I've spent a lot of time, over many holiday gatherings with family, friends, and several people I didn't know, reinventing myself.
The holiday season is a long episode of telling other people who you are and, more frequently, what you do. I've heard that it is a typical American thing to define oneself by career - perhaps, in other parts of the world, I wouldn't have faced the inevitable and continually perplexing (and perplexed) questions as to my chosen career path. We seem to know ourselves, from our daily goals to our supposed identity, only by how we earn money. I don't know if that comes with some expectation - a measure of self-worth, of supposed contribution to society, of how fiercely we are judged and praised. In other words, it seems that our jobs aren't just what we do, but who we are, and how valuable we are in the eyes of others.
Anything outside of the norm, then, is met with surprise and bafflement. My husband is someone who has an easily identifiable career, and while few people grasp the complexities of what he does, the words, computer programmer, are met with resounding approval. He has a real job. And what he does from eight to four on weekdays becomes a symbol of not only his identity, but his inherent worth.
This Christmas, I introduced myself as Alice, a writer.
I'm not going to go on to describe the various reactions (ranging from very welcome support to, most often, a series of follow up questions as to the nature of my prose, whether or not I'd been published, and, most remarkably, why?). But I will be honest, here, because I think that the most telling reaction was my own, which consistently hovered between pride, relief, and some pretty significant doubt.
Pride, because I am finally doing what I feel I've been called to do. Pride because I'm not putting my goals away, not folding them neatly in a drawer of regret and adulthood, not denying them because they seem unreasonable or selfish or unsustainable. Pride because I'm not giving in.
Relief, because I have, in the years since my graduation from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars program, lied to myself and maintained a fallacy of identity a fear of failure. Relief because I'm finally doing what I'm supposed to do. Relief because I'm just now, just when it is inconvenient and stupid and scary, being myself.
And, of course, terrible doubt, because here I am, standing on the edge, being something new.
And oh my goodness, it is terrifying.
My writing teachers were very clear - to be a writer, you must make a friend of failure. You're going to mess up and make shocking mistakes and dreadful dissonance; you're going to be embarrassed, you're going to write stuff that should grind down the sink like the sound of a garbage disposal. Ugh, ugh, there are going to be times when you think you just can't do it, you can't live up to your dreams, you've made an awful error, and calling yourself a writer will be bitter in your mouth.
And that's today. And maybe tomorrow. But to be a writer means that waking up and trying again is like being in love. Work, hard work, and joy.
There are times when being a writer means creating the voice of God. There are times when your words all come together and something good, some undefinable thing, some whisper of making the world a better place, pours out of you like spider silk. And those moments of success make your failure beautiful.
I'm Alice, and I'm a writer.
I don't know if I will write here every day, though I hope to do so more often. But I will write. I will write because, even if my career is confusing, even if I find difficulty in what to tell people, in how to say what I do and why I do it, I know. I found myself.
And my God, it feels good.