Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that I spent about 70% of my time in middle and high school writing novels. I tend to have to do this when I’m going through a period where I feel like I have little in common with the people around me, which happens from time to time. My early- to mid-20s were one such period, and I remember feeling more than anything like an alien who had been stranded on planet Earth only to have to try and make her way back home.
I’m saying all this not to expound upon what a unique and special snowflake I am, but to give you some background to understand my reaction to this line from Quiet, which I read last month:
I look back on my years as a Wall Street lawyer as time spent in a foreign country. It was absorbing, it was exciting, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people whom I never would have known otherwise. But I was always an expatriate.
I had to stop reading for a minute when I finished that line, and just look up and blink. I had never seen or heard it (“it” being this feeling that has followed me my entire life) phrased this way, but reading those sentences made me realize that back in the early 2000s, I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t the only alien stranded here on earth. I wasn’t the only expatriate.
The above paragraph gets to the heart of the matter, but really, reading Quiet was deeply gratifying. Not only did it show me that many of the things about myself that I have always thought (or were told) were character flaws aren’t, but it just made me sit and think about some other things that I’ve taken for granted. Like what I want out of a career (if I even want a traditional “career”). What that says about me. What makes me happy, and what merely feels like an obligation.
Much of my career was spent in the social work field, which I found satisfying and interesting, and for a long time I was bound and determined to resume that once my kids were old enough. But these last several months have me rethinking everything, including my dedication to my old career. Did I pursue social work because I felt a true personal passion for it, or because I felt a moral obligation to help other people? Why do I view helping through such a narrow lens? Why do I feel like being a stay-at-home mom is selfish sometimes? Why do I believe that taking my own nature into account when I’m making decisions is akin to cheating? Why do I think that spending my time writing, and finally challenging myself to write a good novel, isn’t a good enough use of my time?
I don’t have any pictures uploaded of myself as a 13-year-old novelist, so this idyllic scene will have to suffice. You can’t see the cat that’s just out of the frame.
I should say that I’m closer to letting those things go than I ever have been, and reading books like Quiet and March have helped a lot. I didn’t realize how much I reflexively resist my nature or deny it, but I suspect that goes a long way toward explaining a lot of things: my mental struggles with not working; my lack of writing; even that feeling Cain describes above in relation to work, feeling like almost every job I’ve ever had was like being in a foreign country. Truthfully I think a lot of my struggles with being a stay-at-home mom arose from a sense of guilt or a reluctance to allow myself to enjoy it.
Does this all sound painfully neurotic, and certainly too neurotic for one’s mid-30s? (You should have been around in 2003 …) I just feel like my compass is finally facing the right direction. I am finally taking the steps that will lead me home. I don’t have to be an expatriate forever after all.