I’m going to tell you something in confidence. I mean, we know each other a bit now, right? We can be honest, yes? This will stay just between us?
I don’t like myself very much.
And I don't think I am very good at much, either.
There, I said it. I heard you gasp, I see you recoil a little, this revelatory concept you can have no experience of whatsoever triggering some innate xenophobic disgust, so foreign is such a sentiment. But stay with me a moment, please, this is not all I want to say. Don’t worry, this is not going to be about my hyper-critical parents, or my perpetual school yard bullying, or even the thing that still stings when you touch it; the invisibility, the broad daylight oversight. No, I have said all I need to say about those things. I want to tell you about something else, and I hope you will like that better.
Okay. I told a little white lie. It’s a bit about my hyper-critical parents. It’s a bit about my ostracising peers. But only a very little bit. You see, I don’t really exist. Oh, here are my arms, and here are my legs. Here is my corporeal heft, yes. But imagine this. Imagine that everyone you know goes away. Vanishes. Not like you move to a country where you know no one. More like you move to a parallel universe, where you know no one. And there is no going back. Who are you? Who are you if the parts of you that belong in the space between you and another are stripped away? I am a mother to my children, a partner to my significant other. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am a professional, both junior and senior, depending on which way you look. I am a granddaughter, a customer, a patient. I am a daughter-in-law, a service user and an aunt. I am a white woman in a white majority nation in 2023. I am a reader and a watcher and a listener. And that is how I know myself.
For me, my identity is suffused with the reflected light of a hundred mirrors. I know myself through others. Let me take the simplest possible example. There are two people in my life who like to tell me I am selfish, and I know this to be true. How? Let me just leave that there for you, let it percolate. The bitterness gets deeper the longer you let it sit.
Now, let me take another example. Earlier this year, a question was raised. Do you call yourself a writer? My guffaw was sufficient to obfuscate my denial. Ha! Well no, of course not, I mean, no, not a writer, I mean I write, a little, a dabble, but no, ha, no, not a, well a bit rubbish really, no. Ha. I suppose I just like to write, but, you know, not, you know, I mean, I wouldn’t really, ha, um, read it, you know? If you don’t want to?
Now I come to the point I want to make. Let me show you something.
You're just one of my favourite writers, Hannah and another fine Top Story, makes me smile!
The images you have painted with your beautiful poetry Hannah … sublime! I can only dream of performing such alchemy
This is writing to be envied.
Amazing narration, wonderful interwoven rhymes, and out of this world imagery! I am in awe.
You write so beautifully, Hannah. It's a gift, talent, skill, hard work, whatever you want to attribute to it. You have such a unique way of bringing emotions through, of making us think.
Wow I am reading something special here.
I'm so grateful you wrote this! Thank you so much!
Have I ever told you how much I love your writing? You made me cry, you sod.
Always love how genuine and authentic you are, you are just you and a great writer and seem to a great person too!
This felt like a warm hug to read…. It feels like such a genuine extension of and for connection
Thank you so much for writing this.
Wow... such a tender and patient story. I'm at a loss for words
not trying to be weird but email me…. Or not. Just think you're super cool
I'm so glad you're here, reclaiming your creativity, Hannah. You are a brilliant writer! Thank you for sharing these pieces of your life.
I’m so happy that you found your way here
Oh, how inspiring this is!
It was incredibly captivating and like I said, INSANELY CLEVER. I can't even explain how good it was.
I could go on, but I need to grab a tissue. Am I a writer? Yes. I am. You told me I am. And that mattered. Perhaps in my own writing, the pieces that matter most have very small readerships. You want to see?
I am thoughtful, supportive, uplifting! And in good company. Is it possible I am, at times, an okay person?
Elsewhere, a recent leaving card from my last job, people who know me in real life:
“I don’t think you realise just how much you inspire others and how much you change people.”
“Your measured reflections, warmth and humour stand out”
“You have brought so much knowledge, fun and humanness”
“I love your sense of humour and the fun that you bring”
Again, I could go on. Again, it matters. It counts. If I give it space. If I let myself hear it, it becomes a part who I understand myself to be.
So this is my point. Our identities, I think, are like our stories. Yes, there are constraints - the language we have at our disposal, the ways all the stories of our histories shape how we tell stories now, and our co-authors. Most of all, our co-authors. Some we choose, some we don’t, some we pay more attention to than others. Some we have never even met. So I want to recognise this. There is a good chance, if you are reading this, that you are a co-author in my identity today. Like our stories, our identities may never seem exactly how we want them to be, but today, I think a little bit better of myself than I have done in the past. I hope I have earned a little co-author credit in places of light in someone else’s identity.
Words count. Use them with love, and receive them with love, too. Thank you, for giving me yours.
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