I did a lot of pretty cool things last year. I got married, which has been delightful. We went to Hawaii. I snorkeled with sea turtles. We adopted two kittens. We bought a house. I was introduced to draft lattes. I read a lot of books. And, of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was bestowed upon us all. Ah, the wonders of life. It’s enough to give you hope or something.
One thing I did not do was write. I made a lot of excuses for giving it up, but one incident in particular pushed me to the breaking point.
About a year and a half ago, I went to a media training session. There was a very small group of us in a large, freezing room with a consultant. I had done a number of phone and television interviews in the past but I thought some professional training could be useful. The consultant spent the first fifteen minutes trying to turn on PowerPoint. He then proceeded to show us a series of embedded YouTube clips which he clearly found funny and topical. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t going to learn anything new in the next three hours. Still, I sat there in that small igloo, listening to the consultant talk about things like voice projection and enunciation. I took notes but mostly thought about how I wished I had a jacket. Or more coffee. Or both. Or maybe a blowtorch. Did I mention it was cold in there? Finally, we came to the end of the session: a lecture on social media. He explained how we all needed to be careful with what we post online because it can be used against you. He may have had a point but he seemed to be completely against the idea of having personal social media accounts at all. He was going to sit us down individually for a mock “grilling” interview. Since he had received our names and email addresses in advance, he said he did some digging on all of us online. I wasn’t worried because I have always been pretty careful with my social media and whatnot. I’m practically invisible on Facebook and I have the highest privacy settings possible on Twitter. I sat down for my mock interview ready to wrap up the session and thaw my extremities.
The consultant sat across from me with a stack of notes. He started with a few generic questions: what’s your name, what’s your professional background. Easy enough. Then, he asked me why I hate farm animals. My immediate reaction was to laugh because it sounded so absurd. He became stone faced and repeated the question. I hesitated for a few seconds because I was genuinely confused. I shook it off, smiled widely, and said that no, I actually don’t hate farm animals. He looked down at his notes and proceeded to read from my old blog post about the goose monster. Comprehension dawned on me as I recognized my own words. But he was only reading random bits and pieces of the story and it sounded ridiculous, not at all like the funny childhood anecdote I had written. The room suddenly defrosted as I felt my face start to burn. Behind me, I heard some of the other workshop attendees giggling. He stopped reading and asked me again about hating farm animals. I forced another smile and said something about silly childhood fears and reiterated that I do not in fact hate farm animals. Fine, he said, but would I then explain my grudge against Starbucks? Again, I drew a blank until he started reading from the blog, quoting me about pumpkin spice lattes, Frosty the Snowman, and the word “curate.” I sat there in shock as he twisted my words out of context, making me sound like the poster girl for self-involved millennials. After what felt like days, he finally looked up and asked me why I’m such an angry, hateful person. Cue more giggling from the jerks in the back. Still in mock interview mode, I started fumbling for a response. I had gone past any feelings of embarrassment and was now twitching with annoyance bordering on anger, which only looked like I was proving his point. With the best poker face I could muster, I calmly said that I’m not a hateful person. And I smiled. Again. Maybe a little too widely that time. I insisted all of that was written with tongue firmly in cheek.
Now would be a good time to mention that I have a terrible poker face. My discomfort must have been glaring from my eyes like a laser. The consultant got a smug, satisfied look on his face and set aside his notes. He said that clearly, I have a lot of work to do with my online presence. I was lucky he decided to go easy on me and not use my political posts. Posting nonsense on the internet will only come back to haunt me in the long run. He motioned for the next soon-to-be victim to take the chair. Fuming, I grabbed my things and left.
When I got home, I deactivated my blog.
I told myself it wasn’t because of anything the consultant said. I had already been thinking that the blog was pointless and it seemed narcissistic to keep it going. I wasn’t writing anything real anyway. Besides, if it could hurt my career, then I really should leave it alone. My job doesn’t have anything to do with writing anyway. That consultant clearly didn’t think it was any good. Hell, if I thought I was any good, I would have tried to get something published instead of just having a blog. I would have majored in creative writing because your job should be the thing you majored in, right? “You’re a good writer but you’re not a writer,” I told myself.
I swallowed any instinct to write and focused on other things. It worked for awhile.
I can’t explain exactly how or why that changed. Something just sparked. I wish the turning point was as good of a story as the breaking point. The idea of writing never really went away. It was always gnawing at me. Randomly, I’d think “maybe someday I’ll write the book for a musical with my sister.” I would read a book and get angry at the end because I thought it could have been better. Or I’d read a book and feel grateful that such a beautiful piece of art can exist in the world, and I’d desperately wish that I could do that myself. Ok, so I probably am a narcissist but that’s my truth. That’s what happens to me every single time I read. It always has.
That spark started to feed on something over the past several months. Maybe it was feeding on stress and wanting to do something new. Maybe it was born out of subconscious exhaustion of holding back. Maybe it was fueled by sheer joy. Like I said, so many fantastic things happened in 2015 (I’m not kidding about the draft lattes). I hear happiness can do wild things for your confidence, along with some well-timed words of encouragement. This is where I say thank you to Lin-Manuel Miranda for helping me realize that I shouldn’t throw away my shot. I also need to thank Neil Gaiman for retweeting this essay in November. Why can’t I be a writer? Why does having a job negate that? Why should I be afraid of what people think? Part of me wonders if I should be angry at that man with his YouTube clips for making me feel so small, but I can’t. I can’t because I’m more frustrated with myself. I can’t think of any other time I quit something because of what someone else said. That’s not who I am.
In fact, that’s never been who I am. Every time I decided I wanted to do something in my life, I went and did it. No matter how big, no matter how small – I just up and DID IT. I got a full scholarship to ASU. I got my nose pierced. I studied in Spain. I got tattoos. I went to Georgetown. I started dating this guy right before Georgetown and lots of people said that was crazy. I moved back to Arizona. I got a job in a museum. I became a runner. I chopped off my hair. I married that guy. Seriously, why can’t I be a writer if that’s what I want? And you know what? THAT’S WHAT I WANT.
I’m going to blog AND I’m going to write “real” things. I’m going write the kinds of things that I like to read. I hope you like it. Actually, I hope you like it a lot and tell other people about it. If you don’t, well, you’re entitled to your opinion but don’t expect me to stop. Cue smile.