I recently moved from one side of town to the other. The students had invaded with their enthusiasm and red cups. Lounge chairs on the roof. The week before I sold my house, I heard sawing and hammering coming from the other side of the fence. Entrepreneurial, visionary, resourceful—my next door neighbors were building a beer pong table in their backyard.
Whew. I made it out of there in the nick of time.
For months, I’d anticipated missing my house with all the remodeling I’d done. I’d tiled the bathroom myself, put in wood flooring, a gas fireplace, raised beds in the garden, new windows. Twice I painted the outside of the house. It was a labor of love, but still, there’s a reason it’s called sweat equity.
Change is inevitable and what we can’t imagine at one point in our lives gradually becomes the new norm. Yes, I miss that house, but it was time to move on.
At a recent book group discussing my novel Thin Places, one woman asked: “Do you identify as a writer?”
“I have a hard time thinking about myself as an adult,” I said. It’s an amusing rejoinder I’ve used on numerous occasions, but entirely sidesteps the question.
It reminded me of years ago as a fledging psychology intern musing with my classmates about our new role as therapists. My clients, with little prompting, readily revealed the most intimate details about their lives—childhood trauma, family secrets, their kinky–and pedestrian–sex lives.
“You take off your clothes in the doctor’s office, don’t you?” This from one of my fellow classmates.
“It’s not the same,” I said. But it is.
We step into roles: A new job. A marriage. A spouse dies and we’re suddenly a widow. The first time I uttered the phrase, my son, I stumbled over the words and looked behind me. As if those words belonged to someone else.
I used to be a psychologist. Now I’m a writer.
Am I a writer because I’ve published a book? Does it have to be a best-seller before I think of myself as a writer? Do I have to write a second book before I’m really a writer?
Obviously, the performing of the role plays only a small part in our identity as adults or parents or doctors. Or writers.
Time helps us feel more comfortable in a new role. If I was initially surprised as a psychology intern that my clients were eager to reveal their deepest darkest secrets, in time, I became accustomed to their desire to be vulnerable with someone who was listening with deep intention.
Practice helps even more. Early on, I lacked anything but the most basic of skills—and confidence. My questions were awkward, poorly timed, sometimes insensitive. In clinical work—and writing—there’s a steep learning curve and then continual improvements along the way. I still remember my first client, a single parent struggling with children, a job, not enough money. Even Picasso had a first painting, but still, I wish I could tell her I’m sorry.
Time and practice, however, are not enough. Change can be tricky. Don’t delay taking on that new passion as your own. I say: Be bold. Be daring. Be yourself.
Do I feel entitled to claim I’m a writer?
Sure. I guess. Absolutely.