Every time we move trans-Atlantically, my psyche gets rattled. The last time we made the move, the rattling forced me to ask myself what I want. I was a nutritional therapist and Journey practitioner, and I was halfway through an acupuncture degree. If I wanted to carry on with acupuncture, I’d have to start from the beginning and spend another four years at it. Did I really want to do it that much, I asked myself?
It turned out the answer was a big, fat “no”. But although the decision was profoundly liberating, it left a big, fat void. If I wasn’t going to be an acupuncturist, and I didn’t want to be a nutritional therapist anymore, what was I going to be?
I asked my Mum. Mothers always know.
I sent an email, asking Mum to fill in the blank: “When Natalie was a little girl, she spent all her time _________.” And the answer came back: “writing.”
So I’ve spent the last two years taking amazing writing classes to find out what kind of writing I want to write. I’ve taken classes that are based around poetry, memoir and short stories, and I’ve loved all of them. But sometimes the homework has felt like a chore, and I haven’t known if it was because it’s hard to learn something new, or because the specific type of writing wasn’t floating my boat.
And whenever new acquaintances asked me what I did, I’d reply that I was a nutritional therapist, even though that hasn’t been the truth for a number of years. I couldn’t say “writer” because I wasn’t. I wasn’t a literary genius like Ian McEwan or Flannery O’Connor. And the only other type of writer that I could envisage was the tortured, blocked, I-just-need-the-right-break stereotype that spends all day eating crisps on the sofa in Rom Coms. That definitely wasn’t me.
A few weeks ago, I started my third term of short story writing. I’d loved the first two terms, so I was looking forward to this one. But I found that the whole week, from one class to the next, was taken up by my homework. I was procrastinating, struggling or cramming. It was like giving birth every week. Painfully, laboriously, excruciatingly. On top of that, I felt permanently guilty about all the things I wasn’t doing and thought I should, or wanted to do and thought I shouldn’t.
Slowly, it occurred to me that the thing I wanted to do most was write this blog. This silly, low-brow, online diary that I started four years and nearly 400 posts ago to keep family and friends back in Britain informed. This unimportant, insignificant journal that changes the way I see the world from being just a personal experience to a shareable story. This glorious activity that makes my heart sing.
At the weekend, Gabriella and I were waiting in a shop for a quote. The salesman, making conversation, asked what I do. And, for the first time ever, I replied, “I write.” I didn’t feel I had to pretend to be as great as Amy Hempel or Aldous Huxley, and I didn’t feel like a fraud. I felt empowered.
Those two little words represented a Big Moment. I’m a writer.