Pinned to the wall above the left corner of my desk is a set of two photos glued to a sheet of dark green construction paper. The photos are of me when I was a baby, younger than a year in one of them, maybe just over a year in the second. On the other side of the construction paper is a letter than my opa sent me for my 21st birthday. When I first got this card in the mail, it was actually several months past my birthday, because he sent the card to my mom’s house from Vienna, and then she sent it to me when she got the chance to. There was just a lot of mail involved, and so the card got a bit delayed. But when I received the card, I started crying. Before I even read the card, seeing the photos of myself that young made me cry, though at the time I didn’t really understand why. It was early last winter that I finally got the card. I was still recovering from a bought of strep throat that I’d had to work doubles three days in a row through, and I was feeling incredibly defeated by my life. I worked too much, seasonal depression was setting in, and I was walking around with this soul-deep feeling that my life was wrong. Though because I couldn’t figure out what that feeling was, I felt as though I was somehow wrong. And when I opened that card and saw that tiny version of myself, I started to cry because I couldn’t connect myself to the images. I didn’t understand how I’d gone from that sweet little girl to the absolute mess I had become. Seeing those photos tugged at that feeling deep inside me that something was not right, and I truly believed that it was me. That something about me was wrong.
For a long time, I’ve felt like everyone around me got a memo on how to do life that I just never received. All of my friend have always seemed to have it more together than me. All through college, my peers had time to be in clubs and do internships and finish all their schoolwork and go out and party and socialize and have a good time, while I felt completely buried by my job and my schoolwork. I felt like there was barely enough time for those two things, and there was no way I could consider anything else. I feel like I’ve always been a half-step behind, that everyone around me understood how to do all of these “life” things that I’d never been taught about. I felt like there was this unbreakable wall between the life I’d known and the life I wanted. For a long time, I couldn’t see how to bridge the gap between being a waitress and becoming a writer. I felt like I’d dug myself into a hole, and I was going be trapped there forever, working a job I didn’t love, working too many hours to survive functionally, and permanently broke. I think when I saw those baby photos for the first time, I felt like I’d let myself down. I felt like that little girl deserved better than what I’d built for her. I felt like I hadn’t done my best, and that it was too late to change anything.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that mindset. About how for most of my life, I honestly believed that what I wanted was unattainable. I didn’t think I was good enough, and I couldn’t find a way to access anything that was even adjacent to my dream of being a writer. I never had an internship in college because I was working full time, and because I had to take on more classes each semester so that I could graduate in three years instead of four since I couldn’t afford four years of school. Internships are usually unpaid, so people that have to support themselves are generally excluded from that sphere. But the fact that I couldn’t afford to be in that sphere made me believe that I didn’t deserve to be. That I wasn’t talented enough or hardworking enough to be. So over time, I convinced myself that I wasn’t good enough to have any of the things I wanted. I didn’t deserve my dream job, I didn’t deserve to have a comfortable income, I didn’t deserve to achieve my goals. It was the most frustrating feeling in the world, because I was doing as much as I possibly could, I was doing the best that I possibly could, and it just didn’t seem to be enough.
I don’t know when the exact moment was that I decided that I am good enough to be a writer, and that I do deserve to have everything I dream to have, but it happened very recently. I think it started when I realized that I couldn’t go back to work at my restaurant job for at least a long while, and I had to process all of the intense emotions that came along with that. After college, I threw myself into work aggressively. I made sure that I worked as many hours as I possibly could, like I was trying to replace the hours I’d previously spent on school work with work-work. I think that I’d ingrained this belief in myself that I would never get an internship, I would never get a story or poem published, I would never write a book or get a book published, so I needed to have an excuse for why I wasn’t trying. In college, I’d been too busy and overwhelmed to strive too hard for any of those things, but now that college was over, I needed a new excuse. So I overwhelmed myself with work—I buried myself in extra shifts and doubles and long hours, so that I could always be too busy to pursue the things I wanted. Because I didn’t think I deserved them, and so I was too scared to even try. But when I found out I couldn’t go back to work because of COVID, I had to sit and think about what I really wanted. Was it such a bad thing that I couldn’t go back to work? I’d been miserable. I’d been drowning. I knew that I didn’t want to keep waitressing forever, but I also know that I never would have stopped on my own. I never would’ve even pulled back to give myself a little extra time or space for writing. After a while—by which I mean, after I got over the immense despair at not being able to use work as an excuse anymore—I realized that this was a sign, a gigantic flashing neon sign right in front of my eyes, and I couldn’t keep ignoring it. I was being forced to do the thing that I never would’ve done for myself, but that I needed to do to reach my actual calling. Writing is my soul-deep calling. It’s the truest most beautiful thing I know about myself. I feel like there are a million stories happening inside me all the time, just waiting to be put down on paper. But I could never accept that about myself. I would’ve spent my whole life denying it, because I was just too afraid that I was asking for too much, that I was asking for something that I didn’t deserve. So when all of a sudden, I was forced into this situation in which I wasn’t able to make excuses, I finally had to own up to the fact that I am meant to be a writer, and that there’s no other path that’ll distract me from that truth. Of course, I tried to keep avoiding it (drinking, sleeping til noon, and online shopping were all great avoidance techniques until they started ruining my life, too). But finally, I realized that if I don’t take advantage of the time that’s been giving to me and use it to finally be a writer, then I’m an idiot, and I’m a coward. Writing requires bravery, and risk and vulnerability and honesty, and before, I wasn’t ready to do any of that. I know now that writing requires me to be honest with myself about my own pain, and to work through that pain. To be a good writer I have to understand what I’ve been through. It’s not as if I’m writing about myself, but I don’t think it’s really possible to fully understand human nature unless you understand your own nature. I can’t write characters who feel real unless I understand all of my own nuance. Because understanding myself, being gentle with myself, allows me to write better, more interesting and complex characters. I did the work to begin healing and understanding myself, and it led me back to writing. Everything in my life comes back to writing. It gets me through everything, it heals me of everything, it transports me, it builds me, it saves me.
Today is my first day having my dream job. I’ve always wanted to be a full time writer, and I realized that there’s literally nothing stopping me from doing that other than the belief that I needed someone else to tell me that I could do that. I needed external validation before, but now I realize the only validation that matters is my own. For the first time in my life, I have nothing but time, and no way to fill it with excuses. There’s literally never going to be another opportunity like this for me to fully commit myself to writing. So starting today, I’m doing it. I decided that I now how a nine-to-five job, and that job is writing. I woke up this morning, I practiced my morning yoga and I meditated, then I got dressed in a super cute and professional outfit, made my hair look slightly more presentable, and then I sat down at my desk with breakfast and coffee and started writing. I started with my morning pages, because duh, but then I finished a short story I’ve been working on. This post is like my lunch break, I guess, and when I’m done here I’m going to get back to work on my book. I’m writing a book! This story has been a work in progress for a little over two years now, and it’s finally becoming a fully formed idea. It’s taken me so long to actually get to this point because before, although the idea for this book was always pouring out of me, I never committed to it because I thought, who would want to publish a book I wrote? But that’s just not true. I’m a really fucking good writer. I hate bragging, and it feels really weird for me to say nice things about myself, but it’s important that I say it. Every day, I need to remind myself that I am worthy and that I deserve this and that this is my path, my calling, what I am meant for.
Today is the first day of my dream job. I am so fucking grateful for this opportunity, and for the fact that I finally value myself enough to give myself the chance to do this. When I was sixteen, I wrote this short non-fiction piece for my AP English class about what home was for me. In it, I didn’t describe the house I lived in with my family. Instead, I wrote about a place that existed in my future. I wrote about being in my twenties and living in an apartment on the east coast where I had a big window that looked out over the street and the city. I wrote that I’d spend the whole day reading and writing, and that it was fall outside and the leaves were changing colors. I wrote that I’d finally found peace inside of myself, and that I’d never felt happier before. I wrote that I’d finally found where I belonged.
Today I am sitting in my bedroom in an apartment on the east coast. I have a giant window in my bedroom that overlooks the beautiful street I live on and from which I can see over the city. I’ll spend all day writing, and later I’ll read one of the books on my bookshelf that reminds me what inspires me to do this. I feel at home in a way I don’t think I ever have before. I feel like I’ve found myself. I am overjoyed, and I am peaceful. I’ve found where I belong.
I keep the set of my baby photos pinned over the left corner of my desk so that they’re just above my laptop screen. Every time I glance up, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come. I’m reminded of why I’m doing this, when sometimes it seems like the hardest thing in the world to choose to be my truest self. I look at those photos, and I am reminded of who I really am, how inherently joyful I am, and how beautiful my life is meant to be. Looking at those photos reminds me of how dark things felt not all that long ago. I let them remind me that every day I get to choose how I live my life, and that every day I will choose to live a life that honors that little girl, and honors who I am today, and who I will be in the future. I didn’t choose to be a writer, not really. I always have been. It’s always been my identity, always existed in my blood and my heartbeat. But I’ve spent a long time denying it, and by doing so I’ve been dishonoring myself. I know now what I deserve. I deserve to honor myself, and to celebrate every part of who I am. So today and every day, I am a writer, and I am myself, and I am grateful, and I am peaceful. Because I know that this is right, and this is the truest, most beautiful life I can lead for myself.