When I Was a Writer
I distinctly remember sitting in my counsellor’s dimly-lit office, my thighs sticking to the faux-leather chair in the damp heat of late-July. I was still completing coursework for my first MA, but I had long quit the program in my mind. I was experiencing the classic early-twenties, post-graduate struggle of finding direction outside of a semester-based schedule.
“I have no idea what to do with my life. I don’t even know what I like to do, or what I’m good at,” I admitted, cringing at how cliche I sounded and, indeed, was.
My counsellor — my third one that summer — was observant and direct: “Well, when you talk about writing, your whole body shifts. You take on a different posture. You become more animated. You are clearly very passionate about it, and it obviously brings you joy. Why don’t you focus on that?”
She was right, of course. I had spent the previous nine months living in Vancouver and blogging regularly about my adventures and challenges adapting to living and studying in a new city, and I loved it. But I had always been a writer. From almost the moment I could read, I would write my own stories. My first grade teacher would staple white printer paper into booklets for me and let me write and draw throughout the day. When my dad bought our first family computer, I taught myself to type by writing the first few chapters of a new book almost every week. I kept journals and wrote poetry and submitted stories to contests. I studied English literature at university so I could write papers instead of studying for exams, wrote for the campus newspaper, and tutored at the university Writing Centre. Writing was so much a part of my daily life that it was basically part of my DNA.
I decided in that sweaty office that I was going to do it: I would call myself A Writer.
I kept writing as a I switched programs and finished my MA in Communication. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I published things, and sometimes got paid for them. I wrote papers for school and book reviews and taught my students how to write; I kept a notebook filled with opening lines for novels and article titles. I used my blog as my safe space to work through the things that were challenging me, or breaking my heart, or just to put the mess of things that lived in my head into black and white text so they could live somewhere else for a while.
Writing was my joy and my challenge; my safety net and my identity.
Lately (well, an extended lately. A “several months…almost a year” lately) I’ve struggled to write. A blinking cursor on a blank screen has felt more like a burden than an opportunity. There’s a long list of things I want to put into words, to process through text in the way that has made me feel free and proud for so long. But I am paralyzed.
Part of me is afraid that I’ve missed the boat on some of it. For example, I saw Rob Bell, a writer and podcaster and thinker and theologian who has changed the course of my life on not one, but three separate occasions, speak live this summer. It was an evening so special and important to me that even now, four months later, it brings tears to my eyes. I wanted to try and capture it for myself, but also to share some of the profundity of his performance, but I am struggling. If I didn’t capture it right away, did I miss the rawness of the experience? Maybe it’s too fresh, maybe I don’t have the distance to capture the weight of the moment; maybe not enough time has passed to see it in its full scope. But I’m frustrated that it lives in my head and heart and not on the page.
There are many other things I want to explore, too: my best friend’s wedding, my surgeries and how they’ve affected my relationship with my body, the (now) hilarious story of a train journey in Germany gone horribly wrong, my experience and feelings about becoming an Indeterminate employee in the Government of Canada. I’ve tried putting all these things into text, but I am blocked each and every time.
I am worried. I am worried that I’m done. That I can’t do it anymore. I’m worried that this is not just a lull but the finish line, and my writing life ended not with a bang…not even with a whimper. Mostly I am worried that if I’ve lost my writing, I’ve also lost my identity. Because how can you call yourself a writer if you don’t?
I’ve been trying to reconcile that some things do not need the written word to live on. There are feelings and experiences and thoughts that are meaningful if they are shared in conversation with a friend, or in two sentences in a text message, or just in your memory.
So if I cannot write about them, they still matter.
So if I can no longer write about them, I still matter.