I have told you many stories. Persuasive black ravens on razor sharp roofs, creeping tarantulas in my psychotic peripheral vision, the contents of my pill box, the numbers on my scale — stories you’d think would stay secrets, you’d think would make me nervous. I know there was a day when I was on the silent side of fear and I kept these stories to myself, but it is so long past, I don’t remember its sting. I wish I could. It would help me now.
There is one story that I work hard not to tell, one I skim over in a way that I always hope sounds breezy and confident. Each time I dance past it I am certain I will trip, tumble head first and be exposed, stripped down to my bright white skin.
I am a writer.
There. That’s it. That’s my bare ass in the breeze.
You are not as scandalized as I am. You are reading these words and have a pretty good idea of how they got here, but I am still in denial. All this time I have chosen to believe that I was fooling you into thinking that the stork dropped them off. Surely none of you imagined me actually doing the deed?
I am a writer. I write this blog, I write poetry, sometimes I write thinly veiled autobiographical fiction about a woman named Stella who cleans motel rooms in New Mexico. When I was in the third grade, my story about intrepid pioneers living in a dugout won first prize in a contest and was displayed in a bank lobby. I was the poetry editor of my high school literary magazine and have never really moved on. I am also the author of more than 120 successfully unpublished notebooks, composition books, and journals.
I am a writer and that means my life is secretly organized around writing. Honestly, my daily priorities are to keep my children alive and to write, the rest is kind of bonus. If you have ever had plans with me or expected me to show up to a meeting and I have backed out, it probably wasn’t my kids, it was writing. If I have a babysitter, writing. If there’s time for a shower, can I write instead? When required by love, duty, or hygiene to do something else, how much longer until I can write about this?
I am a writer as much as I am anything else.
My life, my whole story, is shaped by writing as significantly as it is by manic depression, obesity, motherhood, and marriage. But while I so generously spread those stories out as though I am the boldest, bravest teller of true tales, I do not write about writing. If this blog were a simple account of our homeschooling days or a handy resource for low carb recipes, my identity as a writer would be irrelevant, I could continue gallivanting with my pens and paper behind closed doors indefinitely and no one would get hurt. But that is not the work we are doing here. That is not the agreement we have made.
To say that I am telling you a true story about my life while omitting the details of my writing life is a bald-faced lie.
I’ve lied out of habit and I’ve lied out fear. I’ve lied out of certainty that upon discovery of my secret identity, it will be taken from me. “Rachel Elizabeth!” the world will gasp, disgusted and alarmed, snatching it from my naughty hands, cramming it up on to the highest, darkest shelf before shoving my nose in a corner to think about what I’ve done. I’ve lied out of fear of being put in my place.
In just a few days I will be 35 years old. A grown woman. Old enough to take my own place, to take responsibility for my creative choices and capable of engaging in adult conversation about them without cheeks flushing beet red and disintegrating into a fit of giggles and deflection. Old enough to admit, brazen and shameless, that I write, I write a lot, and I like it.
In honor of my undeniable adulthood, my coming of age, I am going to write about writing. I am giving you fair warning because it is guaranteed to be awkward and intimate and not at all like it is in the movies. It will be terrible for a while, unless you are also a secret writer or maybe a much younger, much better writer. In that case, it will be really encouraging and make you feel very good about yourself. Regardless, it will be a true story told, out loud, in love, which is the work we do here.