Identities that Define Me

{Our most recent writing assignment was about unpacking the different identities that we feel define us. This is what I wrote.}

Woman

First and foremost, I identify as a woman. Or maybe I’m aware that everyone else first recognizes me as a woman. Immediately upon seeing me, my gender is identified and assumptions are made, assumptions about what I should look like (attractive, put together), how I should act (polite, gracious, quiet), and what I should want (a man, children, a nice house). In many ways, I am defined by society by what’s between my legs.

My vagina is also a prerequisite for most of the roles I identify with. One cannot be a mother, wife or daughter without checking the “female” box on overly detailed forms. My womanhood is the foundation upon which everything else is built.


Mother

Is there a role that has been more exhaustively showcased, discussed and debated in our culture than that of “mother”? Do we hold any other person to such impossible standards, require such elaborate selflessness and demand such unattainable perfection? Do we ask anyone else to shoulder such a heavy burden as the raising of well-adjusted, content, productive people? The very future of our society rests in the hands of mothers (at least that is what the headlines would have you believe).

I am acutely aware of all that we expect of mothers because I fail at most of the responsibilities. I don’t often offer my children fresh, organic, well-balanced meals, partly because I know they wouldn’t eat them and partly because I don’t want to make them. I don’t maintain an immaculately clean house, in fact most of the time it’s a chaotic mess. I read to my kids regularly and expose them to academic language every day, plus I provide appropriate emotional support, but most of the time I feel like I’m failing at motherhood in all the ways society deems most important.


Wife

There are repeating themes woven into the roles women inhabit and the most common is that of caretaker. Mothers care for their children and wives care for their husbands. I’ve already admitted to the myriad ways I fail to care for my children (healthy meals, clean house) and I suppose I’m failing as a wife in those arenas as well. That said, my marriage is a happy and fulfilling one. My husband and I have worked through some considerable challenges and grown stronger for them (cliché, but true). And while I don’t cook or clean much for my husband, I provide ample support, give him the alone time he needs (an impressive feat these days) and recognize all his efforts with our children and around the house. The fact that things are good between us, despite the constant challenges posed by two young children and two full time jobs, convinces me that I’m doing pretty well in the wife department.


Daughter

My mom makes it pretty easy to be a good daughter, because she is an almost perfect mom. My mother excels in precisely the ways I fail at motherhood. She has been cooking fresh, well-balanced meals since we were kids and she still brings me delicious, home cooked leftovers for lunch on occasion. She cleans my house about once a month and still buys me things that I want but can’t really afford (ahem, Dyson cordless vacuum charging in the next room). She provides free childcare and manages to make me feel like I’m the one doing her a favor for bringing over my kids. In return, all I have to do is be her friend. The relationship is so ridiculously lopsided in my favor that it’s embarrassing and I wonder constantly if I’ll ever be half the mother to my kids as my mother was, and is, to me.


Teacher

I’ve been teaching for ten years and that part of identity has become more prominent and important than I ever expected. Teaching is a hard profession but in many ways I have it really easy. I teach Spanish at a middle school in an upper middle class suburb with dedicated, involved parents and well funded Ed Foundation. As an elective teacher I can fly under the radar of standardize test stress (my subject is not tested by the state) and I can avoid conflicts with other staff because I don’t have to collaborate much with others (which is a shame because that is one of my strengths). Over the last ten years I have created a truly dynamic, comprehensive and effective curriculum that I’m quite proud of, and I’m increasingly aware of how much I value my professional identity.

 

I observe the national debate about teachers with great interest, but I rarely make my own voice heard. I am acutely aware of how poorly teachers are regarded, how we are often not seen as professionals and how our extended breaks seem to delegitimize the hard work that we do and the long hours we put in. I’ve noticed that people tend to believe they are as well versed in educational philosophy and practice as teachers who spent many years studying in post-graduate institutions. It is frustrating to feel devalued on a professional level and it plays into a theme in my life of suspecting that I’m not getting the credit I’m due, which floats precariously above a deeper, more upsetting suspicion that my station in life–an upper-class, white woman in the wealthiest nation on the planet–renders null and void anything I ever accomplish.


Friend

In the wake of a recent friendship implosion I can’t quite unpack this one. This part of me is “under construction;” I hope to be unveiling my new “great friend 2.0” identity soon. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I take friendship very seriously, and I want desperately to be a good friend, though I seem to be struggling with it.


Depression, Anxiety and ADD

How to title this section? I wasn’t sure. I thought about it for a long time. Am I sufferer of these ailments? It honestly doesn’t feel that way anymore. I am them, and they are me. I am never sure where I end and they begin. I’m not even sure where one of them ends and another begins. My anxiety interacts intimately with my depression; they are partners in a sad, frenetic dance and it’s hard to tell who is leading. My ADD is the shoes on their feet, distracting everything with its incessant tapping. I’m not even sure what the medicine I take is treating, as it’s prescribed to me off-label for ADD but mostly it treats depression. Is life less overwhelming when I take it because my ADD symptoms are managed, which keeps my depression at bay? Or is my depression lessened so my ADD symptoms don’t grate as much? All I know is that after almost two decades of therapy and medication I have come to understand that I cannot manage my life alone. I have not yet determined if medication and exercise are crutches on which I hobble through life, or tools that grant me a mobility I couldn’t enjoy otherwise.

I briefly considered shoving “Cohabitator” in front that list above but it’s not actually a word and I wasn’t sure if I should create it with an “-or” or an “-er” because spelling doesn’t come naturally to me and I don’t feel well equipped to mold the rules to my own purposes. I’m not sure the sentiment is correct either, though that word seems the closest fit. I live with these things; they are a part of my life. Their threads help design and color every aspect of my life’s tapestry–it is impossible to tease them apart without the whole thing unraveling–so I mention them here (as a footnote? an aside?) because to omit them would be disingenuous, and I refuse to be that.

Which identities define you?

The Beacon

{I’m struggling lately with how to determine if my thoughts and feelings are valid, if they have any basis in reality or if they are simply constructs of a tired and overworked mind. Most of the time I just push them down and hope that if I ignore them for long enough they’ll go away. Sometimes I write about them. This is one of those times.}

My phone is a beacon. This is true both literally and figuratively.

In the mornings my phone actually lights the way through the pre-dawn darkness. I try to have all my clothes sitting neatly by the bathroom door before I go to bed but I inevitably need to sneak back into my bedroom and fumble around for my glasses or some other necessity. The light on my phone gets my safely through the halls and down the stairs, it helps me find my shoes, and it allows me to open the garage door without impaling myself (we really need to get a new garage door). At school it sees me through the dark parking lot and across the pitch black expanse of concrete between the campus and our “trailer park” of modular classrooms. So much of my morning routine happens under cover of darkness and I’m always thankful for the light on my phone.

My phone is also my lifeline to others. It is my primary portal to the outside world. Some days I exchange more words with my husband via my phone than I do in person. On the rides to and from work I listen to music or audiobooks so I don’t feel so alone. At home I take pictures of my kids so I can share them with my friends because they are all so far away. Through my phone I get glimpses of other people’s lives via FB or blogs. Sometimes I even leave comments, which gives the impression that I’m interacting socially. Loneliness is a constant companion these days, but without my phone it would be absolutely unbearable.

I literally don’t know what I’d do without this small, dense rectangle of circuits and glass. It keeps my life in order. It’s where I keep track of everything: my commitments, my to-do lists, what I need to get at five or six different stores, my spending, my exercise. It’s where I jot down tracking and confirmation numbers, contact information, reminders. It’s where I access my email, heck, it’s even where I access my financial institutions. I frequently shop using apps on my phone.

I can’t decide if this is a pathetic admission, that I am so completely dependent upon a piece of technology, that without my phone I’d be wholly unproductive and feel very much alone. It’s the truth, though, so I guess, on some level, it doesn’t matter how embarrassing it might be.

Life is crazy these days. I’m living at a frenetic pace, rushing from one obligation to another. I’m trying to carve out time for myself, and in many ways I’m succeeding, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. I never manage to fill my cup. It’s like I’m stopping to get gas but I’m only filling my tank to the quarter-full line and then driving around, watching the gauge, aware that I can’t get too far if I don’t stop again soon. I never have the time or money to fill it all the way to the top, so I keep putting in just enough to get the next few things done and then the whole cycle starts over.

But none of it would work, it would all fall apart, without my phone. And I’m not sure what that means.

What does your phone mean to you?

Vignettes

I pull up to the house and put the car in park. I open the gate, then the front door and immediately hear my children bustling upstairs with their grandparents. “Hey guys! I’m home!” I call to them, but before they answer I’m thrusting up the garage door and rolling the garbage cans from the street. I expertly pull the car in, not too far to the right, not too far to the left, not too far forward. Just right.

I step heavily up the stairs, checking my watch as I open the gate. 5:30pm. I left the house exactly 12 hours ago.

*   *  *  *  *

My daughter wiggles in my lap, whining that she wants to watch a movie. “What are we going to do right now?” I remind her. She rests her head on my hand and sulkily recites our plan: homework, then one, maybe two episodes of Daniel Tiger. “We may eat dinner between the episodes.” This possibility incites yet another meltdown and I hug her lean, sinewy body closer to mine, smoothing her hair out as I whisper in her ear.

My son, not yet one, sees our embrace from across the room and makes plain his desire for similar attention. I wave him over and he smiles, crawling full steam ahead. In a moment he’s pulled himself up at my knees.

“Family snuggle time!” I cheer. My daughter begrudgingly obliges, and I hoist her brother, balancing him behind her on my knees. He is thrilled to be included but he is inadvertently pulling her hair and she cries out in pain and frustration. Her wails set him off and suddenly they are both crying. I struggle to keep him on my knees and his hands out of his sister’s hair. How will I manage until their father gets home? Managing two kids can be so, so hard.

*  *  *  *  *

“I’m going to leave him in here, to watch Daniel Tiger,” I tell my husband, but it’s more a question than a statement. Is it okay? He’s not even one.

He nods in agreement.

I try to silence the voices reminding me that his sister never saw a lighted TV until she was two years old and at eleven months he’s already watched entire 22 minute programs. He deserves a TV free infancy too! A snarky voice chides. Oh he’ll be fine, it’s only one episode! another pleads. She’s clearly the one who has to start the laundry.

Glancing back as I haul cloth diapers down the stairs I see my son transfixed, his cherub face bathed in the glow of the screen.

*  *  *  *  *

“How about five more bites and then we’ll read the new Capitán Calzoncillos,” I bargain. “I bet you can finish your whole hot dog,” my husband counters.

I flash to the article I recently read about what all preschoolers need. “The power to control how much they eat,” was the first thing on the list. Are we hurting her by requesting these bites? What happens if she wakes up hungry, asking for food in the middle of the night? It’s happened before and I’m not doing that again. I don’t even think she’s old enough to make the connection between not eating and waking up hungry. I’m not sure what we should do.

“That was three!” my daughter smiles triumphantly, mouth full of half-chewed hot dog.

*  *  *  *  *

“This is the last chapter and then I’m turning off the light.” My daughter shifts her body, clearly agitated by the impending end of our story. Slowly, she turns her face and spits at me.

I turn off the iPad and lay it next to me, surprised by my calm. I knew the meltdown was coming and I’m almost thankful I have this opportunity to hold my ground; at least it will feel like I’m accomplishing something.

She promptly melts down.

I stay with her. I tell her I love her and I’ll be here when she wants a hug. She writhes and howls and kicks her long, strong legs, but is careful not to hit me. (This is progress.) She wants to read it now. It will be so long until tomorrow after school. She’ll be waiting and waiting for me.

“I’ll pick you up early,” I assure her.

“No! Don’t pick me up!” she screams.

“When do you want me to get you? How about right after you’re done on the playground?”

She nods her head and whimpers. “And then we can finish the story?”

“Then we can finish the whole book,” I promise.

After much shushing me and telling me not to talk, she lets me lie next to her and hold her close. I push my nose into her cheek and tell her I love her. She sighs.

We pull up the covers and perform our bedtime rituals. I realize she hasn’t gone to the bathroom yet but she assures me she’ll call me when she’s ready, as she always does.

Ten minutes later, when I go to check on her, she is fast asleep. It’s only 8:35pm and she’s usually not down before 10pm. I worry that she didn’t pee before she fell asleep but I know there’s nothing I can do.

I close her door quietly behind me and trudge downstairs to deal with the laundry.

Would you share a vignette with me?

The Cost

I just turned in my second set of assignments for my writing class. I em enjoying it immensely.

It’s hard to get the work done, and there are days I wonder if it was a mistake committing myself to this effort, but most of the time I’m very happy I made the choice. Last week at therapy, I voiced my concerns about the class and overcommitment and my therapist told me that if it was really the only thing I could think to do for myself (I told her it was) then I needed to do it right, to take the time away–perhaps at a cafe on a Saturday–to make it about me and not about stress and deadlines. So I went home and told my husband that I intended to take the class and that it was going to be the thing I did for me, and would he support that? And he did, and so I’ve approached the class with that in mind, and it’s been freeing.

So far I’ve surprised myself by enjoying the reading more than the writing assignments. We’re reading selections from two anthologies and the first six selections have been very interesting. This week we read “The Faith” in The Dolphin Reader (Douglas Hunt, ed) in which David Bradley tells of a sermon he saw his father give. That particular night his father shared a personal story of fear and weakness (a truly uncharacteristic admission) that deeply moved the congregation and taught Bradley something surprising about writing:

Until that night I had not understood what it meant to write. I had known that a writer’s goal was to reveal truths in words manipulated so effectively as to cause a movement in the minds and hearts of those who read them. But I had not understood that it would cost anything. I had believed that I could do those things while remaining secure and safe in myself–I had even believed that writing fiction was a way to conceal my true feelings and weaknesses. That night I found out better. That night I realized that no matter how good I became in the manipulation of symbols, I could never hope to move anyone without allowing myself to be moved, that I could reveal only slight truths unless I was willing to reveal the truths about myself.

Truth is always something I strive for in my writing, but part of my coming here was redefining what that truth looks like. I do believe that good writing costs the writer, that the really meaningful stuff is hard to say and harder to let other people read.

There is something else though, something just as important as the cost to the writer. It’s not just how hard the words are to write, but your purpose in writing them. Why are you putting this hard truth out into the world? What do you hope to accomplish? Why is the high cost worth it?

I think our answers to those questions are deeply personal, and very important. We will find them at the very core of who we are. The reasons that we write, our purpose in telling our truth, is etched into our very foundation. If we’re not sure of ourselves we will never be sure of why we are writing.

My truth is that I’m still not sure: I don’t yet know who I am, what I want to say or why I want to say it, but I recognize that the answers are entwined in the forming of the questions. I created this space to map out my response, to determine my truth and the cost I’m willing to pay in saying it. I’m intrigued by what the answer might be.

Do you agree with Bradley about the cost of writing? Do you know why you write?

Friendship Lost

A couple months ago, a dear friendship in my life came to an end. The constraints of physical distance had come between us over the years, but we always kept in touch and she remained an important fixture in my life. Then, something happened.

It took a long time for me to be certain that the friendship was over and when the dust finally settled, I was devastated.

I felt like my world was crumbling around me, and yet no one suspected anything was wrong. It seemed a very faux paus thing to talk about and the few times I mentioned it were met with awkward silences that brought the conversation to an abrupt and embarrassing halt.

I quickly learned not to broach the subject, even though silence compounded the hurt. In the absence of support (even my husband and other friends didn’t know how to help) I did what I always do when I’m going through something that I don’t understand: I found a book about it.

It was a crazy coincidence actually, this book (My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends) came out just as I accepted that the friendship was really over. I’d heard about the book at BlogHer, before I knew how much I would need it, and when I recognized its relevance to my situation, I looked it up to see if it was available.

It had been released, earlier that week in fact. I immediately ordered it and paid for it to arrive the next day.

The moment it landed on my doorstep, I set to work devouring it. Pages and pages of other women describing their own painful friendship loses. Their words were a healing salve spread gingerly over my wounded heart.

About half way through the selection of essays I came across this paragraph in Cheryl Suchors‘ “Going Without Sugar.”

“Through it all, I longed for people to acknowledge the depth of my loss. To send a card, perhaps. To check in on me or invite me out to ease the loneliness. To honor the importance of a 27-year friendship and assume that I’d mourn when it appeared to be ending.”

Yes! I thought, This! She expressed a truth I hadn’t yet articulated. I felt validated by her words and was so thankful to read them.
That desperate need to be understood, that deep ache for validation, I had felt it before. It was eerily familiar. And suddenly, I knew: It was four months after my ectopic and I felt utterly alone, like no one understood me. I was devouring About What Was Lost because the stories of other women’s miscarriages offered the only guides in navigating my grief, and because I didn’t know where else to turn.

How had I never before recognized the similarities between friendship and pregnancy loss? Both are shrouded in denial and taboo, how both are completely devastating and yet almost entirely unacknowledged.

I started seeing the parallels everywhere.

My friendship wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge and positive presence in my life and it left a raw, gaping hole when it was gone. It brought a smile to many moments throughout my day and now those same moments are strewn like landminds about my daily routine. Sometimes I forget I am stepping on one or the damage it will do until it’s too late.

Friendship loss, like pregnancy loss, changed my vision of the future. My previous assumptions are no longer relevant and I’ve had to reshape my expectations every day.

No one talks about it but sometimes, if I bring it up, women will share their own stories of friendships lost. It helps to know I’m not alone, and I wonder why these experiences aren’t a part of the cultural conversation.

In fact, just like with pregnancy loss, one thing that makes friendship loss so hard is its glaring absence from any dialogue. I have been dealing with a painful loss that is entirely unrecognized by society or those around me. There is no accepted ritual, no acknowledgment, no validation.

I know I should try again–to make other friends–but I’m not sure whether I can have faith in the process. Besides it won’t be my friend, the one I lost, so making a new one won’t really take away the pain. I must cling to hope for the future even though I’ve learned there are no guarantees. Hope must exist in the vacuum of uncertainty.

In the weeks after the loss of my friendship, I became obsessed with why it happened. Like with my ectopic, I had to answer Why? so I could prevent it from happening again. But as was the case with my pregnancy loss, there is no satisfying explanation. I eventually had to accept that I would never know exactly why it happened and that I could never really prevent it from happening again. I had to make new friends knowing I might eventually lose them, just like I had to get pregnant again knowing it might end in heartache instead of joy.

When I read Cheryl Suchors’ piece, I acknowledged how impossibly devastating the loss of a 27 year friendship would be. I compared the loss of my friendship–which hadn’t lasted nearly that long–and I wondered if I had a right to grieve so intensely. I was judging my own loss unworthy, as I did after my ectopic when I read of second and third trimester losses and I wondered if mine–at a measly 6.5 weeks–merited the pain and devastation I felt.

That is when I appreciated all the work I did grieving my lost pregnancy. I have learned how important it is to legitimize my own experience, even in the absence of validation from others. I know I have to take care of myself, to be gentle, to accept that the grief will not be a linear experience I can move through from beginning to end, but will circle back on itself, taking my breath away at unexpected moments. I have learned that my loss is worthy of the anguish I’ve felt, even if no one else confirms it. I can’t change the way I feel, only my expectations and actions surrounding those feelings.

In the past months I’ve given myself as much time and space to process these feelings as possible. I’ve been patient with my grief, I’ve let it surface when it rises up and settle when I’m feeling better. And while each day isn’t necessarily better than the day before, most of them are a lot easier than they were originally.

Already I wonder if this post is too much, if people will judge me for grieving the loss of a mere friendship. I’m scared to put this out there, but that is ultimately why I believe I should–if I don’t make it a part of the conversation, who will? When I lost my pregnancy I refused to let others belittle my grief. It was hard and sometimes I felt trampled on, but I like to think a few people learned from me along the way, and that even more felt validated when I shared my experience. I hope that is the case now, as well.

Have you suffered the loss of a friendship?

The Revelation

So a funny thing happened the other day: I realized I didn’t want anymore kids.

This might not seem like an Earth shattering revelation to some–especially when it is revealed to a woman who can’t have any more kids–but I can assure you that it was, in fact, rather Earth shattering.

You see, I was worried that I’d never really know how I felt about having more kids. Not really. I feared my history of secondary infertility and the cold, hard fact that we couldn’t afford anymore children (oh, and that my husband didn’t want anymore, even if we could) would always stand in the way of me knowing how I felt about it myself. I worried all the barriers standing between me and the family of five I originally coveted would obscure my ability to recognize whether I still wanted it.

People change their minds when it comes to family size all the time. I have been the first to admit that parenting is way harder than I expected it to be; it would make sense for me to revise my original “ideal number” at some point along the way. But then it became clear that my husband was already overwhelmed with two kids and our mortgage was, for all intents and purposes, our third offspring, at least financially, one that would be living with us long after our kids graduated from college.

And then secondary infertility happened and we realized how lucky we were to have a second child. Wanting a third seemed absurd, and there was some underlying relief that the question of whether or not we should try again had been deemed irrelevant–any disagreement on ideal family size could no longer rock the already half-submerged boat of our marriage.

And yet, a part of me pined after that never-to-be final child. I wondered if my family would always feel, in some small way, incomplete.

It’s such a relief to recognize that I don’t want that third child after all. It’s such a weight off my heart to know, deep in my soul, that if the choice had been mine, my family would look the same.

I wish I could say what triggered the revelation, but I’m not sure. There was the piece my husband wrote (at my behest) for the magazine. It was on family size and I appreciated knowing his thoughts on how we became a family of four. It was clear, reading his words, that our experiences didn’t diverge as much as I suspected.

Then there was the moment at the magazine meeting when two women announced unexpected third children–one via a surprise pregnancy (her two youngest will be 11 months apart) and one via spontaneous twins (not discovered somehow until 16 weeks). In the past my reactions to news like that would have been edged, ever so slightly, with the familiar tinge of jealousy, but that night I felt nothing but trepidation for these women who were so clearly overwhelmed by the unexpected news of their expanding families. I felt genuine empathy for them and I was very thankful that we weren’t dealing with a surprise third child of our own.

Finally, there is the simple fact that having two children is already kicking my ass. My son is amazing and I adore him, but he’s also a raving maniac. His pterodactyl shrieks are frequent, ear piercing and completely unprovoked (and not at all a signal of his discontent). He crawls everywhere and fast. He’s constantly getting into trouble and he needs to be watched closely; he gets very upset when someone interrupts his plans. He leaves chaos and mayhem in his wake. Between the contrasting needs of my daughter and my son, I am drowning in the simple daily responsibilities of tending to two children. Every night I go to bed exhausted. The idea of having a third child is terrifying to me; I absolutely could not manage it.

My dream of three children doesn’t fit anymore and in its absence I feel light and free. Passing on maternity clothes no longer conjures a wistful desire to be pregnant. Giving away baby clothes and other accoutrements I focus on the space we’re saving, the stuff I’m thankful we no longer need. I’m eager to leave the baby phase behind. I’m eager to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago we lugged our family of four to a local amusement park to revel in the splash pad and kiddie rides. Not even three hours after clearing security we were packing up the car to head home. As we waited for a break in the parking lot traffic, I spotted a family with two elementary school aged children and I had to acknowledge that they had most certainly enjoyed the park more than we had (despite encountering no problems of our own). I realized then that I’m ready for that part of parenting, to be able to do things that only older kids can do, to move past all the aspects of toddlerdom that makes it so challenging. I know parenting older children brings with it different issues, but I’m eager to attempt parenting in a new and distinct arena. I’m ready for my kids to grow up.

My son is only 11 months old, we still have to navigate the terrible twos and tantrum-throwing three’s all over again. And while I’m forever thankful for my son and all I get to experience with him, I have no desire to do it all a third time.

I recognize how lucky I am to feel fulfilled by my family, to know that we are complete. I do not take it for granted, in fact I cherish it each and every day.

And then I cherish my IUD, and the 99.99% certainty that I won’t ever have to confront a surprise third pregnancy.

Does your family feel complete? Did your ideal family size change along the way?

My Literary History

This past week I started a Creative Non-Fiction class through Berkeley Extension. Our first assignment was to submit our writing and reading profile. This is what I wrote.

Books are my best friends. Written words—my own and others’—are my constant companions.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had a book in my hand. I’ve always felt the cold shadow of loneliness looming, even when people surround me; books are my warm blanket, my shield against the long minutes and endless hours that terrify me with their silence.

I love getting lost in words, in the stories they share. I cherish meeting fascinating characters. I appreciate being transported to incredible new worlds.

My first literary love was fiction. I adored fantasy and science fiction growing up and I still covet their daring departure from reality, even today. Historical fiction was also a favorite—by no other means could I learn about the past in a meaningful way.

As an adult I read considerably more non-fiction. For the past ten or so years I’ve been entangled in a torrid affair with the memoir. I’m enthralled by people’s lives and the myriad ways they choose to capture them on the page.

I also read a lot of self-help and how-to books; I’m an avid student and am always striving to better myself. Over the years I’ve read much and more about living with depression, practicing meditation, overcoming infertility and surviving parenthood. When tragedy strikes it is always various books that guide me through the darkness and deposit me safely on the other side. I don’t know how I would have survived my miscarriage without reading the stories of other women’s journeys through loss. I couldn’t have managed infertility without the words of those who had traveled that rocky path before me. Currently I’m navigating the sudden and unexpected end of an important friendship and what should come into print but a collection of essays by women who have endured the same.

Books are my escape, but they also mark the sometimes treacherous journey home.

Do all those who read incessantly eventually take up the pen to write? I have always wondered. I know I did, first in the dozens of journals now collecting dust in the closet of my childhood home, later in stapled letters to friends halfway across the world. Eventually those letters became emails and when I lost my first pregnancy those emails and journals evolved into a blog. For a woman who always considered books her trusted friends and confidants, finding a community of other women who existed only through their own words—and were willing to read my own—was like stumbling parched upon a desert oasis. Writing nourished my soul.

I discovered myself in the over 1400 posts I wrote in the five transformative years after my miscarriage. Each post sharpened the outline of who I was and presented a clearer picture of who I wanted to be. During those impossible and exhilarating five years my words helped me find myself when my circumstances threatened to steal me away.

Two years after my first blog post I started copy editing at a mother’s magazine. Now I write there as well. Seeing my words in print for the first time, and knowing over 5,000 people would be reading them, was an incredible thrill and I understood then that writing meant more to me I had realized. The fragile tendrils of hope that I may someday write for larger audiences—in print or online—still coil tentatively around each word I write.

In the past three decades I’ve strung together hundreds of thousands of words and I like to think I’m getting better at it. I do believe the simple act of writing improves one’s ability to write, but I also recognize that eventually writers need to be pushed into foreign territory in order to improve. They need to read new and inspiring pieces and attempt creating new and inspiring pieces of their own. It is for the challenge, and some fresh perspective, that I am taking this course.

What would you include in your own literary history?

Investing in Myself

When my son started crawling I entered the most challenging period of parenting I’ve experienced thus far. In this past week I’ve felt more moments of panic that a situation is spiraling out of control than I can even recall. Between the needs of my emotionally charged, strong willed daughter and my curious, fast-kneed son I literally cannot maintain my footing or my grasp from one moment to the next. I can thank only dumb luck for the fact that we’re all still in one piece, both physically and emotionally.

Work is similarly stressful right now and I feel I’m only barely keeping a hair’s breath ahead of everyone’s expectations. The smallest stumble and I’ll fall days or weeks behind. The prospect is terrifying.

Both at home and at work my stress levels are at an all time high, and yet I’m handling it all relatively well. Sure I’m frayed around the edges, and I’m making coffee for myself every morning before school (I have NEVER been a coffee drinker), but my meltdowns are at a minimum and my husband and I are still getting along.

To what can I attribute my relative “success?” I think I’m managing because I’m investing in myself.

I just started an online writing course via Berkeley Extension and while I will definitely be struggling to keep up, I’m already so excited by the reading and writing I’m going to do.

I’m making a really concerted effort to meet up with other women and socialize: I started a monthly dinner date with the mothers from my daughter’s school. I finally had drinks with a mom I’ve always really liked. I reached out to old friends that recently had babies via Facebook. I have plans to get brunch with a friend in my old neighborhood I rarely see. I bought tickets to visit my college roommates on the East Coast in October and I’m even considering the Vegas trip with my work colleagues in the new year.

I’m also exercising three times a week, which is probably the single biggest contributor to my stabilized mood. I can feel the stress melt off me as my heart rate goes up and I ALWAYS feel better–physically and emotionally–when I’m done.

Sure my house is a total disaster area. Sure my students are asking when I’m going to put their grades online. Sure I’m not getting nearly enough sleep. But I’m managing, and I’m doing so with minimal personal break downs. Right now, it feels like it’s working

At any rate, I’m doing better than I thought I would be. I appreciate that.

How are you investing in yourself these days?

What’s in a name?

I thought a lot about writing online, under real names and under pseudonyms. I wanted–needed–to write anonymously in my first space. That blog was about processing my loss and struggles to get pregnant and it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to share it with the people in my life, but that I felt they’d fault me for needing to even say it. So I wrote under an assumed name, to protect myself and the people who loved me.

I created an identity for myself in that space, under that name. I don’t think I realized how much it meant to me until I decided to let it go.

I also tried to write under my real name. I created a space and invited those I knew to read there. But as a teacher I felt trapped posting under my real name. There was so much I couldn’t say when I knew my students might find it. I felt silenced by their maybe some day searching for me.

So I created this new space, under a third name. I thought I understood my motives for shedding my original anonymous identity and starting fresh, but as I embark on the actual shedding, I’m not so sure.

Yesterday I started commenting under my new nom de plum. In the comment boxes of the blogs I’ve read for years I erased my old identity and typed in my new one. Who is this person I’m letting go? Who is this person I’m creating in her place?

We can never present all of ourselves in any one place or with any one person. In the first few years writing on my anonymous blog, I believed the woman portrayed was the more accurate representation, a more honest account than what I presented to the real world. Over time I came to understand that she was not a clearer reflection of who I was, just a window into a certain part of me I didn’t feel I could share anywhere else.

I think that ultimately I’m leaving that persona behind because those parts of myself don’t need to be shared as much anymore. I can incorporate those pieces into a greater whole, which I hope will give them more perspective.

I believed my old space was borne of honesty, authenticity and truth–and I hope that it was–but I never recognized that behind all of it was an overwhelming need that I couldn’t control. I was driven to write there, and not always for the right reasons; fear colored a lot of those words. I hope to come to this space with more deliberate intention, to be motivated by forces more productive than hurt or fear.

Erasing my old moniker in familiar comment boxes can feel like starting over, and it is in a way, but I know better than to think I can leave the person I was behind. I invited everyone who knew me there to read me here and they won’t forget who I was before.

And honestly? I don’t really want them to.

What does your writing identity mean to you? Have you ever considered changing it?