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Who Do You Think You Are?

A few weeks ago I finished a draft of a book that I have been writing for a long time. I started writing it several years ago and in a computer catastrophe lost 39,000 words. It took me a long time to try to again, but finally I started. Bird by bird ... word by word, because I had to tell this story. My story. I already tell it in everything I do and everything I am. I tell it in how I love my husband and parent my children. I tell it in how I eat and sleep and dress and speak and drink. I tell it in the way my stomach knots up every time a phone rings. And I tell it in the sweat on my palms every time Brad's plane lands 30 seconds late or Chloe takes too long to text me back or Peyton hasn't gotten home by 3:00 or Lily's bus is 4 minutes late. I tell it in that sense of impending dread...waiting for the bottom to fall out of my dreams.

But shit gets in the way of telling this story that's so obviously mine. There are other people and feelings and opinions and families, but even before them, there's me. I had to admit that I am a writer. Not that I write, but I am a writer. There's a difference. It's a gift or a curse, depending on the day.

I don't choose to write; I have to. I write on little scraps of paper and in (multiple) notes apps and two blogs and 47 journals and 32 titled and untitled Word documents. When I'm driving I tell Siri to write shit down for me and then try to decipher it later--often to no avail. Two minutes ago, Brad came into my new yoga/writing room (which is Lily's old bedroom with a chair, yoga mat, some plants, a laptop and a bunch of big ideas) and said, "Baby, why are you writing now? We have so much to do." Because. I. Have. To. The words in my head won't give me any peace until I liberate them. Maybe I'm not actually a writer but a schizophrenic? Maybe it is the same thing viewed from different perspectives.

I recently walked past a house I see when I walk a certain path. It was a broken down purple house, but I always liked it. Now it was completely renovated: New paint, new door, completely new look. I told Lily that night, "You should see the purple house. Someone fixed it up, and it's beautiful." She didn't look up from her slime before muttering, "Yeah, I saw it." Shocked by her lack of enthusiasm, I pressed, "Don't you think it looks nice?" Shrugging her shoulders she said, "I guess. But it was unique before. Now it just looks like every other house in Cortland." Wow. This is the same kid who saw a field of beautiful flowers where we saw a million. freaking. dandelions. "Why would you kill them, Daddy??" She's something else.

Perspective. So, I finish the shitty first draft and send it to a few people who I trust with my heart. Because that is what it feels like to release your words out into the world. Here's my heart. Do you like it? Please don't stomp on it. And the first little bits of feedback from these people I love so much feel like ...

You know ... yummy things that make you feel like you're just going to melt right into a puddle. You like it? You think it's good? Really?

But the puddle phase is short-lived. Because I reform back to a person and resume editing and criticizing and second-guessing and re-writing and, "Who are you to"-ing. Sometimes it feels like if I say all the mean stuff to myself, it will hurt less when someone else says it. Of course that's not true. Yesterday, when I shared all of this anxiety with one of my soul sisters, she said, "Whatever fear tells you you can't do? That's exactly what you need to do."

So today, my bitchy inner critic shows up to say, "Who are you to write a memoir?"

Well...Who the fuck am I not to?


  1. OMG. I love you and I almost threw up at the fear of what you confronted me (and yourself) with at the end. I have a friend, whom I've known for decades, and she's an actually published writer and she said to me a few years ago, "you're not famous. Who would read what you have to say...?" And a piece of me DIED that day. I've never picked myself up from that day. We were out on the Chesapeake Bay and i think I became a piece of foam and never returned to my writerly self. I want you to write for me and for you. You are Mary Freaking Swan Bell, Dammit, that's who the fuck you are. NOW GO GET IT! Xoxo

    1. Mol, you bring me to tears (of joy or laughter or sadness or empathy) with everything you write. Your friend's words were really callous and hurtful, but they do not have a damn thing to do with you. I don't think we write so people will read it--even though it's cool when they do--we write because we need to get the shit out of our heads so we can try to function. I love you. Thank you for your encouragement and kindness ❤️❤️❤️

  2. Yes mary!!!! Stare it in the face and mock fear.

  3. Real,authentic, fearless, shameless..... you!

  4. Replies
    1. That's so sweet of you to say. You are the amazing one though. So glad I got to see and hug you this weekend :)


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