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  • Jen

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Updated: Nov 24, 2019


I'm dreaming of summer. Spring began earlier this week, but we also experienced our fourth winter storm in nearly a month. I love a good snow day, but like many people I’m happier and more optimistic during warmer months. Perhaps it’s because summer always makes me think of growth, refreshment and new possibilities.

Maybe it's an eye opening experience during an annual family trip or conquering fears of homesickness at overnight camp. Whether it's monumental or minuscule, the laid-back pace of summer offers experiences for self-discovery and exploration. Some of my best childhood memories were humid evenings spent in Philadelphia sitting on my grandmother's front porch. Beads dangled from the edge of girls braids as they jumped double-dutch in sync, while boys called out plays and tagged each other during football. Bikers, wobbly toddlers, and elders who simply sipped cold beverages while "people-watching" also filled our block. This street is where my ears became attuned to the celebrations, struggles, and questions that surrounded women of color. It's where I first heard people lament about the effects of diabetes and high blood pressure, and got an inkling of understanding about what made a man "good" or "no good." My mother, grandmother, and aunt gave knowing glances and perhaps a side eye to each other or fellow neighbors during conversations. The cadence of their laughter, sighs, and encouragement to pray for one another were some of the voices that piqued my interest in becoming a writer. I wanted to tell their stories and the stories of others I knew I'd learn about in the future.

During middle school and high school, I continued to love words and develop stories, speeches, articles, and opinion pieces. I didn't fear sharing my work back then. Instead, it just felt like "my thing." When I entered college, something changed. I was clear about majoring in English or Journalism, but trusted my voice and storytelling abilities less. My alma mater is a wonderfully supportive academic and social community, but being away from the security and familiarity of home left me feeling shaky. There were many smart, talented writers who spoke eloquently and possessed amazingly complex ideas and well-crafted pieces of work. I often felt elementary and honestly downright lame. I worked on the campus paper, but rarely ventured to write opinion pieces or pitch series ideas at meetings. Instead, with the exception of a few creative writing courses, trying to report facts in a clear and coherent way without opinion became my focus. After all, who would really care about what I was thinking?

When I reached my early thirties I was distressed and restless. I realized how much writing had been pushed to the back burner in my life. I’d worked in journalism for a few years, but after changing professions I hardly wrote at all. The unfinished files on my computer, incomplete outlines scribbled in random notebooks, and journal entries that were sometimes weeks or even months apart irritated me. I wrote mostly when I was furious or trying to process disappointments about what I thought my life should look like. I treated writing as an optional activity, not a source of joy. I'd become fixated on some imaginary destination, not the delight of the process.

As my way of thinking started to shift, so did my commitment to making writing a priority in my life. Instead of comparing and judging my every word, I'm now grateful for the self-discovery that comes from journaling. Feeling fulfilled when I can recall just a bit of the emotion surrounding a wedding, birth or other experience replaces the stress I once felt about writing something "phenomenal." More and more I'm learning to ask myself "What if I wrote without the burden and expectation of achieving this or that?" and instead "how can I grow or possibly help others grow by writing this?" I still fight to drown out the voices in my head that whisper "you suck" or "no one cares." However, more often than not, that little girl who loved to sit on the porch and observe is winning.


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