I have been working my way through Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Actually, less working and more tearing. It’s beautiful and wonderful and fantastic, and I keep picking it up every second I have the chance. If life were ideal it would have been done in a day, but alas life is life, and I am merely almost done after two days.
It has a chapter on permission in which she says you should declare the intent for your creative life. I am ________. I am a gardener, chef, photographer, singer, actor, dancer.
I am a writer.
Wanna hear something ridiculous? I have never let those words out of my mouth and believed them. I have never thought I was allowed to use that statement because I didn’t think it was true. For some crazy reason in the back of my mind I thought I needed to reserve that title for only if I ever became published. That back of my mind space says, “OK you are at a party, and someone comes up to you and they say ‘what do you do?’ You don’t say ‘I’m a writer,’ ya dumbass. Because that will inevitably lead to, ‘what have you written, anything I would have read?’ Which will of course lead to a long awkward sound similar to that of an opera singer with a double inner ear infection followed by, ‘probably not because I haven’t published anything.’ Which you know will then lead to a very heavy side eye, and a halfhearted excuse about needing to get a drink, or go to the bathroom, you probably can’t tell because he’s mumbling too heavily. And you’ll go off feeling vulnerable and confused, and very much like an idiot for saying anything in the first place. Which, by the way, you are for even considering yourself a writer.”
That back-of-your-head space is where fear lives. It skulks there so you can’t call it out; so it can whisper suggestions to you without you noticing, like a kid in the back of the class saying dirty words under his breath in a way that the teacher can’t pinpoint exactly which student it really is.
Here’s what I think the real problem has been for us human-folk. We have trained each other not to share the things in our heart. We define ourselves by so much exterior and so little interior. How are you, how’s work, how’s the house? We define so much of who we are by what we visibly do and how we make our livelihood and to be honest I am just exhausted by it. I’m tired of having the same bullshit conversation over and over again about my job and how things are there and how long I plan to stay and what my retirement plan is like and where I ultimately want to work and blahdy blahdy blah. I am tired of us letting each other off the hook so easily, and so meaninglessly.
What if we stopped trying to have these same conversations, and we talked about our hearts instead?
I know this wonderful lady who introduced me to this beautiful, simple phrase. How’s your heart? Three words. Just three little words people, but ohhhhh are they powerful. It’s funny because really when you think about it, how are you and how’s your heart should induce the same responses. If your heart is feeling shat upon, shouldn’t you be feeling shat upon? But I have seen that this is just not the case. How are you doesn’t feel real. It feels like a courtesy question. It feels like someone saying, “I am asking how you are because it is the expected thing to do, but I really just want you to say something vague and then continue on with my day.” How’s your heart? Woof. That’s a doozy of a question. It is sooo much harder to lie when someone asks you how your heart is instead of how you are. Seriously. Whoever asked you that really wants to know what’s going on inside you.
I think we are doing the same thing to how we define ourselves. I think we feel that same superficial feeling when someone asks us what we do as when someone says how are you? What if we changed it? What if instead of asking how are you, what do you do, we asked each other how’s your heart, and who’s your heart?
Minus all this arguably meaningless external crap and small talk that we are forced to sift through, who are we inside, at our core, when no one is looking? Not what do you plan to do with your life; not how will you make money or what kind of home will you live in or will you have a 401K. Who are you, in your heart?
If there is a title there, claim it. You’re a painter or a sculptor or a baker or a mother or a friend. Maybe your heart really does love your work, in which case you are a teacher or a librarian or a freaking financial planner if that’s your jam. You just need to claim the title your heart already has and allow it to permeate into the rest of you.
Know it. Your heart already does. Know it with your whole body and mind, and then let everybody else know it too. You don’t need to be making money for it to be true, your heart is already living that truth. If your heart loves something, if you practice it every day, if you can’t make it through activities without it seeping into your consciousness; if you think about it while you’re driving, eating, walking, sitting on the toilet; then in my opinion it really is a true full time job anyway. If your heart is participating in this title every single day, around the clock, then that is most certainly something you can claim for yourself.
I don’t write because I’ll get paid for it. I write because my heart says I should, and to be honest I think I may feel more free and content in that than some published writers. That magic is there for me. It’s in my dreams, it’s on my mind when I wake up, it’s on my thoughts all day long like a new crush that I’m constantly waiting to accidentally bump into at school.
There’s a string tied in a neat little bow right around the middle of my heart that keeps me close to my writing. The farther I get away the more my heart tightens and feels pulled back.
There is never enough time to satisfy my heart’s hunger for this thing. Sometimes I even sit at my desk wishing I had eight arms so that I could write more; so that I could get out all the things my heart wants to say and satiate her appetite. I would be the octopus woman and it would be glorious, but even then I think my heart would still cry out for more.
So. Who is my heart? How does my heart spend each day? Well. Sometimes we go to work together and my heart spends time with kids and animals that she loves and this makes her very happy, because she is a naturalist, and a teacher. Some days she encounters unkind people with heart breaking words and actions, and it makes her sad, because she wants to be an empowerer. Sometimes she attempts to sit silently, bored out of her mind as I enter data on a computer, or have a conversation about finances. During this time, she daydreams. She daydreams so fiercely that it seeps out of her and right into me. She daydreams of the second I will be done with these meaningless tasks so that she can have permission to pull on the string tethered to her truth like it’s a life preserver, and to return to that pen and paper for as long as she is possibly allowed. Because she is a writer.
And friends. So am I.
I’m going to let myself live my truth, because really, what’s stopping me? What’s stopping you? Your heart already knows it. Let the rest of you know it too. You can do it, it’ll all be OK. I promise.