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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