BONUS POST: Narratives we tell ourselves

One of the most important things we are able to do as humans that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is reflect. We can look into the past and remember in order to make the present or future different. It’s how we learn about ourselves and the world around us.

These days, it’s all too easy to look back; in fact, there are apps like Timehop and Google Photos that do this for us. However, the narratives that are told again are not necessarily the important ones, the ones that inform our thinking. Often when I get a notification from Google Photos to “look back at this day,” it’s random pictures I took of my homemade dinner. Or a cute picture of the dog. Or a beautiful sunrise. But these aren’t the most important things we need to remember, to reflect on.

Oh man, was it that much better then? | We were left alone, we were proud of our pain

Fleet Foxes, “A Long Way Past the Past”

I’ve kept journals off and on since I was about 7. Unfortunately, the ones I still have in my possession that have somehow made it through two cross-country moves don’t begin until when I was in junior high. I came across my journal from when Aaron and I were dating and trying to decide when to get married, about fifteen years ago. We were young and it was a busy time. A confusing time. I literally felt like my whole life banked on a decision about something like whether to major in Spanish, or whether we got married in December or in June.

At that time in my life, I let myself receive narratives from others, and my own narrative was buried. However, at the time, I didn’t realize that my own desires and needs were nearly indiscernible. I told myself that because I was so young and inexperienced, I should rely on older adults to make decisions for me. So I took people’s suggestions and prayers and ideas and wove them into my own tapestry so I didn’t know where theirs began and mine ended, and in the end, I gave them credit for my life decisions. It was a relinquishing of precious autonomy and agency that I’m just now wielding back into my possession all these years later.

One the narratives I have told myself since going through infertility is that “I really wanted to be a mom my whole life. That’s all I wanted – to be a wife and mother.”

It’s not true. I’ve realized while fumbling through my memory that this narrative isn’t true. Not 100 percent. I think when infertility was fresh and raw, this was a comforting thing that I told myself. It helped me feel close to the only community that I had access to at the time: the infertility community, where people go to great lengths (and into great debt) to have a child.

However, as I was thumbing through an old journal, not sure what I was looking for but hoping to find something poignant to cling to, I found:

I definitely could be happy being just a mother and a housewife, but I feel like there’s this other part of me wanting to be unleashed to go fight in the world.

2006

For some context, I was in the middle of my undergrad studies, Aaron and I had basically decided we were “it” for each other, and I was really struggling with my decision to pursue teaching Spanish over teaching math. This was also before all parts of people’s private lives and thoughts were made public, so I had no audience for my writing, outside of the things I would post on my Xanga (take that one to Google!). There were some years when I didn’t journal, no doubt because of the shitstorm of honesty it would have released. But that’s a topic for another time.

At that time in my life, getting pregnant was not something I wanted: “Pregnancy would be the least logical thing to do… to amount to.” I think that maybe I had been influenced by my mom who wanted me to graduate college before getting married and having babies. It’s something she didn’t do, so when we were all 10 and under and finally in school, she decided to go to college full-time. And the hits “Get Married After College” and “You Don’t Need a Man” was the song she sang all throughout my formative years.

Even when Aaron and I got married two years from the date on that journal entry, I remember pushing off all the people at church and elsewhere who were clamoring to know when we’d start trying for a baby. We’d only just been married! Our answer was five years from getting married. And, kind of like clockwork, we started trying about six years into our marriage. We waited for a lot of circumstances to line up – no more deployments or long separations, stable jobs, having paid off a lot of debt, et cetera.

So now that I work through all of that, it’s possible that the narrative I told myself as a salve was partly true. But only partly.

I have to trust 20-year-old Elizabeth who was writing for no one but herself, to chronicle her life and feelings. And damn, did finding that journal entry bring some perspective and remind me of the logical, sane, conscientious person I can be who has a part of her that needs to “go fight in the world.”

Some years down the line, I will remember saying things like these to myself, sentiments that are far from one another on the spectrum, and realize that I met myself in the middle. Both narratives and perspectives have a place. Which begs the question, How do you know where the middle is if you don’t know where you’ve been?

Not this time

The “Write” button at the top right freaks me out every time. I don’t know how it’s different than picking up a pen and writing on paper. But let’s be honest: that freaks me out too.

For years and years before the advent of blogging (people know that this word originally came from web + log, right?) I used a pen, any color, though it drove me crazy to not have the same color, and a notebook to write my thoughts before bed. I had the same routine. I spent a lot of time writing. Now, since typing on a laptop is so much faster, I have eschewed analog writing.

I think for years I’ve actually been fighting the urge to write every night, or most nights. Things were simpler and less complicated when it was just me, Elizabeth, in my room with my music and my lamp and my stuffed animals. I didn’t answer to anyone (in those moments anyway). I wrote whatever I felt like writing, and often with damn good vocabulary.

Now as a thirty-something contributor to society I tamp down the urge to pour out my thoughts and feelings for eight hours a day. Then, when I come home from this thing that takes up eight hours of my day, I still have other adult-ish things to do and I further tamp down my thoughts. Then I spend time on this stupid thing called the Internet and I can just feel my subconscious screaming to be let up from the silence.

So then, my friends, after working out and making dinner and cleaning up and walking the dog my mind finally takes a huge breath and starts talking.

And here I am, on my bed (husband is downstairs, “Just 10 more minutes on ______”), window open, fan on, warm nonalcoholic drink on my bedside bookshelf, typing away while my brain works out the kinks not just from today but my whole damn life it seems.

A couple weeks ago I found my journal from literally 20 years ago. Ok, found isn’t true. That’s a lie. I knew where it was. I keep all my journals close. So I knew where it was, and I finally thought I’d had enough therapy to delve into my old journals to see what 13-year-old Elizabeth was up to.

Holy mother of everything, my friends, huge newsflash here: Elizabeth is still Elizabeth, and she always has been Elizabeth. She still is a hopeless romantic disguising herself as an apathetic wannabe emo. She still uses words like superfluous and reiterate in normal conversations. She still judges people for not using fancy words like the above in normal conversations. She still loves God and wants the approval of her friends and her mother. Elizabeth is still Elizabeth. Elizabeth is still me.

Upon encountering this 20-year-old discovery, I felt… comfort. I felt like myself. I felt like all the shit I’ve been through in the past few years might have done me in in some ways, but I’m still me. The skeleton and muscles are still intact. I am still myself after all these years.

I think we’re all under the illusion of two things: either that we can’t change at all, or that we could never go back to being the person we once were. I think both are true all the time.

As I embark on the next 20 years, I hearken back to these words, from myself, nearly 20 years ago:

Sunday, December 12, 1999

Dear Journal-

Okay. Brand-new journal. Crisp, fresh, “acid-free” paper. Bold black pen. This is how it starts. Excitement and anticipation build. Then long forgotten periods of neglect. But not this time…