Showing Up

John Howard
Author John Howard
Collection Writer

Are you a lawyer? A housewife? A teacher? I am 36 years old, yet I still struggle answering this very simple question. A part of me feels like I haven't grown up, I guess. That panicky feeling that started in high school with the pressure of having to decide on a program of study for college.

After my son was born and I stopped working as a teacher, giving an answer seemed more difficult. Stay at home mom? I cringed inwardly. I took freelance jobs editing and writing, yet hesitated to say I was a writer when asked. Why the hesitation?

When do we get to say we are writers?

The first piece I ever published was in my school newspaper in sixth grade. Jotting down stories was normal for me, a shy girl who would sit back under a tree in the playground writing or reading while my classmates played kickball during recess. Throughout middle and high school, teachers praised my writing, but I never thought anything would come of it. Most of the stuff I wrote I kept private. Moving abroad gave me courage, and I looked for places to submit my work.

49Tales from the Expat Harem50

Years have gone by, and now I am 36. An age where one would think I could define myself. Yet my position is not any clearer than it was when I was 16. So I give up. I think that when asked about what you do, you should answer based on what you show up for regularly. I show up to several different jobs daily. My mommy hat at the moment being my most dominant. The housewife hat, cooking and cleaning and keeping our household functioning. The teacher hat, which I still wear part-time. And of course I show up for writing.

There have been times when I have wanted to throw in the towel for each one of these positions. For some, like being a mother, that is impossible. You just move forward during the bad days. For writing, there are times when I sit down and stare at a blank page for hours. Nothing comes. Creativity ebbs and flows, and when I don't feel the urge, it's frustrating. But I still show up, even if it means just jotting down ideas or outlining for use later, when the flow of creativity comes again. A few years ago, when in the throes of postpartum depression, I had a really hard time even writing my weekly column for this paper. It was as if every creative part of my life was on hold, stymied. But I couldn't quit; I had to still show up.

89at work.90

Rest assured, dear readers, this piece is being written while I am dressed for the day, with hair done and makeup mostly applied. Not every day yields fantastic results. Some writing days I walk away from the computer feeling great and accomplished. Other days I do just enough to eke by. Just like in any other job. Just because something fantastic isn't put on the page every single time I write doesn't mean I can't call myself a writer.

Writing for me started out as a #hobby in childhood. It gradually evolved into something more, as my confidence grew. And I started to show up regularly for writing, as I showed up for my other jobs.

I am not sure I will ever grow up, as I see myself continuing to be flexible and fluid. I have worn many different hats over the years, and I am sure I will wear many more. Writing has remained consistent. But the rest is more complicated. And that is totally okay with me.

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