On Being a Writer and Struggling to be Seen

I was born with a birthmark, sliced into my left cheek and marked on my right. It’s visible immediately when you meet me. And these days, since I am sans makeup, I guess it could be quite shocking. It varies in burgundy color depending on mood and activity and climate, and you really can’t miss it. My birthmark, portwine stain, really, extends down to my legs and is visible when I wear a dress without leggings (which frankly, is rare).

For a big chunk of my childhood and young adulthood, I didn’t look at people directly. I was afraid they would say something about my face. It’s tough when you are looking someone in the eye and making contact like that, and then that person says, “what happened to your face?” It’s like a sucker punch in the gut. So when that happened to me, I shrunk into a place of not wanting to be seen. I wanted to take up the least amount of space as possible. I just immediately felt less than.

I spent a large amount of time trying to cover up my birthmark. I was in and out of phases of wearing cover-up, my aunt giving me her Bloomingdale’s leftovers and sometimes, buying me my own compact. With the cover-up, I was pretty. That splash of pink across my face, coming down into my lips, was gone.

In Austin, Texas, when I lived there for six months, there was a drag king who took one look at my face and said, “wow, that is such a beautiful birthmark. It’s like a roadmap to your soul.” Of course, I was struck by that and it resonated so strongly in my chest. Thank you K Bradford wherever you are.

I always knew I was a babe, even from the beginning of staring at myself, duck-lipped in my parents’ downstairs bathroom mirror, pink frosted lips clashing with everything else on my body. I knew I was hot shit, but then I started listening to people.

Because I gave up my power in most every situation. I cowered. Not saying it was because of my birthmark, but that’s part of it. I became a people pleaser because I wanted everyone to like me. I wanted to feel accepted. But I just felt different. All. The. Time.

Aside from my birthmark, I was opinionated and “mouthy” as my dad used to say, and that really wasn’t accepted or encouraged. I was also sensitive and talked back when I didn’t like what was coming at me. It was “keep your nose clean” or “don’t make waves” rather than be your unique, bold self because wow, kid, you are amazing. Because of that, I learned, I couldn’t really trust myself. Everyone else knows better.

Then there was that time in English Honors class in high school when we were talking about some book and I finally, and I mean finally, got the courage to raise my hand and contribute my perspective to the conversation. So I did. And my teacher said,

“No.”

That was it. I was a shrinking violet in that moment. I was humiliated and felt so much shame. I was mortified. (Sidenote, I was dating her son at the time, so maybe she had some feelings about that.) But still. Who does that?

When I took up writing in college, it was because somebody in one of English classes told me I should write for his section of the newspaper. So I did. Then he said I should go for his job the next year. So I did. I got it. And honestly, it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Style & Arts Editor of The Maine Campus.

I was writing about what I wanted as long as it tied into UMaine; I was working with other writers and photographers and illustrators to create stories; and it got me recognized on campus. It was the first time I really used my voice and had fun with it. And not surprisingly, it was a positive experience for me.

That wasn’t my first experience being published. When I was six, I did not like ET. My mom went to visit my grandma in Florida, so my dad took me and my younger brother to the movies. I was afraid of ET. Like had a visceral reaction. I hid under the seats until we left.

Of course, there was ET movie paraphernalia everywhere we went. So I decided (well, not sure how this was decided) to write a letter to the editor of the Portland Press Herald, the city’s daily newspaper. It was addressed, “Dear Men.” And basically, it was about my fear of ET and how I think all the promotions for the movie should be out of stores, because well, it’s scaring people. Never mind that it was a phenomenon and I was the only six-year-old that was probably complaining. The TV station got wind of it and I remember being interviewed in my bedroom, on my bed. I have no idea where that tape is!

Since then, I’ve been published in various capacities. I started a writing business. I do writing and editing and marketing and consulting for individuals and companies. I spent 12 years working in the accounting profession, writing about CPAs and accountants and trends and cannabis and all of it. When I moved to New York City at the age of 30, I wanted to write for The Village Voice and Paper magazine. I was writing in my blog regularly with a lot of passion. Instead, I took a job at a B2B trade publication covering accounting in the Financial District. I was excited to be trained as a business journalist. Little did I know that would dictate the next 12 years of my life. While it has sustained me, I have been hiding.

It’s so much easier to stay behind the scenes, working for clients who seek me out because of my voice or my experience or my connections. And I like helping people reach their goals and get more visible. But what I’ve realized is that I’ve stayed quiet. I’ve stayed small. I go for the low hanging fruit. I settle. I still look away too much.

Image found via Internet

My writing isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s not light and airy all the time. I write about real things that are happening in real time and if you haven’t already gathered by now, I like it raw. Too polished scares me. It’s not who I am.

I’m not someone who is going to wait to have it all figured out to start writing about my life. I feel like so many of the success stories that are out there emerge after the person has found “success.” They have lessons to share! Here’s the way I did it! You can do it, too! I struggled for years! Went through a Dark Night of the Soul, too! Here, listen to me!

If I sound jaded, I am. Slightly. I appreciate the people who have wrestled with their demons and were determined to figure out their shit, so they can move ahead with their life. I’m right there with you, folks!

All I know is, I’m being called to write more personally and put it out there. I don’t even know what I’m writing about half the time, I just sit here and the words start to fly. I’m coming out of hiding – as a writer and as a human being. Thanks for bearing witness to that.

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