Being someone else

Rachel Dolezal

Well, I never thought I’d be writing a blog post about Rachel Dolezal in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. But it occurred to me this morning, while I was watching espresso being coaxed out of the machine in my kitchen, that there is a connection to my novel, and a strong one, too.

Welsey loves acting for the reason most actors love acting: it gives them a chance to be someone else, if only for a while. It’s not too different from why I enjoy writing.

Rachel Dolezal seems to be another in a fairly long line of people who identify with someone different from themselves. Or want to be people different from who they are.

It may seem strange to some people. It seemed strange to me, but when I stopped to think about it a bit I realized history is full of self-reinvention. Not all of us take it as far as she did, but we all do it, at least a little.

Sam Clemens was reborn as Mark Twain.

François-Marie Arouet became Voltaire.

Orson Welles was as much a creation of stagecraft as he was a real person.

Benjamin Franklin spent his early years as Silence Dogood.

Erik Weisz was Harry Houdini.



I have a friend who is one of the best jazz pianists I’ve ever heard. Actually she’s not just “jazz,” strictly-speaking; her playing style is past category. She used to be called Liz Gorrill but one day she changed her name to Kazzrie Jaxen. Why? Only she knows, but either way she’s amazing.

I have another friend, Inez, who’s a spectacular Flamenco dancer, and looks as Spanish as the day is long. Only she’s Jewish, and from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. But apparently her insides don’t think so, so who’s to argue?

Edwin Hubble was an astronomer so brilliant they named a space telescope after him. It was he who realized those fuzzy blots on photographs of the night sky weren’t nearby gas orbs but vastly distant galaxies, far outside our own. Hubble was from the midwest, but he seemed a tad ashamed of this, so when he enrolled at Oxford he affected a British accent, started smoking a pipe, and donned English tweed. He showed off his dueling scars; some people said they were self-inflicted.

Identity is destiny, so I guess you can’t blame people for trying to control it. Theodore Geisel isn’t a great name for a children’s author. Dr. Seuss is.

We’ll probably never really know why Ms. Dolezal went as far as she did, but she has said she’s “long identified as black.” I’ve often wondered if actors identify with a role they play so much that they end up wishing they were that person. It’s something I’d like to ask famous actors if I ever found myself chatting them up in some casual surrounding.

What if an actor likes a role they’re assigned to play more than they like themselves? What if they wanted to be that person, adopt their looks, imitate their voice? What if they become utterly obsessed with the perfection they perceive in that character?

Sounds like an interesting idea for a novel!


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