This weekend, on International Women’s Day, my writing group held a link-up where fifty-plus women looked back on their childhoods, their first memories, their earliest dreams and called out to their old selves. It’s really beautiful. I wanted to join in, but it just was a little too much for me.
To be honest, my writing group is often a little much for me. Too many feelings and so much pain. A virtual room full of beautiful, tragic, sometimes funny redemption stories. I love it, and it helps me grow, but every now and then I’m just not sure what to do with the whole thing. I don’t like to clap in church, I don’t really love parties, sometimes too many people with too many feelings all talking at once makes me get clammy and my mouth has too many words all running into it at once but I somehow don’t have anything to say. I try to keep up, to say something so I’m not just standing silently in the crowd, but those words feel false. My people deserve better.
So I’m going to just tell it to you straight – that’s the kind of writing I do anyway. I don’t have a sad story to share. I honestly like myself now way more than I ever did as a kid. My parents worked really hard to encourage me to do just about anything I wanted to while the rest of the world pushed in the other direction. I spent too many years ignoring my parents and covering up everything awesome about myself to fit in. The thing about having musicians or artists or science fiction fans for parents is that they really love it when their kids are super weird. I just wanted to be normal.
So I only raised my hand when no one else knew the answer, and I hid myself in books so I wouldn’t have to deal with how hard it was to make friends when everyone was talking about how hard those math problems were. In college I stopped reading for class altogether to cope because when I got too invested in my courses I talked too much, participated too ferociously, and couldn’t pull off small talk about how “hard” or “boring” such-and-such was. I poured my enthusiasm for learning and leading into my sorority instead of my studies because even my professors would quietly remind me that if I spoke up too often, no one else would try.
Now that I’m not the little girl I once was, I know that this world doesn’t need anyone to pretend to be less smart or less passionate than they actually are. While my writing group has shared poetry and photography and beautiful memories on International Women’s Day 2014, I have one sentence to reclaim only two days too late: Being weird is awesome. It’s totally okay to enjoy reading a book more than small talk. It’s really quite fine to hate playing softball. Women who are serious, who are better at leading a meeting or planning an event than wearing four-inch heels and giggling, they aren’t boring — they’re going to change this world.
Please join me in saluting the beautiful women of my writing group, whose words are available for you over at THE GIRLS WE ONCE WERE link-up. I know you’ll be just as impressed as I am.
Last Thursday I started on a personal journey, if you want to call it that. I committed to think of myself as a writer and to act as if I believed that I was a writer for fifty days, so that when those fifty days are over I can comfortably wear the label. It’s the fifth day of this adventure, and it doesn’t feel very natural yet.
I asked you for tips, tricks, or suggestions for feeling more writerly. I thought you would tell me to wear a tweed vest or smoke a pipe or drink whiskey in the evenings; to enter into fights on twitter [you know who you are, bloggers of America]; to light a candle and read the New York Times with my coffee each morning. You didn’t. Instead, you all said the same thing: to be a “real” writer, just stop talking about it and get it done. Sit your butt down and write. There were variations in responses, of course, but only in levels of frankness on this common theme.
It seemed unhelpful and obvious to me at first, but already I’ve realized how valuable this advice really is. After five days of intentionally thinking about, talking about, stressing about, or considering the writing life, I’m not actually spending very many minutes putting words on the page. I’ve only written a few hundred words, I still haven’t chosen a project for this period, and I haven’t received any supernatural inspiration. Yet.
According to my research [casually googling variations of “what writers do” over the last week], this is pretty normal. J. Robert Lennon for the L.A. Times (2009) reported that real writers spend around 2% of their lives actually writing words. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t being writers the other 98% of the time. They are just living: thinking and working through the social interactions and complex critical thinking skills that eventually become the building blocks of what they create. Writing requires living.
I wish there were some magic formula for being
comfortable in your own skin a writer, but it turns out that the cape and tights won’t feel right until you pull them on, tuck your feet into those bright red boots, run outside and save someone. Otherwise, you are just sitting around wearing spandex. As a thinker, an analyzer, a “but what about this?” problem solver, getting started isn’t how I like to begin. I want to be ready: to gather together all of my tools and complete all of my training and calendar the milestones and targets before typing that first word. This isn’t going to work like that, but that’s okay. I can take my time and do this however I want to, so long as I’m doing it.
If you’re on a similar journey of finding your voice and style as a writer, or if you just want to watch me fumble around as I do this weird thing I’m doing, I’m using instagram and twitter to catalogue my random writing activities, with the hashtag #50daysawriter. (Is that redundant? Did I just write hashtag twice there? I’m still learning twitter grammar.) It’s mostly awkward so far but kind of fun too.
It’s a little embarrassing how many times I’ve written this to you, how many ways I’ve slid references to my giant failure complex into blog posts without really addressing it. I’ve made bold claims that I’m going to stop thinking of myself as a failure and start loving the life I’m currently living in a dozen half-hearted ways, but so far I’m still just rocking back and forth on life’s teeter totter: At the top, I am so ridiculously relieved that I am working (because others I love aren’t) and that I have a healthy work-life balance and that my job is mostly fun and engaging, but when the see-saw rocks downward I remember that I thought I would be doing something different.
The “L” word still makes me feel like a loser.
I know in my heart that I am where I need to be, but I have to remind myself all the time that this life I’m living is something to celebrate, not something to mourn. Sometimes I have to say it to friends and have them say it back to me, to tell me it’s okay. I know that I’m not the only one, but I often feel alone with this. I fold this idea into so much of my blogging because, while this blog is many things to me and hopefully a few things to you, its chief purpose right now is to remind me that life is beautiful and fun and it’s okay to just be who
you are I am right now.
I loved law school. I’m not one to say “Oh, it was so hard and I’m so glad it is over,” and I’ve never regretted attending. It was one of the best things I’ve ever committed to doing. It made me smarter and more attentive and a better person. Even now, while I’m not practicing, I still did all of the things to be a licensed attorney and I can go back to being a “real” lawyer whenever I want to, if I ever really want to.
I’m getting tired of trying so hard to convince myself that I am awesome and that I am making a real difference by working hard for my country. I am already doing these things and it’s become a bit of a broken record for me (and I’m sure not all that interesting for you, my friends). I’d like for this to become a non-issue for me, but it may be a few more months or years before I can really settle into owning my own life and living it for myself. I struggle to surpass expectations that don’t actually exist.
But I think for recovering people-pleasers and perfectionists like me, we often feel like posers in our late twenties. We’re wearing the hats and carrying big titles on freshly minted business cards but are we really good enough to hold this much responsibility? Friends from school are carrying the lives and hopes and dreams of two, or three, or four children already and I can’t imagine ever being qualified for such a hard and important job. Do you ever really feel like you know how to be a mother, a manager, a professor or scholar, or do you just jump in, throwing ideas at the wall, hoping something sticks? I’m always afraid that someone will look over and see that I’m really not as awesome as everyone thinks. I wonder, if they knew how much television I watched in the evenings, and how rarely I finish the books I’m always buying, if they would still want me to mentor their students, or file their taxes, or write their reports.
I paid real cash monies to register for a faith and writing conference in Grand Rapids in April. And I’ve decided that I don’t want to go to this conference feeling that I’m not qualified to be there. I don’t want to awkwardly shift on my feet or avoid meeting interesting people because when they say “Oh, I write a blog about faith and life and my book is being published in October,” and then ask about me, I don’t have a good enough answer. I want to do whatever it takes before I pick up my rental car and drive two hours and forty-seven minutes around the bottom of Lake Michigan so that, when I step out of my car and into the conference, I believe I am a “real” writer and I believe that I am qualified to engage, network, discuss, and struggle with them to create beautiful sentences.
Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20, is the first of fifty days before my conference begins. This may be a rough-and-tumble sort of commitment, but I’ll be doing “the things that writers do” for each of these fifty days so that I can step into the Grand Rapids community with a few pages I can be proud of, with a project I can discuss, or at the very least with the confidence that I certainly belong at the table. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like, but I’m starting this effort off with a Story Sessions writing boot camp and I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want this to journey to include. I have a working list, but before I put it out into the internet world I wanted to hear from you: what do you recommend? What makes you feel like a “real” writer, or a “real” professional, or a “real” mom, instead of just a poser? What gives you confidence in your calling?
I told you on Monday about my big Chinese New Year haircut, and how good it felt to start fresh again. You can understand why my first New Year did not have a triumphant feeling if you saw my January calendar.
Last month I wrote about adding sparkle to my daily life and ATTACKing 2014, but that was pretty hard to implement while battling winter weather and a weak immune system! That’s hopefully all changing now.
As promised, here’s a snapshot of my new ‘do. I took my sweet time sharing because my skin has been so horrifyingly terrible since I started getting sick and I just didn’t want to share that part of my month with you!
I gave up and ordered the new proactiv+ and so far it has helped a lot. It’s a lot more moisturizing than the original formula. I’m one week in and my skin has responded well. If that’s something you struggle with too, it might be worth giving it a shot.
Happy weekend, y’all.
I have a quick note for you before I head to bed. I’ve been getting into work earlier than normal this week and my blogging schedule is a little off. But, today is an anniversary of sorts and I thought I would share a few memories and some photos with you.
Six years ago tonight my mom was in surgery and my college got destroyed by a tornado. Today, my mom is cancer-free and my alma mater is looking way better than it did while I studied there. It’s almost like that night was a scary movie that we watched and then when it was over, we took it out of the DVD player and sent it back to Netflix along with all of those DVDs of the Wire. Except, I have a friend who has some health issues that stem from that night. And while I remember this tornado as a crazy thing that we all survived, I pray for her health and healing. Friend, if you read this, you matter to me.
It’s easy to forget. Our clothes are wrinkled or we spill coffee on a notebook or, my personal daily recurring problem of late: I rub the makeup off my nose while blowing it incessantly but still have makeup on my cheeks and chin, which looks so awkward, oh man my life is over… Except, it isn’t. Because I am alive. And makeup or no makeup, being alive is baller.
I almost didn’t go to yoga last night. I had a headache and my sinuses were stuffy with the drip that makes you cough now and again but not all the time. I was tired and my stomach hurt and I was probably a little grumpy.
During the session, I fluctuated between feeling frustrated and slightly embarrassed. While everyone else focused on deep, smooth breathing through their noses, I tried to avoid sneezing and/or coughing and to maintain some sort of dignity.
During the warrior poses (spread your feet very far apart and crouch/lunge with your arms out), which stretch your legs and sides, I had discomfort in my left shoulder. I couldn’t begin to explain why. My stomach distracted me from my heavy breathing during the twisting motions, and my wrists and hands ached during the move from downward facing dog (on your hands and feet with your butt way up in the air) to plank (on your hands and feet without your butt up in the air).
Instead of making me more aware of my body in a positive way, yoga reminds me just how much my body hates me. I can flash a smile, turn on the charm, and lead a meeting of 300 people with smashing success, but by late afternoon my introverted self will be so drained from the performance that I’ll be in bed that evening nursing a migraine. When my sinuses are unhappy, they yawn continuously until I find a decongestant, interrupting all sorts of fun outings that might make you miss your sinus pills (dinner with friends this past Saturday night, for example). Over these last twenty-seven years and 358 days I’ve learned how to manage it. I always have ibuprofen and pepto-bismol on hand. I avoid breaded foods and make some kind of vegetable-filled soup for lunch nearly every day. I know how to make the important things happen. I just don’t know how to make my body like me.
Intellectually I know what to do: work out more regularly, drink more water, limit processed foods and sugars, increase fruits and vegetables. This is why I signed up for yoga in the first place. The activity will be good for me. I’m sticking with the plan and waiting for the benefits to come. But in this beginning stage, while I’m trying to find the kind of balance that works for my life and my fitness level and my budget, my body doesn’t really know what to do and my brain doesn’t really know what to do either.
I am quiet now.
[forgive the absence]
I feel the pain of friends and family more deeply than before.
I’m making plans for the coming year: plans for a great year, my twenty-eighth.
I’m thinking of the future but also the present, thinking of long-term goals (a down payment maybe? a cozy home with a fireplace?) but also looking at the immediate (vegetable soup for lunch and an outfit I like).
I want to use my minutes more wisely and to pour myself into my friendships.
I am sorry for how long it has been since I phoned you. I am sorry for not coming to visit more often.
This will be the year of visits instead of cards, phone calls instead of text messages.
It is one week until Christmas, two weeks until the new year. We wait, together, for Christmas to bring Epiphany, for the hope nearly covered by sorrow to bring forth joy.
Come quickly, hope. Come quickly, joy.