In romantic relationships, I used to be fond of saying that I needed to feel wanted; I didn't want to feel needed. (We get to say things like that in our twenties, right?) To me, feeling wanted was to feel chosen, special. Feeling needed was to feel pressured, overly responsible for another's happiness. Want suggested will. Need suggested helplessness. I emphatically did not want to be needed. (My understanding of romantic want and need has since changed, but that's a topic for another time.)
If you read my first post, you may have noticed the word need crop up a few times. Feeling needed by RTC nearly kept me from embracing this yearlong opportunity--but I never resented that feeling. I relished in it. The pressure of being needed (or at least perceiving myself as such) by a company, rather than an individual, was deeply validating.
As part of our marriage preparation, Adrian and I had to complete six sessions with a sponsor couple, in which we went over the two or three workbook chapters we had read and responded to together that week. One question asked us each for our greatest concerns about the other in regard to having children. To my surprise, Adrian was worried about how I would deal, even briefly, with not working. "Your identity is so tied to what you do," he explained. And the questions hung: Would you know who you are without it? Could you redefine yourself? Would you want to?
He was right. Not only was my identity tied to what I did, my self-worth was tied to how needed I felt doing it. That's something embarrassing for me to admit, because it contradicts the story I've long told myself: that my self-worth is not tied to external achievements; that I feel inherently valuable, as I believe we all are. In the moment, driving to see our sponsor couple, I didn't know what to say to alleviate his concern. I just looked out at the highway passing beneath us.
As my hours with RTC scaled back in March and then moreso in April and May, I felt as though I was constantly forgetting to do something. My mind struggled to compute my quieting inbox, my silent phone. My wakeup time crept a little later each day, and I opened my eyes with that panicky college feeling of having slept through an exam. I couldn't help but notice that RTC was doing just fine without me--actually, it was doing fantastic, with a cadre of new and talented writers and a growing list of clients whose names I didn't recognize. A little ego-bruising, a little liberating.
"I don't entirely know what to do with myself," I told Adrian. "It's not like I've had a bunch of novel ideas just stewing and I'm ready to start writing."
Adrian smiled. "So read," he said. "The ideas will come."
Huh. Sometimes I talk myself into thinking the most ridiculous things are insurmountable but for the most extravagant feats of mind and will, and Adrian takes a quick peek, sees that the wall I've invented is just a partition, shrugs, and tells me to walk around it. I need that in a guy.
I'll admit: at first, kissing him goodbye in the morning and then sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, reading for hours, felt unforgivably self-indulgent, as though I were slacking at my new job ALREADY. But reading was my first love affair. There are photos of me at three or four, a thick chunk of hair wrapped around my finger, sitting with knees bent and a book resting against them, utterly oblivious to the camera. Before I could read on my own, my mom read to me--to all three of us. We competed for the nest of her lap, shouting out along with her: "Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo!" Reading gave me the first powerful understanding that my world wasn't the only world, and thank goodness for that, I thought, because how much more interesting it was to climb inside other people's minds.
I read in a fervor, swept dizzyingly back into that first affair. I wasn't reading as a writer or as an editor--I was reading for the sheer pleasure of it. I read whatever I wanted, unrestricted by thoughts of what I "should" be reading, as a "serious writer." I binged, emerging from hours-long stints on the couch dazed and awed, every bit like the kid whose heart pounded under the covers as she read, thinking, This! This is what I'm meant to do.
As I develop this site, I'll be posting some thoughts on the books I've read/am reading, and I'd love suggestions: What's the last book you read that was unforgettable?
Oh, and Adrian was right. The ideas did come. And that redefinition--or maybe it's reintegration--of identity is happening each day.