Thursday, 10 February 2011

Being Yourself

I visited my aunt and cousins on Saturday, having not seen them properly for many years, except at weddings and funerals. This was a proper old-fashioned visit, with high tea and shared memories and old photographs being passed around. Their clearest recollection of me as a child was significant. They remember me with books.

I brought books with me whenever we went to their house, sat and read during the conversations. I only talked animatedly about the latest Enid Blyton. I was shy and quiet all the rest of the time. But their memory of me, this dull, solid little bookworm wearing impossibly thick glasses, was clearly a fond one. And that was the real me. And so was the young language-student I became later, head still in a book, loving words more than anything else in the world.

Why I don't know, but I drifted away from all that I was passionate about and took jobs that I couldn't really excel at. I was hopeless, although I kept on trying. A colleague once asked why I had chosen a path I clearly was not destined to tread happily. I suppose it comes down to money. It has to be earned. But I wish I could have discovered writing sooner and clung to what I understood best. It suits me to be cloistered in a room with nothing but my imagination. But I guess it wouldn't have paid all the bills. It still doesn't. But I am me again now. But to my aunt and cousins, I had never changed from the child who loved the company of words more than anything else. So they were delighted and not at all surprised to learn I had become a writer.

Apart from during games of Let's Pretend, we are more likely to be natural and honest about who we are when we are very young. The adult years muddy our waters, often from necessity. We have to go out into the world and make our mark, pay our way. We are also expected to be more sociable than we can get away with as children.

So I feel very lucky to have come full circle and be in a position to be me again. A loner with my head in another realm a lot of the time. And confident enough not to care what other people think of that. Even when the lady in our village shop said with a sort of sneer, "So you just sit at home writing little stories, do you?", I agreed, joyfully, that she was absolutely right.

I think my aunt and cousins helped me realise how good it is to be yourself.


  1. I love this post, Joanna, and I feel your joy in rediscovering your true self. I read a while ago that if we want to find our true nature as adults, we should remember what we were like just before puberty. I think there's definitely something in that. I lost a lot of my natural confidence (and turned far too self-conscious) once I hit the mid-teens and I've been slowly reclaiming it!

    And I smiled at your response to the woman in the shop. An old lady at my church, and even a brother, said almost exactly the same to me. Wish I'd answered as you did, rather than trying to justify my time with other activities. Next time...

  2. Lovely post, Joanna. I am so glad you found your way back to yourself.
    And the woman in the shop!! I love the way you dealt with her. People like that always seem to call them "little" stories as if they want to belittle what you do. I've heard it said myself.

  3. Joanna, I love the idea of being yourself when you're very young. When she was three, my daughter announced that she wanted to be "a mummy and a nurse." And that's what she did. After a successful nursing career, she is now the mother of triplets.

    I wrote from a very young age, but then, like you, became separated from my writing. I returned a little later, and have been at it ever since!

  4. That sounds a lovely visit to your family.

    I too was a very bookish child, but I think as we go through our teens there's more pressure to do what others are doing. The need to earn money is another source of pressure, as you say.

    Writing was always in the back of my mind, even though I took many diversions before I came to it in any serious way. One of the best things about getting older is feeling a bit more free to be who we really are, instead of concerning ourselves with what other people are thinking or doing.

  5. Thank you so much Rosemary. I wish too that self-consciousness hadn't masked the person I really was. I'm so glad that time teaches us to accept and enjoy ourselves for who we really are. And not worry about what others think. That's something my mother, at 84, still does! One of the phrases she always says every time I see her is "Whatever will people think?" And this might be be just because she hasn't wiped her outside window-sills or polished her letter-box!

    Many thanks, Teresa. I think it's incredible how people want to shrink our achievements. But I am getting used to it more now. I feel a bit sad for them. I tend to feel inspired and excited by friends who have been successful at something, even if it's not something I would attempt myself. But some people seem resentful of those who do well.
    One of the great things about writing is that other writers are always encouraging and happy for each other.

    Frances, I loved hearing about your daughter and how she has been true to her childhood self. How wonderful to have triplets! When I was little, I said I would have three daughters called Violet, Rose and Daisy! I actually do have the three daughters, but the names have changed!
    And I know just how you feel about rediscovering writing after a gap. It feels like coming home.

    Thank you very much Joanne. I agree that pressure is the key-word.It locks us in to a way of life that we wouldn't necessarily choose, but have to go along with. I look back on my teens and picture myself struggling to decide whether to follow the pack or be myself. Sadly, I often took the wrong option. Now I feel lighter and freer. The burden of keeping up has lifted. It's a great relief!

    Many thanks to all of you for your lovely comments! I love reading them.

  6. Every Christmas morning I would eagerly tear open my Princess Tina annual and lie on my bed reading it for as long as I could get away with until I was dragged downstairs to be sociable.

    When I gave up my full time day job people said I'd be bored at home. Were they kidding??? Although I do sometimes think I need someone to 'drag me downstairs to be sociable' now and then or there's a possibility I could become a complete recluse!

  7. Thanks Bernadette. I recognise myself so much in your description! I could easily be a recluse. In fact I am pretty close to being one. I can never never understand how anyone could be bored at home. That has never happened to me once in my entire life. Any excuse to read or write and I'm completely content.
    I loved Princess Tina too! Best Christmas present in the pillow-case was an annual! I was once told off by a friend who used to invite me round to play on Saturday mornings. I would dive into her pile of old comics and sit there reading the whole time. I can understand why she became fed up with me I suppose!

  8. Awh bless that is such a lovely story.
    I am beginning to appreciate myself more and more and truly began to find myself when I got married and moved a distance away from certain negative forces that had been with me all my life up until then. Good for you Joanna! :O)

  9. Many thanks, Madeleine. I'm glad you were able to release yourself and no longer feel repressed. I'm glad I don't feel I have to conform to someone else's image of what they think I should be.
    I recall my father saying to a very pretty, popular, intelligent school-friend of mine, "Oh, I wish I had a daughter like you." I tried to be more like her. But I'm so glad I'm just me now!

  10. PS Joanna, my daughter is called Daisy!

  11. And how I wish I'd kept that choice of name, Frances! I love it so much. And my other choices from all those years ago too! My daughters tell me they would have loved those names, which further proves that we should listen to the wise ideas we have in childhood!

  12. Great post, Joanna. And a brilliant response to the comment from the lady in the shop.


  13. Thanks Suzanne! It felt good not to defend what I do. I have finally stopped worrying what they all think!