It's hard to describe the loss that's felt when something so central to your identity feels inaccessible. Maybe it's what athletes feel when they face a potentially career-ending injury, or what musicians feel when they haven't been playing? I wouldn't know. But being a writer-- which, it turns out, for me, is maybe more a condition of the soul than just a habit or activity--who doesn't write is disorienting at best and deeply discouraging at worst. I recently read in Shauna Niequist's latest book I Guess I Haven't Learned that Yet, that a way to care for your soul is to do the things you loved doing as a child. As if these things are central to who you are. I don't know why I'd never noticed before that some of the things that most deeply nourish my soul have always been there. Being outside. Moving my body. Spending time with family and good friends. Listening to music. Singing. Creating. Reading. And of course, writing. Put those together and you've pretty much got my childhood, but also the activities that make me feel happy and whole.
These silent years have held so much for our family, for me. The've held the entire babyhood of Navarra, our surprising and delightful last baby, of which I have tried to savor every last drop. She is halfway through kindergarten now, and thriving. They've held the dreaming, building, and launch of our family's business. We are approaching the fourth season hosting guests from all over the country at our first beach house, which I manage, and we are neck-deep in the renovation of the second, which I have designed and am in the process of furnishing. So, I've ended up with a new job, one that was a dream of ours that I'm not sure I ever thought would come true. But that's not why I've been silent.
These years have also held a decade-long nearly existential crisis of faith for me. A disentaglement, really, of my actual beliefs from the Evangelical church. What had once been my entire religious identity had become a fraught relationship, then eventually it became completely untenable. I had to determine what had always been good and what was never of God and how to proceed, and it was confusing and painful and oftentimes, lonely. That it took place in a hostile political climate helped not a bit. It's taken years of thinking, praying, processing, and sorting, but I believe i have mostly been able to keep the considerable good and let go of the harmful. One of the many things I've learned in this process is how much more expansive God's love is than I had previously believed, and how much more room there is to find him. In the last year and a half, after what felt like years of wandering in the wilderness and what felt to our children like church hopping, we found a new home in a totally unexpected place. We belong to an Episcopalian church now, and for all there is for these Evangelical kids and me to learn here, it has felt like a coming home (and to our resident Catholic, Daniel, it has felt comforting and inviting in ways he couldn't have anticipated either). On this issue alone, I believe I could write volumes. But I haven't.
In these years my children have grown before my eyes and are now 15, 13, 9 and 5. I would no longer write about their bloopers, troubles or lives, as their stories are no longer mine to tell. Their telling requires permission and tact, and my priorities have shifted as my children have aged. I want privacy and space for them to discover and make mistakes without it all being recorded, like their dad and I got to have. The world they're growing up in doesn't offer much of that. So there has been a protective posture and a holding of so much that is precious close to my chest.
For me, 40, with its paradox of freedom and uncertainty, has come and gone. I am baffled at the aging process I didn't think would be so difficult, the physical and metaphysical parts alike. My marriage ambles into its late teens. Our life is full and busy and challenging, as we navigate kindergarten to high school and so much in between. The times when everyone is home-- and good-- at the same time, are few and fleeting far to fast for my liking. Our definition of joy shifts now, and I'm not sure I've been able to pinpoint it yet.
It's difficult to articulate the reasons for my silence because they are legion, and also they are complex. In a culture of hot takes and Twitter wars, 24-hour news and increasingly stark divides between factions, our culture doesn't value moderation or nuance or taking time to think before speaking. For all the wondering and musing I've always done, I now feel less sure of most things than I did when I was younger. Which I'm fairly sure reflects growth, but which doesn't lend itself to a consistent platform or stance in today's climate.
All this said and seemingly to the contrary, I have long suspected and recently confirmed that I need to write, not for an audience (though if you're here I'm not sure why but I appreciate it all the same), but because creative people need to create. I have known and read plenty of books by writers who were really something else. The writing made them a writer. And that's certainly an honest way to get there, perhaps far more legitimate than where I find myself. But my predicament is different. I may never become the "author" second-grade me dreamed of being. There may never be a book or--God forbid-- a platform. I'm not a writer because I write. I write because I'm a writer. Regardless of whether anyone reads it, and no matter how many other avenues I attempt to fill the void, unless and until I am writing again, something within me will always be wanting. I share this in case maybe there is an ache in your chest too; in case there is something that needs doing too.