I Used to Be

I used to be a writer and a poet and a novelist. And a singer. And an actress. And a media tech. And a computer repair geek. I used to be a little sister and a big sister, a babysitter, a housekeeper, a business owner, a gardener, a receptionist at a hair salon, an intern at a church, a tutor at a private school, a certified personal trainer, a model, a Nashvillian. I used to be so many things. Even a wife.

Now, I sit on the front porch of a rented three bed room house in the middle of Virginia pushing thoughts of teaching out of my mind to free up the room to write again. Even as my fingers depress keys in a sequence of muscle memory so automatic it’s like breathing, my mind is still churning out a never-ending to do list of ostensibly unimportant dimensions: compile make-up work for Antasia, create a vocab quiz for my eleventh graders, contact my assistant principal re: teaching more tenth grade classes because I feel unnaturally well-equipped to prepare them for the writing end of course test.

Like I’ve heard from countless others, my life doesn’t look like what I thought it would at thirty-two. According to my timeline, I’ve accomplished none of what I thought I would have by this age. Yet, when I survey the laundry list of things I have been, I realize to countless others, I have had some considerable accomplishments in my not-so-young life. And still somehow, the meaninglessness of my life gnaws at me like… the simile didn’t come. It would have five years ago.

Just as I know thirty-two should be spelled out according to MLA rules because it’s three syllables or less and that in order to break the rules of starting sentences with and I must understand that I am, in fact, breaking them for affect, and that affect is a verb and effect is a noun, all matters ingrained in me from years of linguistic study, I know that my life is not meaningful as was ingrained in me from a lifetime of behavior study.

Even at nine years old when asked to imagine my life in twenty years, no one could have denied my zeal for the details of my own American Dream. My timeline uncannily mirrored my mother’s. I would be married to a doctor at twenty-one and pay his way through medical school on my teaching salary, as my mother did. I would have four children and own a white house with black shutters in the suburbs, as my mother did. I would stay at home to raise them and serve dinner at 5:30 pm every night, as my mother did. My painstakingly penned De’nelian cursive evidenced my commitment to a future that would be mine.

I could not have anticipated that I would understand more about parallel sentence structure in twenty years than I ever would about a home and a family. Already behind on my timeline, I filled in the role of husband with a struggling musician because, after all, the position was a bill past due. My brief stint with marriage lasted only four years before disquieted disenchantment purged me from my marriage, my home, my career, my church, and my city. At the age of thirty.

It’s been two years since I uncharacteristically snuffed out the woman I was and attempted to start again somewhere else. That’s also two years since I put pen to paper, as I near daily force my high school students to do. Am I afraid that there’s nothing of value left to write in me? That the similes will no longer form themselves into perfect pairings on an alliterated page? That all my used-to-be’s will dominate my writing material? Or that the very pastime of reflective writing that urged me forward for two decades will bring me face to face with the current disillusionment of this decade of my existence?

Perhaps it is all four, but something about daylight savings and the temperature increases of March sparked a long-dead fire in me while driving home on I-64 tonight. It was the first writing tingle I have had since I left Nashville. Mimicking the peace I experienced living in one bedroom apartment after college when I relished my singleness and independence, I headed outside with my laptop in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other and clicked on “New Word Document”. These words are the result. Comprehension of cause and effect relationships. – that’s an essential skill at the “understanding” level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. That to-do list is quickly encroaching on my selfish little writing binge.

Before the list overtakes me completely and I open my work email, one thing remains. The mere fact that I don’t want to admit this compels me to confess: the thought occurred to me while weaving through traffic at dusk that if I could just reach my computer and start writing again that I might just expose a sugarcoated sentiment that would change me somehow for the better. Writing used to do that for me. It fixed problems.   It led me to truths about myself and the world around me that revealed the interconnectedness of the human experience. It was cathartic. Therapeutic. Impassioned.

In reality, I haven’t made any major epiphanies, haven’t found a book topic that might impact the world, and certainly haven’t freed myself from the existential life crisis that ebbs at my wellbeing each day. But I wrote. Does that make me a writer again? Am I reclaiming some integral part of what used to define me? Can pensive meanderings incrementally (not coincidentally, one of our vocab words) add up to equate formulaic significance? More importantly, will I even have a hankering to open the document tomorrow?

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