Tag Archives: identity

Real Talk

Where have two weeks gone? Since Memorial Day weekend, summer has arrived; we finally became first-time homeowners (hurrah!); I took my first writing class since college days; my parents bought their ticket to visit over the Fourth of July (hurrah again!); we made our inaugural visit to Sam’s Club… the list goes on and on. While I actually have a gazillion things to write about and think about lately, the practical part of me has been focused on the need to organize as much as is humanly possible. Thus writing quickly gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list, ironically when I need to process the most.

Of all things to inspire me, it had to be watching an episode of The Next Food Network Star last night. This season they modified the format: the finalists are broken up into teams being coached by Alton Brown, Giada de Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay, respectively. Every week, they are faced with two-part challenges, because they are expected to cook well and be able to be themselves (budding stars) on camera, too — obviously, the latter tends to be the far more difficult part. So I’m watching this episode, and by now the finalists are expected to have a very clear sense of their individual points of view, food-wise and personality-wise. Listening to the coaches, they all had the same message for each person: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell. It will translate positively on camera, we promise, because people want to connect to Who You Really Are.

Last week in my 5-day writing class, we all walked in on Monday as strangers. The first sharing we had to do was read aloud an informal piece of writing that we had to bring with us: metaphors for our writing process. What floored me — and maybe what I should have expected, having been in writing workshops before — was how much we revealed about ourselves through our writing as the week went on. On Wednesday our instructors put us into workshop groups based on our chosen genres (we had three non-fiction pieces and one poem in mine). My personal essay was about three different writing experiences at various points in my life. Immediately after reading my work, the poet in our group said, “This piece is about the narrator reclaiming joy in her life that she used to feel when she was a child.” What?! That’s what I wrote about? I thought I had been taking a walk down memory lane with myself. But there I was, naked like a baby in the words on the paper, and this semi-stranger called it out.

So it was as we workshopped everyone’s piece – the “cheapest therapy” available, our instructors called it. Each of us — in our small groups and in our class overall — uncovered (re-discovered?) parts of ourselves that we didn’t realize were there. It’s a very disconcerting and simultaneously liberating experience to meet yourself on a piece of paper. Even when you want to or try to lie to yourself (or about yourself), people who are paying close attention will recognize what’s going on below the surface. Real talk. No hiding from that. By the end of the week we couldn’t help but be engaged authentically with each other, as was made apparent in the notes people shared after reading portfolios and the meaningful, no-cost gifts we exchanged (including the priceless gifts of honesty and actively listening to each other throughout the week).

If you’ve never had a Moleskine journal, I promise it’s inspiring.

The other best part of class for me was doing free writes in my  (unlined) journal for the class. I truly love seeing people’s handwriting — including my own — because there is energy and emotion there, and I like to imagine the person doing the action of writing. Again, there is an individuality and concrete-ness to ink on paper that doesn’t exist on a computer, where I can cut/paste/delete at will, even dictate words to a smart computer, and everyone turns into Times New Roman. Now, by my own hand, I have this small collection of beginnings of things, some attempts at poetry, and some reflections all in one place. I can’t say specifically why it’s more special to me to have it handwritten (it would be more practical to have them typed already); it just is.

Last week I also thought often of why we need things like art and music and writing in the world: it teaches us empathy and reminds us that we all have our human imperfection in common. For the entire week I kept thinking about the stories behind the people at the grocery store, or why the checkout girl had a certain tattoo on her arm. I was mindful in a way that I forget to be sometimes when I’m with people I love the most, like Husband and family. I want to be that way more often — to be more aware that I am living my own story and in the stories of countless other people’s lives. What will we remember about each other when we meet again in the next life?

I find that when I really need guidance, God has this way of being super didactic in my life. But I’ll remind myself one more time to be sure: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell.

Yes. I will.

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My Name

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing….

I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.

– Sandra Cisneros, “My Name” (The House on Mango Street)

I have — and have had — about a million nicknames my whole life, thanks to my family, friends, loved ones, students, etc. And I once made the mistake of telling a former class that I personally bestow nicknames on people or things I really love… and then the kids who didn’t have nicknames from me felt slighted. Eeks. I can’t help it,  though, because to name someone myself is to claim them and make them special to only me. If other people should pick up on the nickname I created, so be it, but in my heart I always know that I gave them my own baptism of sorts. For example, our Basset Hound’s full name is Prince William Sound. In his short three and a half years of life, he goes by any of these names on any given day: Sounder, Sounder Puppy, Sounder the Wonder Pup, Pup-pup, Puppy Soup, Bobacita, Hound Dog, Sounder Hounder, so on and so forth. All terms of endearment and love.

Before getting married two years ago, I was very certain of the identity of the person who owned my maiden name. Very very certain. I had 28 years, in fact, to cultivate that woman’s identity. That woman had a name that family/friends/colleagues and I all knew and recognized in a particular way as a person and a student and an athlete and a teacher and music-lover.  So when I got married, I was terribly bothered by the annoyance of going to the Social Security office and the DMV and pushing papers around to legalize my married name. Yes, that is a valid excuse for delaying the process (men have it so easy!), but in looking back on it, I really didn’t want to be “re-baptized.” I liked me as me, and much as I love and adore my husband and feel utterly committed to him and our life together, I wasn’t quite ready to be me with a new last name.

When we moved to Alaska at the end of last June, I had made it through exactly five days before I had a meltdown. Amidst my tears, I said to my husband, “I have no sense of who I am here.” And I didn’t, because my heart and head were still in California while my body was in Alaska. I couldn’t compute that I had a new name with a new home; it was so overwhelming, and I felt like an adult newborn.

Six months later, I am still getting to know me by my new name in my new home. While I am the same at my core, my Alaska friends and acquaintances only know me by this new name. I have to remember that when I meet people. They don’t know that I’m from Cincinnati or that I love volleyball. That I played piano in my high school orchestra for four years and sang in an a cappella group in college. They don’t know that being a Stanford student changed my life forever and how much I love the physical place and its community. Or the story of how I met Husband. Or who are the greatest, most important people in my life. Having a new name is like adding another onion layer to my identity, but every day I know myself as this person a little bit better. Not sure if I’m growing into the name or if the name is shaping me — some of both, most likely. Hopefully one day my name will be Mom (and eventually some form of Grandma  one day, too), and that person will probably miss this woman I am today, even as she is baptized yet again.