Saturday, March 10, 2012

Identify Yourself

By Victoria Opalewski, from her blog, A Survivor’s Write

When I first moved to a small town in Iowa, it bothered me when every single person I met asked the same question, “What are you going to do?”  And no, they didn’t mean for fun, like my friends in the city did when they asked the same thing.

In modern cliché business terms, my new neighbors wanted to know what was my “value-added?” They didn’t want me to be “low-hanging fruit.”

At first I was offended; shouldn’t they be excited I was moving into their little town?  Didn’t they know how much I was going to be missed in my last community?

No.  You’re only as good as what you bring to the table tonight, and they wanted to know what need I was going to fulfill in their town.  They had no use for someone just taking up space.

People have specific expectations of people in different roles.  However, I quickly relearned that people must fill multiple roles, especially in small towns.  For example, one woman is a mom to two teenage boys and teaches Jazzercise, but she’s also an accountant and runs the bowling alley with her husband and teaches confirmation at one of the churches.  And those are just the parts I know about her.

We’re all made up of many different facets.  There’s the version of you that your grandparents see, the one seen by your spouse, your colleagues, your parents and siblings, the waiter or waitress you flirt with.  Add in the people who used to know you, and there’s still more pieces.  People who knew you in college or high school have a version of you forever fixed in their minds.

But, this year, in this town, I’m a writer.

If only it were that easy: just label yourself who or what you wanted to be, and voila! So it is.  But the truth is the reflections of our identity are endless.  They’re all versions of real; they each tell a piece of the story.

Over the years, I know people came to see me in a certain way because I was a high school English teacher.  You could easily hear it in the first five minutes of conversation, You teach high school?  Man, I do not envy you.  And English you said?  I hated English.  Wait, you’re not correcting my grammar right now, are you?  As much as these reactions became monotonous, they were also comforting in their predictability. 

When I made the choice to leave teaching to pursue writing full-time for a year, the reaction from my colleagues varied:

Wow, that’s awesome!

Really?  You’re crazy.

Huh.  I just don’t even know what I would do if I didn’t teach. 

That last one’s probably why the initial question from the Iowans about what I was going to do bothered me so much. 

Although I’ve tried to tell others that what you do for a job doesn’t equal who you are, without my job to define me, I wasn’t sure how to explain who I was, especially quickly, in a casual conversation.  Had I really gotten that lazy, that the sum of who I was amounted to what I listed on my tax return as my occupation?  Since I don’t believe that in other people, I was shocked that I would tolerate it from myself.

We are made up of more than the jobs we do, but it’s not until we’re forced to defend leaving the safety of that niche that we really learn how much our pigeon hole mattered to us. 

A mold can be a useful tool in guiding something’s shape, but there will always be a few that don’t slide smoothly from the mold.  In writing my memoir and living as a writer for more than half a year in a new state and town, I’ve decided that’s better anyway.  Mold can also be the furry decay of organic material that we easily discard because it looks bad.  However, a lot of times, if you have a bit of courage, you’ll find it’s still useable.  You just have to take the time to scrape away the intimidating layer of color to determine what’s underneath.

READ MORE from Victoria at her blog, A Survivor's Write

Here is the opening for one of her posts called Patience, Elevated, "Patience is a virtue, or so they tell us. I've never had time for it myself." 

Anyone who knows me personally knows my own struggle with practicing patience. Case in point: I was married for fourteen years, he left me without any warning, and I started dating in under a month. I knew I'd start dating again eventually so - why wait? Well, six years later I can give you dozens of reasons, but in that moment, "patience" was a dirty word. A weak word. Anyway! Enough about me. Grab a cup of tea and read more from Victoria. Her stories are much more entertaining, touching and inspiring than what you'll find meandering around YouTube to kill time while you wait for... something else.

And... if you'd like to share your own story about patience or your lack of it, or anything else for that matter, do come back to My Embellished Life and share it with us.


  1. What an adventure--taking a year off from your job to pursue writing. Most of us don't have the nerve to step out of our planned life to work on a dream. I look forward to reading more about your journey...Peggy

    1. Peggy--I can't tell you how much I appreciate you decribing it as "nerve." Though I don't cover it in the piece, it was a hard decision (I was raised to be a do-er) that I still struggle with at times, and I continue to get somewhat negative comments (though most people are just sort of confused by my decision). Whatever happens this year, I know I'll always be thankful to have had the chance to do this. Thanks for coming along with me...