This blog post was inspired by a recent IWWG workshop led by Hannah Rousselot (hannahrousselot.com). It focused on self-perception and looking at narratives that shape us. What are the labels others put on us? What are the labels we put on ourselves?
What is self-perception? I found this definition from the American Psychological Association Dictionary: a person’s view of his or her self or of any of the mental or physical attributes that constitute the self. Such a view may involve genuine self-knowledge or varying degrees of distortion.
There is also this from the internet: Self-perceptions, or different beliefs we have about ourselves, exert a powerful influence on the kinds of activities we engage in, the amount of effort we will expend on that activity, and the likelihood that we will engage in that activity in the future.
At our Women’s Writing Circle read around last week, we talked about the “myths” that often stymie writers. One is that you need a college or writing degree. Another is that writing is easy for some people and not others. Another myth is that writing anything short of “perfection” is failure. These attitudes can impact whether we will write or just shrug and give up.
I often encourage people to write in third person because it helps create distance, especially when writing something personal. I found this writing prompt offered in the IWWG workshop useful, especially as we start a new year. Write about what you love about yourself, but also include things you’re working on or things you would like to change. Here’s what I came up with.
In the infinite swaths of time afforded by not having to work a job anymore, she has little excuse for not writing. So, she writes. Here I am, this is my place in the world.
She grew up in the suburbs and loves keeping her own house, her refuge, her private space, her white refrigerator, white kitchen countertops, and the framed photograph on her workroom wall of a young girl with long hair and downcast eyes. Was she ever that young?
She burns vanilla-scented candles and grows orchids and African violets on the kitchen windowsill. Stone barns and wooded trails dot the landscape of her neighborhood and take her back to simpler times, the creeks and monkey vines behind her childhood two-story brick house fifteen miles down the road, but a world apart from where she now lives.
She remembers when she and her childhood friends rode bicycles and disappeared for hours. There were no cell phones, and parents didn’t worry as long as they got home by dinnertime. You should have seen her, pedaling down the steep neighborhood street, no hands on the handlebars, balancing, the wind sweeping back her hair. When she writes about this, she feels sadness for that vanished time of innocence. Then again, in those days, women and girls were subject to many debilitating myths of what was “pretty” what was “feminine” … “anger” was forbidden. Those myths still exist, but voice is encouraged now, and progress is made. But a lot of them are still with us.
It’s okay to be angry and speak your mind, to love yourself, warts and all. Your eyes are pretty, and your face is kind, she tells herself.
She loves that she wants more, that she remembers to pay her bills on time, and doesn’t ask for help setting up her Amazon Firestick because she has mastered (for the most part) the technology of the times.
She loves her bravery. How do you do it all? someone asks. Drive thirty miles alone at night down a dark highway to meet friends for dinner? Good for you, they say. Yes, good for her. It’s either that or another night alone. Still, there’s a doubt. How long before she can’t do that anymore? It’s her anxiety she works to overcome.
And the loneliness. A Mary Oliver poem comes to mind:
I too have known loneliness
I too have known what it is to feel
rejected, and suddenly
not at all beautiful …
She holds herself close with the promise of each new day. She calls her dog, grabs the leash, and goes for a long walk under bright winter skies. She banishes the doubt, the fear.
How long does it last? So, she writes. Here I am, this is my place in the world.