We all want to belong. Belong somewhere or with someone. Finding where or who we belong with drives many people to distraction their whole life. Others, like flowers in a garden, seem to belong where they were planted.
That sense of belonging was discussed at length at the writers festival. In a book, does belonging come from people or place? The same question can be asked in life.
I’ve always envied people who found their sense of belonging early. I felt I didn’t belong where I grew up, in a small town in Michigan, moving away as quickly as I could in my late teens. It’s only recently that I’ve reconnected with old friends from that period to find I wasn’t alone. Even many who seemed like they belonged, didn’t feel they fit.
Some of my friends found the love of their life early too. They just belonged together. One couple springs to mind immediately. I know they have traversed ups and downs in their marriage, but they belonged together then, and still belong together now almost 30 years later.
The wanderess in me kept me moving, looking for my place and my people. I finally found my place in Australia, first calling it home 25 years ago. But I have always been restless, searching for my tribe, my people to ground me to this place. I found them eventually one by one. They support me and help me feel at home.
At home. That’s the feeling of belonging right? That comfortable feeling. Where you can be yourself, warts and all. Where you can be your messy self and know you are loved anyway.
That’s the sense I found this past week at the writers festival. I came home. I found others, like me, that acknowledge that our veins run with words, waiting to be released.
A few months ago, while traveling around Jordan, I finally acknowledged to myself that I am a writer. People asked me what I did. After 45 years of writing, I said tentatively at first, but later firmly, ‘I am a writer’. I look at life as a writer. I’m always drafting another story, not only when I travel but every day. Words and the stories they inhabit, help me make sense of the world.
Like most great love affairs, my relationship with writing has been rocky but constant. It was and still is my first love. I wrote my first book in Kindergarten at the age of five. I remember the teacher’s assistant who helped me put the book together telling me that maybe one day I would be a published author. What did that woman see in me at that time that I’ve had a hard time seeing in myself?
As I look back on a professional life over the past 30 years, writing filled my days. I wrote newsletters, brochures, websites, book and product reviews, media releases, speeches, social media posts, presentations, research papers, a Master’s thesis, and even for nine years wrote and edited a magazine that was shortlisted for a national prize. I write this blog. A few years ago, I co-authored and self-published a small book as a guide to Twitter for healthcare professionals with two close friends. That book, distributed and read around the world, introduced the social media platform to many people in terms they could understand. Still I didn’t see myself as a writer.
Others in my tribe believed I was a writer for years, even when I doubted. I look around and see I surround myself with those who not only love me, but support my writing dream. This includes many friends, but my parents have always encouraged my writing from the beginning. And I have one friend who every week tells me to start my book. She even supported me by looking after my youngest child this past week so I could attend the festival. She believes in me.
Why have I had so much trouble admitting I belong to writing and it belongs to me? Looking at that list above, it seems crazy.
It all comes down to the fact I didn’t believe in myself to find and write that story that would make me a published solo book author. Since childhood, since that teacher’s assistant put the idea in my head, that’s been the holy grail for me.
The festival helped me realise I don’t need that publishing contract to call myself a writer. I am a writer. It’s who I am in my soul. A modern day storyteller.
This past week I’ve felt at home. The festival and the associated workshops I attended, the place. The people I met, the people. I belong in a community of writers. In that creative cocoon.
On Wednesday in the ‘Writing from the Right Brain’ workshop I wrote a piece I feel will eventually end up in my book project. Given seven minutes to write it, as I read it aloud to my fellow workshop participants, they all sat in enthralled silence. Every single one of them was transfixed by the story I wove. Some had goosebumps. When I finished reading it aloud, they were unanimous in praise and can’t wait to read my book. Two women in particular heard the story. One, I’m very happy to say, has agreed to be my writing buddy. Holding me to account to write the story and read and comment on chapters as they emerge. The other, a staff member at the festival, moved heaven and earth for me to attend a workshop on Thursday that had sold out weeks ago. That workshop, on voice, was instrumental to my journey this week and I am positive the rewards of attending will continue to show up for months.
On Saturday I met the author of Daring to Drive, Manal al-Sharif, who talked about the importance of believing in yourself. Manal, the first woman to drive in Saudi Arabia, brought about huge change in her home country. She explained she never meant to take on patriarchal society or effect great change in Saudi Arabia. She just listened to her gut when it told her what to do. By believing in herself, she has changed the world.
Listening to my gut, to my intuition, leads me on my journey every day. It led me to the writers festival. It led me to the story I now know I must write. It led me home; back to myself. Back to believing in myself. Back to believing in my writing.
It isn’t about the format or whether it gets published. It’s about believing in myself and what I have to write. Believing that writing will heal my soul. If it helps others, all the better. But I write for me. To make sense of what I see, hear and feel.
I belong to writing and it belongs to me.