what does she call herself

I’ve been trying to muster the confidence to tell people that I’m a writer.

I feel like such a phony even typing that sentence – a little kid playing dress up in her mother’s clothes. Pretending. Wishful thinking. The last English class I took was in high school. I have no formal training. Nothing published. “Writer” is a title I try on in the privacy of my own home, comedic anywhere else.

And yet, when people ask me what I do with my time while the kids are at school, something deep inside me pushes out the words “I write!” And in that moment, I believe it. I feel a rush of gratitude for this season of life. I feel proud. They smile, leaning in a little, and say, “Wow! That’s wonderful!”

But of course they can’t stop there. Oh no. Friends, strangers, even those endlessly cheerful Trader Joe’s grocery baggers, all united in delivering the gut punch that both affirms my vocation and decimates my confidence: “So, What are you writing?” They smile expectantly. I blink and think “WHAT AM I WRITING?”, internally spiraling into an identity crisis while they wait for my answer. I stammer out “I’m doing this workbook…it has exercises…there’s a group I go to sometimes…” and the silence hangs heavy, pulling my head down in shame as they give a little confused nod, drawing back a step or two, glancing sideways for the exit.

And then, and I cannot believe I am admitting this because it is HORRIFYING, I hear myself saying, “I actually have my workbook here with me…if you’d like to see it” and then I watch helplessly as my hands (My hands! What are they doing! Make it stop!) rummage through my purse and, in painful slower-than-slow motion, produce the workbook. I hold it out to them with holy reverence as if they will, upon feeling it’s paperback glory in their own hands instantly understand the authority it grants me to do seemingly frivolous things like sit at home and do writing exercises instead of getting a real job and paying off my student loans. (I am so sorry if I have done this to you. I have lost all control. Forgive me.)

Needless to say, I’m staying close to home these days.

And that is how I find myself here, sitting at my dirty kitchen table, surrounded by abandoned breakfast dishes and wondering if this was a mistake. Wondering where to begin. A mug of half finished tea sits cold in front of me, an oily film forming on top. I can hear our unwelcome mouse guests scurrying through the heating vents. Sunlight is streaming in through the window, warming my slippered feet. It’s beautiful outside. One of those perfect fall days that starts with frost on the grass and has you shedding layers by lunch.

I glance at the clock every two minutes, feeling guilty. I need to get groceries. To fold laundry. To finish sewing a baby gift. There are emails to respond to. A ballet costume to arrange payment for. Dishes.

So much of writing, like any creative work, seems to be just holding space for what could be. Like a weekly coffee date with a friend, creative work is sacred time that can only come alive without the weight of expectations. Sitting across from a person I love I must set aside my desire to control the conversation and simply be open to where it leads. Maybe today we will talk about our parental failures. Maybe we will speak our greatest hopes and fears into our mugs. Or maybe we will trade brownie recipes and Netflix recommendations. The gift is in the presence.

So I keep coming back to this question: How much should I try to shape this work to be one specific thing – an answer for an identity crisis, a launching point for a career, an exercise in embarrassing oversharing; and when should I honor the unknown and let it simply become whatever it can be?

This creative crisis seems like a mirror reflecting something much larger about life. In the work of writing I notice how fragile we all are. Longing for connection. We struggle to see through the humid anxiety of our insecurities to understand that a lengthy Netflix binge list is probably code for “I’m lonely too.” Code for “invite me over”. Code for “I’m stuck and need encouragement.”

man and woman having a tea conversation
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

I want to tell you about this flurry of writing that came to me this morning, memories of high school and college rushing in faster than I could write them down. The smells of cleaning agent on linoleum, the feeling of the scratchy dorm furniture, the metal sound of a hundred slamming lockers, all of it came flooding right back. But what I wanted most was to remember how it was to BE that younger version of me. To understand why that person didn’t, or couldn’t get off the fundamentalism train for so many years. What held here there?

I want to tell you about the challenges of our marriage and also the enormous progress we’ve made as we practice better emotional hygiene and boundaries and extend more grace. I want to tell you how confused I am by people who don’t seem to struggle in marriage – how I wonder if my expectations for honesty and intimacy are too high or theirs too low. How I hate the comparison game but I honestly do not understand how it is possible to live life without doing it. How mental illness has been a monster but also a freedom – forcing us to name rather than ignore our beast. With a name, it can be conquered.

I want to tell you about the loaded conversations Evelyn keeps lobbing into our laps at the dinner table, challenging my lofty ethics to engage in the mess of real life. How she says these things that cut so deftly to my core that sometimes it feels like she’s knocked the wind right out of me.

I want to pour these things out, clear the piles of ideas I’ve got stacked up in the corners of my mind. I want to invite you in. To hold the tension of these difficult questions together.


I’m worried about hurting family and friends as I recall memories of difficult times. Painful beliefs. Unresolved conflict.

I’m worried about exposing myself to criticism of my heartache, my questions, my dreams.

I’m worried about accidentally sharing stories that are not mine to tell, and also about not sharing stories because I am too afraid of what they will stir up.

And, ultimately, I’m anxious about marking the way I’ve come, exposing all the cringe-worthy moments (years) of life lived in zealous pursuit of something I now realize was so dangerous and dehumanizing. I’m terrified that I could get duped into something like it again – even after years of therapy, of unpacking these questions and hopes, dreaming new dreams and daring to step into them.

And that’s the core of it: I’m still staring down the same perfectionist fears I’ve been facing my whole life.

I want to share this journey because I know I’m not the only one with baggage and questions, trying to settle in and do the slow work of growing, always yearning for the curious unknown.

I want you to know you’re not alone. I want more than your Netflix recommendations. I want to help you honor who you have been, who you are becoming, and the magnificent wisdom, love, scars, and light you carry with you today.

Because it’s the becoming AND the unbecoming that marks the path of growth.

So let’s un-become together. Honoring our histories, loving our younger selves. Let’s look with anticipation to our future wisdom and her warm embrace. You are beloved. You are just right. Can you believe it?



  1. Wardah Beg says:

    This is the most relatable post I’ve read in a while.


    1. jvantland says:

      I’m so glad. It’s so good to know I’m not the only one. Thanks for reading!


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