Sunday, October 9, 2011

Always a Writer

I am a person who likes to imagine their live in a very compartmentalized way.  Here is a picture of how my brain organizes my life:

Note the black-and-whiteness of it, the clear defined lines that keep one part separate from all others.  

When these things cross over--for instance, at our housewarming party when we invited lots of different people--or if I'm at work and someone stops by to visit me, it makes me nervous.  I wonder if everyone will like each other from the different parts of my life.  I worry because in my head, at any given time most people aren't involved in 3/4ths of things that are going on with me.  I wouldn't expect the FNC to show up at a swim meet, just like I'd be surprised to see the kids from my team at a book signing.

The few weeks ago I had inservice for the beginning of the school year.  One of the meetings I went to was the English Department meeting, which I go to as a lower school representative. We chatted about books at first (I hyped up THE SCORPIO RACES and WONDERSTRUCK as two of my favorite summer reads!) and it turned out that the new middle school English teacher is also a YA writer.  The chair of the department, when she found this out, announced, "We have a writer in our midst.  We'll certainly have to take advantage of that!"

To which two other teachers--one fourth grade, one kindergarten--replied, "We have two writers," and pointed to me.

Enter point where the boundaries in my life get fuzzy.

This announcement caught me off-guard for two reasons:

1) I wasn't paying full attention to the meeting.  (It was the fourth meeting of the day.  I have to admit, I was daydreaming about a potential new story idea.)

2) How did they know I was a writer?!  In my head, my writing is a private thing.  I share it with the FNC--but we've spent years building our friendship and trust in one another.  How did these two teachers, who I've only made small talk with a few times before, know that I was a writer?

It weirded me out.  I wanted to reach into the room and gather up all the words people had said and shove them in my bag.  I hadn't given them permission to announce this private part of my life--this part that, in my mind, was completely closed off from the rest of my life.

I thought about it for awhile for the rest of the day, and on the car ride home.  And at some point, it occurred to me:

Writing is all about grey areas and breaking boundaries.

I know, I know.  Not exactly the revelation of the century, right?  I already knew that was what I was trying to do in my writing.  But I didn't realize until now that it doesn't only happen on the page--writing causes grey areas and smudgy boundaries in your life too.  That just because I'm at work, or hanging out my parents, or at a swim meet, doesn't mean I'm not a writer right then too.

Again, it's not like I'm explaining rocket science to all of you out there.  A lot of you probably figured this out a long time before I did.  It still felt important to me, though.  Along with realizing that I'm always a writer--that it's infiltrating every part of my supposedly-compartmentalized life--I realized that people care about that part of my identity.

Those two teachers didn't have to point out that I was a writer.  They could've stayed silent and let me speak up for myself (and since I thought my writing life didn't connect to my work life, I probably wouldn't have) but they didn't.  They cared enough to at least share that knowledge with someone new.

I think, if having grey areas and smudgy boundaries means that people care about a more whole version of you, that I'm okay with it.  Even if it still weirds me out a little.


  1. Hey there, new follower here!

    I kinda know how you feel. I love writing (I've been doing it since 5th grade, hopefully better now!) and some of my friends and coworkers know that about me. But it weirds me out when they introduce me as "She's a writer." Which then, of course, leads to probing questions and just how do you explain to 80 year old strangers that you write about Buddhist vegetarian vampires and shapeshifters with ferret envy?


  2. That's interesting: how DID they know you're a writer? Because you're always daydreaming while you think of new story ideas? :)

    Great post, Sara. For a long time I didn't admit to being a writer because, frankly, I was embarrassed. (Didn't want to have to explain that I've been writing for years but I'm not yet published.) But now I tell LOTS of people, including people I work with.

    I absolutely love this line: "I wanted to reach into the room and gather up all the words people had said and shove them in my bag." That right there shows you're a writer!

  3. I used to be just an English student, but as of this year I'm an English and Creative Writing student. I feel like a gay man in the 1950s. It's riddiculous but I actually feel like I'm 'outing' myself and I have panic attacks about it.
    I don't so much compartmentalize my writing as lock it in a small box, put it in a safe and bury it in the basement. And it's the kind of thing you hear from writers all the time. It's insane. Where did all the shame come from?


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