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Oh my God. My head spins.
I can’t keep up.
Can’t, can’t, can’t. The words roar in the furnace of my head. Who said them first?
I sit in a class full of writers. The room is dark and hot. Our teacher—a dark-haired Muskogee* whose henna-tattooed hands and bohemian attire make me feel wildly out of place in my blue blouse, white shorts, and silver sandals—talks about her time as an MFA student at the esteemed Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She’s a published author and playwright and plays the saxophone in a Native American jazz band. She expects us to read and write more in a shorter period of time than I have in years.
I am terrified.
I look around me. The other students appear calm. I see no traces on their faces of the panic I am feeling inside. I play the saxophone. I know how to write. But . . . I don’t belong here.
I’m standing with a group of triathletes. We’re on a dock down by the river in the heart of Knoxville. The sun beats violently upon us, creating a steam of humidity so thick that every breath digs in me a hole of longing for the West Coast so large that I’m certain I’ll fall in, never to surface anywhere ever again . . . Instead, I climb into a kayak and watch the swimmers glide. Their movements look effortless, easy.
I grew up swimming, but I can’t swim like that. Who am I?
I pick up a book today. It’s something my brother gave me when I was home in July. It’s the story of an overweight middle-aged former athlete who, at 39, decided he wanted to live again. The memoir is mostly typical—an out-of-shape dude changes his lifestyle and ends up winning Ironman-distance world championships; ya know, no big deal, right?—but the last chapter hits me hard. In it, the author talks about the importance of mindset, setting goals, improving our diets, and becoming the hero of our own stories. And through it, he challenges me revisit my own story.
Can’t, can’t, can’t. Who said that first? I did.
I don’t belong here, don’t belong her-, don’t belong . . . Who said that first? I did.
Who am I, I, I? Who said that first? I did.
I bought into the stories I was telling myself a long time ago—feelings of inadequacy and failure. Deep down I knew the stories weren’t true, but instead of squashing them, I allowed them to become my beliefs . . . My beliefs became my patterns. My patterns became my habits. My habits became the very way I saw the world.
But now . . .
Now I am wondering: What if, instead of saying I can’t, I say, “I CAN“?
*member of the Mvskoke Nation, a federally recognized Native American tribe based in the U.S. state of Oklahoma
Jess, you CAN!
Thank you, Gary! Hope you’ve been well!
Thanks Jessica, yes, I have been 😃
You most certainly can. Obvious to those of us who know you. Can’t wait to see you do it.
Thanks, Elyse. But I’m referring to more than school here. I’ve got boundaries to push and fears to push aside. I’ll get there. Love you!
Another post that I loved! I felt moved to DO what you said. You have always been capable of more than you believed and have proved it time and time again. You WILL do well in your class work. Your writing is so inspiring to all of us who also doubt our capabilities. Awesome job (but I’m your mom)!
Thanks, Mom! Love you!
You know, Jess… If you couldn’t, I don’t think you’d have so many people pulling for you, asking for you, believing in you.
Thanks, Matt. You rock.
Hi Jessica, I’m here because you are there, don’t forget!
Aww, you are so sweet, Marie! Thank you. That means a lot!! 💜
How are you, Marie? It’s been a long time. I wanted to let you know that I have a new blog at my new website. It’s jessicacyphers.com. Please feel free to check it out and subscribe!
I hope you’re doing well. Happy New Year!
Great post; it makes me want to do something.
Lol, thank you. I’m glad my post could inspire you!
Great writing Jess, inspirational and these questions and struggles are familiar to me as well ~ you are approaching them perfectly. Continue to move forward in all aspects of life, achieving a bit each day using all you’ve learned and experienced on the way. An exciting time for you and look forward to all the ‘I can’ successes (even with the bumps and bruises) along the way, it will be fun for you.
The Little Engine That Could!