I AM a Writer
I am a writer.
Have I earned this title?
I’m conflicted. But it’s time I try it on for size, immerse myself in it, struggle with it, and see where it leads. And yes, of course, there’s a “but,” but “the but” doesn’t negate the declarative statement. It just means no one knows I’m a writer BUT me, a few of my closest friends, and a scattering of Medium readers.
Why have I hidden my voice?
Great question! The answer is not simple… I’d need to write a novel to do it justice. But at 57 years old, what I can say unequivocally, is that for many, many years I did not know that the writer in me was such an immense part of the “me” I was always meant to become. Until four years ago I made all my decisions with my head, not my heart… just as my father would have it.
During my first year of college, if I had said to my father “I want to be a writer,” dad would’ve gone apoplectic. I can hear him barking “Are you out of your mind?” And I wouldn’t have been wise enough yet to have come back with “YES, thank God! I’m following my heart.” I majored in accounting — the farthest thing from becoming a writer that I can imagine — then or now — and spent the next 40-ish years trying to claw my way back to the middle of the continuum because ultimately I am both an accountant and a writer. It’s my dual nature, head and heart, and though I’ve spent most of my life cursing the scourge of my duality, I see now that in my duality lies my superpower and my path to wholeness.
Again… Why have I hidden my voice?
Maybe that’s the wrong question because it implies intention. It’s more accurate to say that for a long time I wasn’t conscious of my duality, of the struggle between my head and my heart. Yes, I knew something wasn’t right because I was sad a lot of the time and anxious all the time. But in early adulthood, I wasn’t strong enough to explore options that triggered my father’s ire; at some level, I didn’t feel safe choosing something he opposed. And though I like to blame my father for steering me in the wrong direction as I struck out on my own, the fault wasn’t entirely his.
My mom was complicit. But can you blame your mom for getting married before she was fully-formed? She married my father when she was only 19; he was 24. My grandmother tried to convince her that she was too young to get married, especially to someone as domineering as my father. One night after a particularly intense conversation, my mom caved and agreed not to get married, at least for a while. But my dad could be very convincing, and later that night he got her to come around to his point of view, and, as always, he had the last word. They got married in 1960 and three years later there was me.
My mom finished forming under the tutelage of my father and therein lies the problem. She didn’t get to discover herself, develop a worldview, wrestle with her demons, and explore her purpose in life. I have always felt that my mom never really had a chance to decide what she wanted in life because my father’s preferences became what she wanted; he informed the person she became. And me — instead of being instilled with two unique perspectives on life — I grew up as the offspring of his world view, and the watered-down version of the woman my mother might have become, her voice weakened by years of patriarchy.
“Are you out of your mind?”
I wished to be anywhere outside of my mind — still do most days — it spins too fast in there. Somehow writing helps me slow everything down. From the time I was old enough to hold a crayon, I wrote. My mom still has a letter I wrote to her in 1969: “Dear Mother, I love you very much. I am sorry I coz trouble, but I can’t help it until [my brother] learns to be a ‘youmen bean’…”
Granted, I needed help with spelling, but there was a writer in me. I wrote prayers before I was 10, kept diaries to record the angst of my early teens, wrote poetry in high school, and a story for my best friend’s 16th birthday featuring a romance with Shaun Cassidy. When I got to college I took real writing courses alongside my required accounting classes. I even tried to become “a real writer” when my husband landed a high-paying position in the early 90s. I couldn’t quit my finance job fast enough. My heart soared as I frequented libraries and coffee shops, journaling and fancying myself a bohemian. I joined writer’s groups and Chicago Women in Publishing, researched how to submit my work, and even submitted a couple of stories, but it didn’t last.
My husband’s job was short-lived, he couldn’t, or wouldn’t find another, and I slunk back to what I knew, bowing to my head, my tail between my legs. The accountant landed herself a lucrative financial consulting position that wouldn’t have been half bad except for the long hours and tight deadlines. I was covering the whole mortgage payment myself, and I felt the need to sock away some money; at some level, I sensed a tsunami brewing. My anxiety thrived as I began to see that the man I married wasn’t at all who he’d presented himself to be, and the sadness I’d felt as a teenager became full-blown depression. My heart ached constantly, and though I didn’t know exactly what my purpose was in life, I was certain I wasn’t achieving it. The soul I did not yet recognize would not yield; it lurked just beyond my grasp. Through it all, I wrote; it was my only salvation.
The money I’d squirreled away from my consulting position eventually eased me through a divorce, helped me buy out my husband’s half of the condo, and I landed another financial consulting position, my writing abandoned yet again. With therapy and medication, my depression and anxiety tapered off, but my heart was broken. The failed marriage hurt, but looking back, I think the constant drag of doing a job I had no heart for was much more debilitating. Eventually, my employer reorganized, and it quickly became clear I was not to be part of the new crew.
At the time, I was dating a free spirit, who inspired me to surrender and go back to school. I made a spontaneous decision to apply to Columbia University’s creative writing program and submitted my application at the last possible moment — driving downtown in rush hour traffic on a Friday night to submit my application moments before the 5 pm deadline. To my utter shock, I didn’t get in. I could not believe that the girl who had graduated University of Illinois Bronze Tablet couldn’t get into a creative writing program.
Looking back, I see clearly: I didn’t get into that program because it wasn’t the right thing at the time. I was flailing about, racing from one possibility to the next, in a desperate attempt to fix the pain I felt inside me. I couldn’t name it, couldn’t grab it, slippery, icky ugliness. I wanted to exorcise this torment by changing my outer reality, but my suffering could only be stemmed from the inside out. Getting a new job was not the answer; I needed to dig deep and find the purpose buried in my soul. But I didn’t do that; instead of applying to other writing programs, or waiting to re-apply to Columbia, I did an about-face and applied to an Exercise Science program. Don’t ask me why; that’s another story!
It would be 17 years later, after a Master’s Degree, a PhD, and years of teaching in higher education before I finally turned myself back to my heart and soul, and began the introspective work I should have done years earlier. I moved back to Chicago and took up temporary residence in my mom’s second bedroom where I hibernated for several months while I recovered from the severe burnout I had been hauling around for at least 8 years. And eventually, I opened the boxes, peered inside, and revisited my written words. There were files and folders full of scraps of torn paper, bar napkins, lined sheets scrawled with wild colors of thought, and some 30 odd journals filled with words of yearning, pain, fear, love lost, stories, poems, and even haiku.
As I healed and became stronger, I branched out, reconnected with old friends, and began to consider what I was going to do with the rest of my life. But somehow the world around me seemed to have morphed into a sea of hate and anger and it scared the crap out of me. I had been so caught up in my private misery I hadn’t had time or energy to be concerned about the state of the rest of humanity. With horror, I realized the external world had become even more polarized then my inner one. I could not stay silent; I had to write. But this time was different. This time I didn’t want to write for myself; I felt a burning need to have my words reach out and touch others. I had to try to make a difference. I found Medium, and though my article didn’t go viral as I had hoped, it was the beginning of something new. The beginning of the union of my head and my heart.
One time in the early 90s I had a session with a channeler who told me that my mission in life was “to unite my heart and my mind through communication.” Her words had a ring of truth and brought tears to my eyes. I’ve come back to them time and again over the years, trying to make out the shape and texture of the career they alluded to. As I published that first article, I saw the beauty and richness of my duality, and realized instead of cursing it I need to embrace it. My duality is the ideal ingredient to fuel the final leg of the journey I’ve been on my whole life — to create a right livelihood, to service the world in the way my soul intended me to, to become whole, and to become myself.
Now I see that I can be part of helping heal the world around me, simply by being my authentic self and living the life I was meant to live. I believe our world is at a tipping point, and I absolutely must be on the right (write) side of that tipping point.
I must be a writer. I must write. But now I must also publish.