A while ago I approached an independent bookshop and asked if it would be possible to organise an author event. In the middle of giving some background about the book and my authorial journey the woman on the end of the phone said… But are you somebody? I could only conclude that she meant… somebody well known.
I blustered a bit … I mean what do you say to that? My family know me well, fellow writers, friends, clients, some bloggers and readers but if you’re asking me if I am a celeb then sorry to disappoint. Her reasoning seemed to be that they get so many requests from writers, and heaven help us, including self- published ones that they’ve had to draw up a criteria. Being a nobody isn’t on there.
Shock was the dominant emotion when I hung up. I stared at the phone for a few seconds, hardly believing my ears. Oh how I wished I’d recorded the conversation but you don’t think such a measure is necessary do you? Not unless you’re working in a call centre where the level of abuse from customers is climbing. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to ask for her name or speak to the manager. Maybe she was the manager without being managerial.
Where’s this preamble leading you ask? There are times in life when we feel compelled to go deep inside and ask ourselves those searching questions. Who am I? What is my place in the world? How can I best serve?
When we ask ourselves this question, it’s an indication of an identity struggle- not necessarily a crisis – but the sense of me/I/myself has become fuzzy round the edges. It’s like looking at your reflection in a frosted mirror.
Questioning who we are is an ongoing process which requires a constant re-framing, a willingness to embrace the ever changing landscape that is our backdrop. The perception of who I was three years ago has shifted to a more comfortable sense of self today because I allowed the change to happen naturally with no pre-conceived ideas of who I should be. There lies the rub. The book-shop gatekeeper implied that in order to be offered an event slot, I should be someone who is worth it.
It seems to me that being somebody equates with YouTube stardom. If you can promote a super-duper way of applying mascara or reveal to the world that you a light-worker channelling the Pleiadians and have a million plus followers then star spangled doors of opportunity will automatically fling open and welcome you because you are A Somebody. Forgive my cynicism here.
But wait. There are benefits to being a nobody. It’s not our successes which mops up that fuzziness around the ego but our failures. We learn humility, the art of giving without expecting anything in return and we no longer have to jump up and down on our personal trampoline to be seen. We can simply be. The best thing is we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously. There’s no pretence, no need to perform or or lose our sense of authenticity just to tick someone else’s boxes.
One thing I can share, being an oldie, is that the first half of life seems to be about becoming somebody important/famous/rich/successful and the second half is about divesting ourselves of that illusion. Without this pressure, we can become who we really are.
So had my normally mercurial mind been activated during that conversation, I would have said this. ‘ I am someone who is generous with my time, a giver, an energiser, a motivator. Someone who is real, who engages, who co-operates and is a decent person. If I didn’t say so earlier, I happen to have written two original, well- reviewed books set in your city where I lived for twenty five years. That makes me the somebody you are really looking for, don’t you think? ’
I didn’t say any of those things. Instead, I did the very British thing of apologising. ‘Sorry to have troubled you.’