Last week I met an old college friend. We majored in writing together at Johns Hopkins, and hadn’t seen each other in perhaps ten years. She had heard a lot of my Jewish environmental work through the grapevine. What had she been doing? Working in a publishing company, she told me.
And my heart gave a little leap of hope and sorrow.
Now her publishing company is not the one we both dreamed of, the one where we’d read fascinating fiction and discover a new author from the “slush pile.” She works in medical journals. It’s probably the type of career I would have ended up with, if I had not started down this environmental path. I’m so grateful to have a career that brings so much meaning into my life – that makes a difference in something that matters to me.
Yet there it is. Once I dreamed of working in publishing companies and writing books, and right now I am not doing that.
Some time ago, I saw a commercial that has stuck with me. The commercial is the story of a woman who hurt her leg and as a result of some medical intervention, was able to recover fully. The part of the commercial that still rings in my head is when she says: “I do a lot of different kinds of exercise… but basically, I’m a runner.”
She says she’s a runner with a kind of affection. It’s not that she runs. Being a runner is part of her –so it’s clear that not being able to run (with the injury she had) was a problem not just for her health but for her identity.
I’m not a runner, but I understand this. I would reframe it this way: “I do a lot of different kinds of communication… but basically, I’m a writer.”
You might not know that about me. That’s because for most of the last eight years, I have not been writing, at least not in any creative sense.
Of course, I’ve been doing lots of other kinds of communication. I’ve been editing. I’ve been speaking. I’ve been creating websites. I’ve even been writing blogs and op-eds and short articles. But all of these have been in service of the cause – the beautiful cause – of bringing Jewish wisdom to protecting the environment. And so you might not realize – I myself have not always realized – that fundamentally, writer is who I am.
And like the runner in the commercial, not writing is not simply a problem because of the words not written. It’s a problem of identity.
When I was younger, I sang in choirs and a cappella groups. I had a lot of fun singing with those groups, but when I finished singing, I was done. I didn’t expect that I’d ever sing like that again. There are a lot of things like that; I enjoyed them when I was in school but I set them aside when I grew older. Now my time is for other things: mothering, local and national Jewish environmental organizing, Shabbat. It’s enough. Actually, it’s plenty.
But in a bout of soul-searching earlier this month, I realized that writing cannot be set aside like these other hobbies. It’s not that I write. It’s that I’m a writer. And whatever I do, wherever I go – however busy I am – writer is still there. It’s who I am.
And, to be honest, I miss it.
So now: the greatest challenge. To figure out how to write in the busiest of all schedules, or what to let go of so that I can create space for this part of myself.
I don’t know how, but I will try. Because I believe that a part of sustainability means being who we truly are.
I’m starting by sharing it with you.