When It Feels Like You've Lost Your Calling
There was once, in fourth grade, when I wrote a short story about my dad windsurfing in Maine. The waves dragged him out, and I remember watching him be rescued by a boat already out on the water. In my story, I described the catch in my breath and the tightness in my chest that came with watching the most important man in my life (I wouldn't discover romance until years later) at the mercy of nature. I remember being too far away, helpless on the shore, separated both by distance and an inadequacy brought on by my age and inexperience.
When prompted by the fourth grade assignment "Write what you know," the words poured out, coming from this place of adolescent innocence and the love that emerges when anything you hold closely being put in danger. After forty-five minutes of free writing, we were asked to read our pieces aloud. I read mine slowly, choking on the few words that brought this knowledge of danger and potential loss to the moment in which I now existed. I finished, taking a sharp breath in with the knowledge that I had made myself vulnerable to the other nine-year-olds around me. But my teacher looked at me, a mix of compassion and tenderness extended toward me in her gave. Then she said it, a simple sentence that would lead me on a path of what I thought I wanted, of what I thought I should be. Of who I thought I already was, "Isabelle, you're writing, that piece, was beautiful."
I remember her words and the gratifying humanity with which they escaped her mouth and became a part of me.
Following that moment, I set myself on the journey of constructing the identity of a writer, containing what was Isabelle in a insular frame, masking it with what was born of expectation, an unreal expectation that I thought was the product of those surrounding me, but which I realized came mostly from myself.
Lost in this idea of myself, in the belief that I could only be a writer if outward appearances fell in step with what people imagined a writer to be, I grew depressed. These wants had made me malleable, nimble to all forecasts of who I should be. But the darker side of this flexibility is a realization that I had no solid ground on which I could fall back. There was no Isabelle, there was only the Isabelle who was trying to protect herself from others by being what they wanted her to be.
Maybe all of these years have been me, but sometimes I think that I lost myself after age nine.
So much of my life has involved wanting, wanting to know who I am, wanting to know why I feel so far away from others, and wanting to know why I feel so far away from myself. Depending wholly on this construction of myself, I came to rely upon an understanding of love that was based in conditionality: if only I could be this, then I'd feel loved. And really, love speaks most clearly to me as an acknowledgement and an acceptance of the self. Being loved for what I deemed myself to be was the only way to know I existed.
It's only now that I've come to see and understand the fallacies in this argument, in this proposition for how I should live. I don't need to seek identity, I don't need to exert myself in finding concrete representations of my character. Sure, I love writing. I love finding the words that express the abstractions of my emotions. I love telling people what I feel, how I feel, and, I'm admitting this to myself for the first time: That's what makes me beautiful. It's my perception and my ability to give representation to these moments that are otherwise left in the unknown.
I'm not a writer because I was once thin. I'm not a writer because I once allowed myself only to read Sylvia Plath or Hemingway. I'm not a writer because I was an English major in college. I'm a writer because I see things that I think should be on paper, in my pen and in my voice.
For the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with losing this idea of myself, to no longer adhering to the standards for love or acknowledgement that I've held onto for so long. Honestly, besides emails and texts, this is the first thing I've written in months. I've been scared of reflection, of getting so far into my head that I was terrified I would never escape. I've explored outside of myself, returning to exercise and to books I was afraid of people seeing me read. With any creative pursuit, it's healthy to step away, to give yourself time apart from what you approach with such a great intensity.
From this hiatus, I know that I don't have to steep myself entirely in this socially-constructed version of the writer. I can enjoy barre. I can love walking. I can love going to romantic comedies and having wine nights with friends.
I've always believed that writing inevitably follows truth. Truth isn't one thing, it doesn't follow a single set of beliefs of how to be, of how to live and understand the world. Truth is what I see, it's what I've experienced. And it's my desire to document that that makes me a writer.