I am (insert word here)

I procrastinated until it was too late. I had printed the email request, added to my to-do list, thought of a few ideas, stalled, and finally just forgot all together. So when I arrived at Sunstone and my friend said quizzically … “your bio?” I assumed it was blank. I shrugged and slapped my palm to my forehead. Oh well, I would present in anonymity.

But my bio wasn’t blank. It spelled out my identity in clear nouns: “Pandora is a quilter, editor, mother and wife.” All true and more than I deserved. It should have read: “Pandora shirks assignments.” But I was unsettled. First, who was this mysterious ghost writer who knew enough detail to summarize my life with some accuracy? I was grateful for the effort. Yet the words lined up in this way suddenly felt strange, as if I caught my blurry reflection in a window and was startled by the tousle of my hair or the shape of my body or the expression on my face. Is this how the world sees me?

We all have lists of words we use to describe ourselves. These labels are attached to us early and we spend a lifetime crossing out and rewriting the original text. My early words – stutterer, new girl, bookworm, foureyes, good daughter – evolved into adolescence words, adding – anxious, Mormon, chaste, emotional, best friend, nerd. As an adult, the list of who I was expanded, spilled, and scattered. I found and kept a few dropped essentials and let the rest gather dust under the bookshelf. Until recently, quilter, editor, mother, wife would have felt familiar and right.

How could my ghost writer know how the last few years have complicated who I thought I was? A different job has allowed less time for sewing and writing, forcing me to question my work/life priorities. My adult children are navigating their own lives and my role of mother is in flux, careening between cheerleader, consultant and hand-wringer. My husband and I have always had topsy turvy gender roles, now even more pronounced by my recent professional commitment. I suppose all of this is normal for middle age, many women tell their own version of this story. But I did not expect it to be as disconcerting as past transitions and thresholds. I did not expect the same questions or the same mixed-up feeling of courage and uncertainty. What words do I give myself? What words are given to me? What words do I carry over from then to now and what words do I leave behind? Did I lose the word “wise” along the way only to pick up “amused” and “this-again?” instead?

This year the Sunstone name badge/lanyard featured a section asking the wearer to declare “I am a (blank space) Mormon” and to fill out a descriptor in the blank space. My favorite responder had scribbled “awesome!” but most tried to share a serious assessment. Post, Progressive, Feminist, Fundamentalist, Believing, Non Believing Mormons all owned their adjectives. I turned this part of my name card around. Not there yet.

Deep in the not-so-unconscious part of my brain, I wonder the obvious. Did I really “forget” to turn in my bio or did I just not want to do it? Did I secretly want a Pandora Bourne moment where I could start over as the star of a new action movie? Be incognito? Or simply not choose – I could be anyone today and someone else tomorrow? It is not lost on me that I have the privilege of possibility. But I also feel the weight, a guilt steeped in years of trying to live up to or sort correctly or assemble the appropriate combination of labels to be … Righteous? Productive? Growing? Nice? Fabulously happy and beautiful in all ways?

This identity business is hard work. The minute we think we have it right it feels too tight or slightly wrong like a dress we have outgrown or is no longer quite in style. Mine keeps hiking up in the front and I keep tugging it down at the hem. Boss? Workaholic? Quirky? Intense? Storyteller? Distracted? Creaky? Geeky? Until then, perhaps Quilter, Editor, Mother, Wife will have to do. I am still procrastinating.

 

Pandora

Pandora spends most of her time tinkering with bits of words, fabric and yarn. She lives in Chicago with her husband and a pug. She has two grown up sons who have many adventures.

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6 Responses

  1. courtneytoiaivao says:

    Loved this. Another well-meaning assignment-shirker here who defies description.

  2. Pandora, you are one of my favorite voices. 🙂

  3. Olea says:

    Love this, Pandora. I think adding a modifier to Mormon is way more tricky than just picking the nouns that suit me (or have suited me in the past). Reader is one of my first and still strongest, Traveller might be one of my favourites, and I’m looking forward to adding Wife pretty soon. It’s a good question to ponder, it makes me wonder what I’ve dropped most recently, and which I might have let go but should reclaim.

    Thanks!

  4. Ziff says:

    I love this post, Pandora! You express so many conundrums of how we identify ourselves so well, including some issues I hadn’t thought of at all. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Heather says:

    Honestly I love your ability to take any topic and turn it deep and fascinating. I know life is easier when we don’t think too much. But I am SOO grateful that you are a thinker (and tinker). It’s a gift to us all.

  6. Liz says:

    Pandora, this is gorgeous. I have always bristled against labels, and now I’m trying to embrace them (but mostly failing). This post really resonated with me.

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