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Bucket List Tue Jul 24 2012

My Chicago Bucket List: My Name in Print

Previous Entry: Become Everything I am

Next Entry: Love at first cat scratch

Number One: See my name printed in black and white byline; there is nothing better in this world than having your writing printed in a tangible format you can physically mail to your mother

Last March I had my first column printed in the RedEye. It was titled "Feminism is your friend," and it was everything I always wanted my first column to be. It was feministy, idealistic, witty, not entirely serious, and well written; it was as perfect of a first column, and a printed moment, as I could hope to get.

guy reading my column.jpgAnd I have to say it felt freaking fantastic. There is a tangibility of dirtying your fingers with the words of your own column. There is finality in seeing a train full of people reading your column. It is vain and humbling in the same instance. It is really everything I want in life condensed to a moment.

In my excitement of my first column, I grabbed at least dozen papers, leaving me with about five extra papers after mailing one to my mother, both grandmas, my first grade teacher, and every boy that ever dumped me since sixth grade. I wanted leftovers of all this tangible proof of a life well-lived or at least well-documented.

But sooner than expected the paper began to yellow. I lost the high. And what I saw when I looked at my printed column, was just that a piece of paper, free paper at that. It did not make me anything different than I was before. What I mean is it did not make me a writer.

And that was the bitch of it. For the past three years, getting a column printed in the RedEye was a secret goal of mine. I thought with it would come an instantaneous definition of myself as a writer, something that I hadn't been able to define myself as before. I thought my byline would imprint on my heart when it imprinted the paper.

But instead it brought more self-doubt and more new secret goals of what I thought it would take for me to be a "real" writer. Even after the third, fourth or fifth column, I still didn't feel like a writer.

And then one night, I was introducing myself to someone in my traditional fashion. "Well...I'm in nonprofit communications...for an international nonprofit...in peace and conflict resolution... which is great but really..." when I was interrupted. "She's a writer" was the suddenly very accurate and appreciated interjection.

I can't explain the way the statement shocked me and yet immediately felt right. In that moment I broke through the fear of not being "writer-enough." The moment I heard someone else say it as if it were a fact, I accepted it as the truth it is.

I can hear my mentors and writing gurus groan with this statement. They sigh and say things like, "You should know you are a writer without someone having to tell you" and, "You need to have more confidence if you are going to make it." I know. I hear you.

There is nothing writers like more than pretending we are sure of our god-given gift for words. Perhaps it is our egos; perhaps it is just a by-product of a competitive market; perhaps it because admitting we aren't sure of ourselves is a vulnerability we are not ready for. When we write, we put a large portion of our hearts on the page. To admit we aren't sure if those words are "enough" would be to put the rest of our heart on the page as well, to sacrifice all of ourselves to a page and to others often unnecessarily rough critiques.

But personally, since I'm here with 70 percent of my heart already on the page, I might as well donate the rest of it. I've never been a confident writer, and even now that I know I am a writer, I'm not sure I'm a good one, or more if I am a deserving one.

But that is not going to stop me from writing and from trying to make myself more of a writer, more than enough, with each article.

Nothing is as black and white as a paper. Writing in print feels permanent, feels solid. It gives you the illusion that life is solid and that you should be too. But paper yellows, ideas shift, and, if you allow it, the definition of ourselves can expand to include "writer and more..."

 
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Laurie / July 27, 2012 9:51 AM

I feel the exact same way! When I was a student at UW-Milwaukee I was offered my own column in the school newspaper. I remember living off this high for weeks. And like you my first column was a bit feminist and quite controversial and it made me a writer. After awhile when the high wore off I felt I wasn't good enough and eventually quit the paper. I wish I hadn't but reading your column is inspiring! I'm back in school but working and don't have the time to write for the paper right now. I will be graduating with a degree in Journalism next spring though! Thanks for your words; you are indeed a great writer!

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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