I have never been able to refer to myself as a writer. To label myself as such felt self-important or boastful, like a pretentious exaggeration of the definition. In my mind, it equated to referring to myself as an athlete, when, truthfully, my athletic endeavours include begrudgingly walking my dog and sporadic yoga. One would think that a university diploma of English Literature bearing my name would help me to identify as a writer, but no. I’ve always been more comfortable saying things like “I’m an avid journaller” or “I process with written words.” But if a writer is, by nature of the definition, one who writes, then it does apply to me and, thus, qualifies me for the label. Over the last while, I’ve felt compelled, and even required, to acknowledge and accurately label myself as writer. Saying it out loud continues to be an uncomfortable fit, but I am making an effort to wear it.
I’ve been closet writer forever. From early adolescence, I took great joy in selecting (waaaay too many) adjectives and adverbs for use in my school compositions. The description in my writing was so excessive, that I am certain my middle school teachers wondered whether they would one day see my name on cheap, poorly written romance novels at the grocery store. In my later teens and early twenties, I began chronicling my every joy-filled, angst-filled thought; a practice which has continued to this day. You can’t even imagine how many FILLED journals are being stored in my closet at this very moment. Sometimes the thought that I might die unexpectedly, leaving behind my innermost thoughts for all the world to see, keeps me awake at night and sleepily scheduling a giant bonfire for the very next day.
As an ambivert (equal parts introvert and extrovert), journaling has been the means by which I can process outside of my own brain in a safe, quiet, controlled venue. Though my journal does contain records of events, it’s less ‘Dear Diary’ and more praying and talking with God. It’s been the pressure release valve for this intensely ruminating brain of mine that has allowed me to commune, to vent, to worry, to rejoice, to remember and to work my way through life. My journals contain numbered lists of Eucharisteo and also fancy, underlined titles like, “Things I’m Worried About.” They hold song lyrics, poetry, prose, and also, detailed rehashings of meaningful and terrible conversations. I once wrote that the words of my heart slip unhindered and unnoticed between the lines of my hand [as I write], only to be read and understood once they are outside of me. Writing is how I know myself. It’s how I understand the world. It’s how I make sense of feelings. It’s often how I hear from and connect with God.
For a long time, I’ve been a safe writer, choosing carefully where and with whom I share. I’ve referenced my own pieces when speaking at churches or events, but apart from this, my writing has remained largely private. I’d sensed that I was to be writing for a purpose, but it had always been an undefined idea; a someday plan that hadn’t come to fruition.
A few years ago, a friend gave me a beautiful print of Ann Voskamp’s “25 for Sanity Manifesto.” One of the guiding points is “stay in the pool.” Ann quotes an interview with Michael Phelps on his success where he says: “You’ve just got to stay in the pool longer than others.” She affirms that our success, in whatever realm it may be, involves staying in the pool; and while I understand she was referring more to perseverance and staying on task, literally staying in the pool is exactly what precipitated an act of obedience on my part and a necessary life change.
There are those defining moments and epiphanies that alter our course. Sometimes, we’re aware in the moment that something significant is happening. Other times, we don’t realize until later that an event or an encounter was the point where something changed; the chemistry was altered, the pathway re-directed. This is what happened when I stayed in the pool.
Our house had been under major renovation for months and when our kids went off to summer camp for a week, we debated using the time to go hard and finish the renovation or to escape the chaos. We chose to get the heck out. California was exactly what we needed: extreme heat, delicious food, the uninterrupted reading of SO many books and time spent with good friends. On the particular day of epiphany, my friend Laura and I got into the pool the minute the desert sun was over the hills. We stayed in the pool all day long, longer than your average work day, and did the glorious, hard work of talking, floating, reading, enjoying beverages, laughing, dreaming out loud and praying together. Brief exits from the pool were permitted only for bathroom breaks and snacks. It was as magnificent as it sounds. When I woke up the next day, however, I felt agitated and uncomfortable. In my journal, I wrote:
Had the MOST fun day yesterday. Laura and I floated and talked all day long…but I’m feeling a little off today, almost as though I crossed my own emotional boundaries; was too vulnerable, honest, open. I dreamed out loud…and now I feel the urge to hide. Is it because I spoke aloud a true heart desire? Something that requires a risk? That because I put words to that previously unspoken thing, I now have an obligation to push on the door? Something came to life and now I’m afraid. I read a post by Shauna Niequist last night called “You’re Never Going to Be Fully Ready” that essentially spoke to this. I can’t get all the details figured out and then go. I have to start paddling immediately and let the details work themselves out. Do I really want to write? It’s something I’ve been talking seriously about for a few years, but have done nothing about. What would happen if I worked four days a week and used the fifth as a writing work day? Written words and song. Jesus, guide me. I feel sick about it at the moment. And excited, like it’s already happening and I just need to let go and ride it; but mostly, I’m sick and scared.”
And so, this reluctant writer decided to write. With my husband cheering on the sidelines (and trusting that I really hear God, even when God tells me to make less money) and with a slightly nervous stomach, I have taken a step of obedience. I am not working less, I am working differently. Four days a week, I’m in my classroom and one day a week, I get up, get dressed and head to my home office (which is wherever I happen to be sitting with my laptop). I don’t know what the end goal will be, nor do I have aspirations of great fame and wealth. What I DO know is that right now, I’m poorer financially, and I’m richer in all the ways that matter. Something came to life that day in the pool, and now I’m learning to stay in the pool. No more closet writing. I’m saying it out loud: I’m a writer.