Several years ago, my sister-in-law said to me, “I’m on a one-woman mission to bring hats back!” She was determined to influence the face of American fashion and see everyone in stylish chapeaus. Judging from the bare heads surrounding me at Starbucks, I would say her mission was not the success she hoped, but that’s okay. She moved to England soon after where there are hat wearing women a-plenty.
I’m not too keen on hats (Hello? Hat hair?), but I’ve worn quite a few, metaphorically speaking. Daughter, Student, Secretary, Teacher, Wife, Mother, etc. Recently, my friends challenged me to try on a new hat. Writer. Now, that is one that I have tried on with a lot of hesitation and fear and it’s fitting quite awkwardly. I feel completely unqualified to even wear it in public! It’s far too enormous and fancy for me. Because, as you might have guessed, I am not a writer. I did not study writing. I’ve never written anything for a publication before. I didn’t major in English in college. I can’t even claim to be a great reader! If it isn’t a romance novel, or an issue of People magazine, my eyes glaze over. I thought I would look ridiculous in that hat.
My friends, however, saw something different. They saw, for some reason, potential and possibility. They thought I should just try and put something together. Can you imagine how terrifying that prospect was for me? I couldn’t imagine creating something and then turning it in to have it judged, criticized, analyzed, and possibly rejected. Ugh. That sounded torturous. You might as well splay me naked in front of everyone…completely vulnerable. It would be my c-section experiences in the military teaching hospitals all over again. Twenty people in the OR, and me, shivering, nauseated, and exposed before them all. Ouch. And beyond that, I didn’t even know what to write about. I live a very ordinary life in a community where many women lead very similar lives. I couldn’t think of anything to write that would be special or different from what any other woman I knew could write about. I had nothing unique to say.
But one day, something came up and spurred my thinking and I thought….hmmmm….what if I wrote down what I thought about that? What if it turned into something that somewhat resembled a column? And I thought about it some more…and more…and eventually the thoughts spilled out of my head and onto my computer. And it felt kinda good. It felt good to create something. I was too scared to submit what I wrote, but it gave me some satisfaction to have fed that need to create. I would just tuck it away for safekeeping, and safely secure my Mommy hat.
From time to time, I would try out my new “hat” in the privacy of my home, and after a while, I had a small stack of writing samples. They gave me immense pleasure and also terrible anxiety. I was still too afraid to show them to anyone. I was afraid to give anyone the impression that I thought my thoughts were worth their time. That I fancied myself a writer! To hear someone else confirm what I already feared, that I was a crummy writer. And I was also afraid to hope that they would like what I had done. Afraid to be disappointed. I didn’t want to set myself up for that failure and pain. I wondered if the joy in creating for me would be limited by whether or not others responded enthusiastically to what I had made. I wondered if the spectacle of me in my new hat would be The Emperor’s New Clothes all over again. But eventually, I mustered the courage to send them in.
I have started to bring my new hat out of the closet and show it to my close friends. When they discover I am writing, they will often remark, “Lisa! I didn’t know you were a writer!” to which I always quickly reply, “I’m not!” It still is too new a venture to know if it will pan out. If I will ever grow into that hat. Some days I feel that the last column I wrote was my very last. I have no more thoughts on anything. Nothing left to say. I’ll assume my career as a writer was a short-lived fantasy and ended as abruptly and surprisingly as it started. But usually, God will plop me in the middle of a conversation or situation again which leads me to pondering and pondering to writing….I’m thankful He keeps filling my tank. Even if some columns are not as stellar as others, or no one else gets from them the satisfaction I do, it has been gratifying to try something scary and new and go for it.
It has taken a good dollop of courage midway through life to redefine who I am and what I am willing to try. In high school, I was so shy and intimidated, I would not try anything new…and in college, I so wanted to succeed, I wouldn’t try anything that might incur failure…and in my adulthood, I’ve been so busy just trying to survive everyday life, I haven’t made time for new adventures. But I’m tiring of living the safe life. I’m longing now to attempt the rockier path with the steep drop-offs, and take some chances, learn something new, gain some new skills, risk a little humiliation or rejection. Try a new hat on for size. I’m willing to try partly because I think it might be fun, but also because I want to set a new example for my kids. I don’t want them to live in fear, or hide in the shadows and the background because they are unwilling to step out into who they might become. I want them to take some chances at going after what they want, be brave enough to be vulnerable…to embrace life with gusto instead of timidity. That’s part of my dream for them.
Last spring I attended my first Smith School Talent Show. Children got up in front of all their classmates and their classmates’ families and performed. They danced, sang, showed off their skills. They were so heroic to me! I admired how brave they were to get up there and risk the humiliation….how I wish I could be that brave. But I’m getting there. I don’t know if I will ever feel comfortable in the writer hat, or will feel worthy of it, but I am writing. I might be more comfortable with a smaller, less ostentatious hat for now….maybe columnist. Seems to imply less presumed talent and more factual information. It’s a start anyway. Writer, no. Columnist, hmmm…maybe. Mom, ahhhhh…..now that’s a hat of which I’ll never feel worthy and yet……it fits just right.