and poetry from time to time, designing clothes,  belly dancing,  and occasionally I sing and write music?” People might think we were crazy,  scatter-brained, or may be so overwhelmed that they excuse themselves because it was TMI (too much information). Although, I do reply the typical “What do you do?” question with a label most times to avoid the judgemental  glare of some stranger, I never restrict my creative expression based on a label given to me by my profession, my peers, my family, or whoever. I know you are proud of what you do, but do you really believe that you should cling so tightly to your personal or professional label at the expense of gifts that fall outside your prescribed “box”? I dare say, no.

Think about it. Perhaps it’ll feel scary, or you may seem crazy to others, but stretching the boundaries of your own idea of who you are and what you are meant to do in this life, may just save your life. You may find yourself stumbling into new realms a novice, but this time away from your claimed “identity” leaves you so inspired that it revitalizes your daily work and provides a new sense of freedom. Each moment builds upon the last and the last, just as each new experience builds upon the latter. It’s not up to you to make sense of why you are a lawyer who is also very skilled at juggling. It is also not your business to avoid juggling, and be jealous of all the jugglers you meet. It is just, simply, your God-given duty to juggle if it brings you pleasure, and share that gift with others.



  1. This is insightful. Since I have recently tuned into a high raw/vegan lifestyle, I’ve noticed others and myself searching for a definition. I am now becoming comfortable not defining my diet choices and am finding that to be even more liberating and satisfying. Good stuff!

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