Who Am I, Now?

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I had a fleeting thought the other day as I was sitting in my favorite chair in my favorite room. I was looking at the bookcase on the other side of the room – the one that holds the books I currently refer to when I am ready to learn a little more about LightRoom or have a question about my camera or need to identify a wildflower. Along with those types of reference books, I also have the books from my studies, the ones that informed my professional identity and I used to inform my teaching. I still enjoy picking some of them up and reading a page or two – the books that read like poetry as they explain human development or theories of therapy. Most of them, however, are pretty dusty.

I had a fleeting thought that I could be ready to get rid of them. In that fleeting second I felt freed from the pining that I have had over who I once was, or maybe who I could have been. I am enjoying retirement and have no desire to work again, in any role, not even volunteering. My miss-firing nervous system won’t allow it. Even though I have the head and heart for helping people, my body doesn’t allow for even a few hours of sustained work because of chronic pain and fatigue. But sometimes I still feel that empty, hollow place deep within my soul that doesn’t want to lose what I once had, who I once was.

Those books are a symbol of who I am, what I value, what I believe in. They have my back when I stand up and say, I Am. These books are very important to me. I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, formed my initial identity in the 60’s and 70’s. In those growing up years I frequently heard my mother say, “Little girls should be seen and not heard.” From my father, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Pretty crippling messages to me, someone who loved learning and playing school when I wasn’t in school. It is hard to process and retain learning in memory if it can’t be spoken and rehearsed.

As I grew older my most exciting days were when I went shopping for school supplies and could pick up my text books. I started reading them before school started because I just couldn’t wait. Maybe I loved school and textbooks because I thought I would learn something important enough to finally be heard, or maybe – just maybe know what I was talking about. I earned degrees and got jobs that fulfilled my desire to be someone who made a difference in the lives of others. I didn’t start working in “real” jobs until I was well into my 30’s and when I turned 60, I told people I wanted to work forever. I loved my work and the continued learning as I read new books.

If I box up my professional books and ship them out, will I loose who I am? Will I become a has been? Will I forget that I once knew a lot about human development, individual and family therapy, group process, teaching and curriculum design? Does it really matter that the information I once learned and used may no longer be relevant to the life I am living?

I feel myself in the middle of a shift – what is called development in childhood, then maturing in adulthood, but now feels like accepting the aging process. These shifts in personal identity and ways of relating to others don’t happen quickly. When they involve our core personality characteristics they take some time. We feel unsettled for a few months as we ask the who-are-we and what-does-it-mean questions.

Getting rid of all of my professional books now feels premature (would preaging mean the same?) Writing helps me think through my life-cycle tasks as I form the questions I need to ask. The take-away for me today is that I want to keep some of my books, keep them like the keepsakes from my travels and my early years of parenting. Seeing these books every day gives me great joy as I remember traveling down that path of my life’s journey – a journey that was rewarding and exciting.

When I return to Michigan in the spring I think I will do another culling, keeping the books that most represent my life’s work and my personal identity. Something like the culling out of old family photos completed a couple of years ago. I think I need to take time to hold each book, reflect on it, pass judgement, and maybe shed a tear or two. It kind of feels like another of those minor rites of passage that rids life of the baggage that slows me down, making me freer to live my life to its fullest, as I am, into my future. I like to travel light.

 

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25 Comments »

    • Was there anything else to be if you were a woman in the 70’s. Ah, a secretary. I took lots of secretarial courses that I could “fall back on” if my husband should die an early death. 🙂 Thanks for your affirmation, Lois. Don’t forget – we have to hold hands.

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  1. I think of my books as ladders. Once I have used them, they can be thrown away. The best part of the book has become part of who I am. What is good in the book is part of my world view. I can throw away the paper, but what is important will not be lost.

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  2. I found one way of easing the pain of giving up all those professional books was to mentor students and pass on relevant materials to them…a few books are still lying around…things still hard to move out…ah but the day is coming. 🙂

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  3. You were always good at rites of passage, and traveling light is such a great way to negotiate these passages. I’m not sure I’m quite as good at this as you sound! I’ve culled a bit, but man I find it very emotional. More time needed:)

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    • It is so good to know we are not the only one to experience this. I think we are still the same people – we just have to find new meaning. But you are right, it is difficult.

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  4. Ah, this post speaks to me! I haven’t got rid of quite a number of books, for the simple reason they are part of who I am, and not just professional books. And I know I shan’t get rid of a core of these, they are old friends

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  5. Pat, this is a lovely post. I find myself circling similar terrain. While I love my work, my nervous system is struggling to keep up with it. I just received a power chair to take some of the strain off my legs, which, of course, brings up feelings and memories I would rather not deal with….. I’ve been culling professional books, as well as buying more. Anyway, I want more time to be in the studio, and to photograph. I find aging both a relief and a task, and am grateful for your thoughts along the path.

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    • You are in a very tough spot. I remember it well. I remember the moment one Jan. morning, while in the shower, deciding that I just couldn’t work any longer. That day I wrote my resignation letter, but said I would work 18 more month to give them a chance to do a good search for a replacement. Academic calendars work that way. I agree that aging is a relief and a task, and a burden when coupled with a chronic disability. But we can do it if we hold hands – even when you are in your brand new chair.

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  6. I read this post several times because it reflects some of what I am feeling. I recently “scaled back” on my job. It’s a newly created one – but part-time. In doing this – I had to go through books that identify who I was for the past 46 years of my career. It’s difficult to part with those items – and “so what” if we don’t get rid of them!! I too have kept a few that might come in handy!!!

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  7. An interesting post, Pat. Although I don’t have any books of a professional nature, I do have a large book collection and I always find it difficult to part with any of them when it comes to making room for more. I think that the books we have on our shelves say a lot about who we are as a person.

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    • Yes, Sue. I agree. After I do my professional book, I have a few shelves of fiction/nonfiction to cull out. Luckily I have slowed down buying because I use an e-reader. But I still love the feel of a book in my hand.

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  8. What a beautiful post. I can understand completely – those books are part of your identity and you can’t bear to throw them away. It’s funny how when I finished college, I couldn’t wait to get rid of all my books. Right now, I don’t think I have any material things that form part of my identity, but I’m sure that when I become a mom, I’ll be an obsessive hoarder of all things baby!

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  9. that letting go feeling, that moment of clarity before i try to snatch it back and the ruminator in my head goes but but butt! lol
    i can so identify with what you said 🙂

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    • LOL – yes you captured that moment perfectly, Elisa. Luckily I snatched it back before all the selves were bared and nothing was left – of my collection or myself. 😀

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