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  • Isabelle Stillman

Nobody Puts Baby in a Bullet-Point


I’ve always loved a good list. Groceries, to-do’s, book recommendations, wonderful qualities extolled in birthday cards. Anything catalogable. 


In middle school, I started keeping a journal of them. It was called “Things about Isabelle” and it was full of lists about - you guessed it - me: “Things I Like,” “Things I Hate,” “Things I’m Afraid of,” “Places I Want to Go,” “People I Want to Meet,” on and on. It comforted me to have my whole self boiled down to one small, bullet-pointed notebook. An attribute per line, a topic per page. I was readable. Distillable. Orderly.


I stopped adding to the list journal sometime in high school, but I held on to its elements. Not as much the fact that I was afraid of the Green Goblin in Spiderman (though I DEFINITELY still am) as the idea that that my essence, my self, could be simple and clear. In high school, I was:

- Stressed

- Obedient

- Shy

- The newspaper girl

- Not that good at swim team

- John Stillman’s little sister

- That girl who once farted in the middle of Assembly 


Then, in college:

- Stressed

- Obedient (always-in-the-library-because-she-did-literally-every-homework-assignment-but-one-once)

- Shy, but will get vocal in discussions about the sexist nature of modern high school dress codes

- Still the newspaper girl

- Not that good at parties

- Experimenting with wearing combat boots

- That girl who once farted in the middle of a Brit. Lit. II lecture


My grad school and teaching identities weren’t that different. And my process of molding them wasn’t either. I got into the habit of saying, out loud or in my head, “I’m _______. I do _______.  I’m the kind of person that_______.”


Things that never filled the blanks: 

- Chill 

- Creative

- Free-spirited

- The musician girl

- Does what her art calls her to do

- Defines her own career and idea of success


No list I made about myself was ever aligned with: Being a Musician. And a lot of days, they still aren’t. 


The other day I woke up late after a show. I lazed about in the morning, fiddled on my guitar. Sent a few emails. Got a little restless and went to Target for detergent and also because Target is fun.


As I strolled down the shoe aisle, a thought struck me: It’s Wednesday. A weekday. At noon. And I’m...strolling the shoe aisle...? 

- I’m not stressed. 

- I’m not following rules. 

- Last night I stood in front of a bunch of randos and sang something I made up? 

- What’s happening? 


I left my things in the shopping cart and ran out to my car. From the back seat, my guitar amps taunted me. “Who do you think you are?” they mocked. “What are you doing with us? With this life?”


Through stress-tears, I called Daniel and cried, “What am I doing?? At Target on a weekday?? Driving around with these guitar amps in the back of my car?? I’m not a guitar amp lady!!” 


Not at my expense, but because the whole thing is a little bit funny, he laughed. Then he said: “Isabelle. You are the only person who would ever think that sentence.” 


He didn’t mean because I am totally, thoroughly, undeniably A Guitar Amp Lady. He meant because I am the only person giving myself a title and the set of bullet points to go with it. The only person saying “Isabelle is/is not _______.” He laughed because, outside of my own head, there’s no such thing as A Guitar Amp Lady. Or The Newspaper Girl. There’s just. Isabelle.


I’m trying to unravel my lists. To stop giving myself tables and checklists and stories that define Me. To let attributes come and go and, while they’re around, just be. Writing and playing have helped me let go of the bullet-points; all of your support -- coming to shows, sending kind words, listening to and accepting every different part of me that comes out through my music -- helps too. 


“Things About Isabelle” still sits on the shelf by my bed, but it’s format looks and sounds a lot different than my inner voice does these days. I’m not a list. 


Thanks for helping me erase the bullet points :) 

Love, 

Isabelle

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