Saturday, January 30, 2021

I Am a Writer

Several days ago, I participated in a Zoom coffee break with the online community of writers that I recently joined. We took turns sharing what we were reading and writing and how our work was going.  The people on the call discussed how they were rewriting a particular chapter of a book draft or going through notes to flesh out details of a character or exchanging emails with a publisher. 

I felt so intimidated. Out of place. I wrote a blog post and I was reading a really good book. (I just finished the book yesterday, actually. It's titled Writers & Lovers and it's by Lily King and it's amazing. I actually hugged it when I closed the last page. It's the fourth book I've finished in 2021 because reading is bringing me so much joy this year.) Is that what I'm supposed to tell everyone? That seemed so inadequate. I was wasting the time of these real writers by sharing my updates. I didn't belong there. 

But why not? What makes someone a REAL writer, after all?

I have told people that I want to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was in second grade, my friend Kimberly and I wrote lengthy petitions asking if she could spend the night or at least stay at the house long enough to watch Silver Spoons. In third grade, that same friend and I used my parents' typewriter to create several editions of our newsletter entitled "People Are Funny." In fourth grade, I won my class' weekly creative writing contest seventeen times. In fifth grade, I founded the newspaper at my elementary school. It was called The Harrison Bugle and I was editor-in-chief with around ten other student writers who stayed after school to work on articles.

As I moved into middle and high school, I would sit in my backyard with a notebook and write about everything - my parents, the girls at school who intimidated me, what would happen when I die, how I felt about my boyfriend. In fact, the name of this blog, "Notebook and a Blanket," comes from those hours spent on the grass in my yard.

In college, writing papers was my favorite. I always started with a legal pad and pen before eventually walking to the nearest computer lab to type it all up (yes, kids - in those days I did not have a laptop in my dorm room and had to go to one of the communal computer labs, either in the basement of the neighboring dorm or in the back of one of the parking garages). I loved the feel of the pen in my fingers and the paper moving beneath my hand. I even wrote my entire senior honors thesis about the fragility of Russia's new openness following centuries of authoritarian rule on paper over the course of many months and slowly moved it to a computer screen chapter by chapter. I wrote letters to the campus newspaper. I worked on political campaigns and wrote material for the candidates. I interned at the White House in the communications department and worked on letters that eventually were signed with the president's name.

When I worked as an academic advisor at University of Maryland and Boston University, I created newsletters for faculty and students and it was one of my favorite parts of the job. As a high school government teacher, I made my students do SOOO MUCH writing and this isn't even English class (imagine that being said in the tone of an unhappy 17-year-old). Being able to communicate your knowledge of any subject in written form was important to me, so I made them develop that skill as well. After becoming a mom, I spent several years doing freelance writing and editing work until my divorce required a job that had a reliable and bigger paycheck every two weeks.

And now? I have this blog. I make lengthy posts on Facebook. I use both of those platforms to write about politics and parenting and music and random observations. In the journal pictured above, I write about fears and hopes and doubts and desires that aren't for public consumption. I read a lot, finding inspiration to write more by spending time immersed in the craft of others. I have four decades of a passion for putting words together. I long for the opportunity to share what I create with more people, and I'm working on ways to make that a reality. 

I don't write all of this to share my writing resume stretching back to 1982. Instead, I want to lay it all out and confront myself with the question of why I still struggle to say out loud, "I am a writer!" Is it because my name is not printed on a book cover or I don't have any articles that have been read by thousands of people? Are those really the qualifications?

And here is the more general question. Why do any of us resist owning our talents? Why are we hesitant to proclaim, "Yes, I am a ________" and not couch it in justifications or then backtrack?

Because here's the thing. I often feel out of place where I live, more so in the past year than the other eighteen that I've lived here. That can be lonely. I question how well I nurture relationships with friends and family. I worry that I fall short in many areas of my daily life. But I know this - I feel most alive and most comfortable when I am putting words together to create a mood or express my opinion. It's art. I think I'm good at it. And that should be enough! 

Even my son, when I told him I was writing a piece tonight about my how I really want to be a writer, said, "Aren't you a writer already?" He is wise. He affirmed me with a question I needed to hear. 

So here it is. I've decided tonight, on January 30, 2021, that it's time to stop telling people "I want to be a writer someday" or "I really wish I was a writer" and take ownership of who I already am.

My name is Sarah Moore. And I am a writer. I guess I've been one for a long time. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Snapshot

 

I took this photo of myself earlier today. It was at 12:27pm to be exact. If I had to give this photo a title, perhaps it would be "Tearful and Temporarily Defeated 45-Year-Old Single Mom in Black and White." Not particularly poetic language, but descriptive. While I took this photo today, I could have grabbed the same image multiple times over the past five months.

Minutes before I took this photo and right before he ran upstairs, I was in an argument with my sixth grade son that went, on my end, something like "you are old enough that I shouldn't have to hover over you to make sure your school work gets done" and  "why wasn't this done yesterday?" and "I don't want to be still asking you to get your work done at 9:00pm." We have had this argument before. It doesn't seem to become more fruitful with repeated efforts. But still I default to it more often than I should. And then I feel guilty and insufficient because my words are not helpful.

My son is home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and his sister is home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and I am home all day Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. It's been this way the entire school year. And I'm frustrated because we still haven't figured out how to make it work. Surely by now I would craft us a nutritious breakfast while my children got online and checked on their classes and wrote a list of their assignments for the day. Then, I would sit at my desk and be an awesome paralegal all day and my kids would employ impressive time management and glide through their work and learn so many wonderful things. Nope.

Instead, three days a week, I nag my son about classwork located on multiple online platforms that I still haven't deciphered while worrying that he's playing too many video games even though that's a primary way that he talks with friends these days. He is struggling with the lack of structure and the isolation. And now we can add the onset of adolescence to layer one more piece of his life that seems out of control when he already has control over so little. And three days a week, I text his sister at noon with something like, "Hey, get out of bed and do some school work. It's noon!" She is struggling with essentially missing out on her first year of high school and wanting to socialize and be independent and taking honors courses while being taught only once a week. And I carry their struggles and that shows on this photo that I took at 12:27pm today.

Of course, though, that's not really all that I'm doing at home. In front of me, not pictured in this photograph I took at 12:27pm today, is my work laptop that is open at my kitchen table. And while I was yelling at my son just minutes before, I also had emails going back and forth about depositions in one case and I was trying to answer discovery in another. I feel disconnected from my office and the regular flow of a busy work day. I worry that important details are slipping through the cracks. I love what I do for a living - I'm good at it and I'm confident that I make our office better. But is this still true, really? Some of the tears today were borne of such fears.

But I looked at that photograph I took at 12:27pm and decided I was not going to stay in that headspace. I hugged my son as he whispered, "We've got this, Mom. We'll make it." I took a hot shower. I drank a lot of water. I texted my boss and asked for a meeting tomorrow to talk through some of our cases and get on the same page. Then I allowed myself fifteen minutes to sit outside and take deep breaths and read because we enjoyed unusually warm weather today. 

I also took a few moments to do an inventory of the reasons I'm grateful, which always is helpful when I find myself in a condition like the one in which I landed at 12:27pm. I have a job that allows me to work from home as much as needed during the pandemic. Or, even more simply, I have a job. Multiple friends cannot say as much right now. My kids are older and, despite my nagging, really do not need my constant presence as they do school work. My hair is up and disheveled because this morning I got up and ran (kind of) for three miles (and then didn't bother to shower as I sat right down to work). So, I'm grateful for exercise.

That photograph taken at 12:27pm was just a snapshot. It's not where I stayed all day. But these moments of being overwhelmed and feeling anxious and convincing myself that I'm falling short on all fronts did not end when time expired on 2020. The new year did not change everything. In fact, it often seems the cumulative effect of all the days now behind us since March make these 12:27pm moments come more often. We are exhausted.

I will cry again. Probably this week. Because I don't have the skills needed to work and learn and live in a pandemic all figured out. Living this way, with screens and without hugs and touch and communal joy and grief, with loads of uncertainty and without the comforts of the same daily structures we have known for years, is not natural. And that makes me cry. It may not be at 12:27pm the next time. It could be at 6:14pm while I'm making dinner or at 10:10pm when my son still isn't asleep because he is worried about the condition of our world. My tears are part of inevitable snapshots of the times in which we are living. But if you had a camera on me all day, you also would get snapshots of laughter and peace and comfort and effort and love. And it's those moments to which I will return and from which I will gain strength when another 12:27pm moment inevitably comes.