curiouser and curiouser

an attempt to define the un-definable

I hate Alice in Wonderland—too trippy—but there’s a scene that’s been replaying in my head these last few weeks. It’s the one where an oversized hookah-smoking caterpillar blows smoke rings around Alice as he asks, “Who…are…you?” 

I see myself staring up at the worm, as unsure as Alice as she responds, “I hardly know, sir!” 

They go in circles and she insists, “I can’t explain myself, sir, because I’m not myself, you know.” The worm is a poor listener, or high, so Alice grows frustrated. She absolutely has no idea who she is, and she cannot possibly come up with an answer to satisfy him. The best she has to offer is vague: “I can’t put it any more clearly, for it isn’t clear to me.” 

Similarly, I am at a loss for labels. So many of the ways I used to define myself have drifted away as quietly as smoke rings: 

Married. 

Republican. 

Believer in post-racial America.

Nurse.

Eye-roller at vegans.

Despiser of feminists.

Knower of life’s timelines. 

Things have changed, and now I am in place where things are less solid, more fluid. More nuanced, complex, and messy.

Status: Divorcée. A one-word title, but there’s nothing in the name that carries the weight of a life’s vocation as nicely as married. It feels a little fuzzier.

Absolutely not a Republican, but maybe not a Democrat? Maybe more of a centrist, or a Libertarian? Don’t come at me, it’s TBD, I just know that I’m not in favor of he-who-shall-not-be-named.

Occasional vegan. Turns out I care about the planet, though I still love cheese.

Feminist, though a pro-life one, though also one that isn’t sure what the most effective way to support mothers/family/society is.

Human trying to become anti-racist after a lifetime of disbelief. V flawed.

Writer? Blogger, casually. Student, definitely. Does that make me “a creative” (I imagine this means I’ll take up wearing berets and snapping in smoky clubs, so maybe not). 

Still a nurse, yes, but not a full-time one, and unsure of how well I love the work. Overall, displeased with the business of healthcare, and burned out from caring so hard in a world built more for money than people. 

Real estate agent—this one is new. In my previous timeline I always imagined I’d quit nursing to raise children and let my fancy husband make ze monies. No children and no husband makes me my own breadwinner, and I realized I should probably be in a career that I wasn’t planning to quit someday. While, in a perfect world, I simply become the next J.K. Rowling and float about writing best sellers, I think this real estate business might be the place where I have the time and space and flexibility to write, the money to eat-pray-love my way around the globe, and the chance to still serve my community. I believe in home, so why not make myself a part of it?

Where does all that leave me now? Dabbling in several careers, with a mishmash of political leanings, no romantic involvements and some kind of half-assed vegan habit?

I’m a little bit of everything and entirely nothing.

My primary concern: I have no idea how I will explain myself at parties. I can see it in my head— 

“What do you do?” 

*brain short circuits*

“NurseRealtorWriterStudent.” 

Nothing neat enough to put cutely. But, then again, why the need to define myself by what I do at all? Sure, it might be the easiest to say, and, yes, you learn something from knowing a person’s job. Like when I say nurse, you might hear caring. You might find me trustworthy, reliable, kind. On the other hand, if I get into my current crossroads, you’re more likely to see a huge mess. You’ll nod your head, bemused, unsure of a girl who can’t commit to any one thing.

I know the gist of what I’m after, of course, but there’s nothing easily knowable from something as simple as a title. What I really want is beauty. Creativity. Rhythm. Abundance. I want peace, and grace. Wholeness, health, and a life where I am content, doing what I was made to do, not on a five-year-plan, but in finding one right thing after the next right thing.

Maybe the whole mess of myself, the possibility and the journey and the flaws, the beauty and the wonder and the hope, what I do or what I don’t do, will be caught up in one phrase after all: a name. My name. Rebecca Joy. Maybe that’s all you’ll ever need to know—maybe I grow so grounded into myself that you can reach the heart of me just from hearing it whispered. If only Alice knew how to say hers.

further up and further in

on to the next right thing

Today is a daydream. Today I am simply a girl in a sundress, free to soak in gardenia-scented breezes and the birds singing praise to the spring. I’d like to stay here forever and let the days melt into each other like butter, golden and slow, because I’m dreading tomorrow. Tomorrow my alarm will ring until I crawl out of bed, pull on scrubs, and make my way to an alternate reality where the threat of a murderous virus has crept into my city. A pandemic has turned entire countries into war zones and we hold our breath as we wait for it to take us next. In the meantime our hours get cut, supplies rationed, processes changed, and rumors are spread. We live in the calm before the storm and I tick through the hours of my shift; I dream of a life where art and words and beauty weave the rhythm of my days instead of alarming machinery, upset patients, and the buzz of danger overhead. Some of my co-workers are proud to serve, but the state of the world has not reinvigorated my own love of nursing service. Rather, it has reinvigorated my desire to live authentically, invest in what I love, and protect what I care most about. I continue to practice the compassionate art of nursing and find myself yearning, instead, for the compassionate art of storytelling.

I am not ungrateful for the road I’ve been on; providing nursing care is a gift. I consider it a privilege to help new life into the world. I am glad to hold the hands of sick women and am always willing to advocate for patients in need, victims of abuse or victims of grief. I will happily bear cheerful news and offer condolences when news is unwelcome. In reality, some of these nursing days are good. Other days, especially lately, it’s become clear that the business of healthcare has outweighed its heart. I’m getting tired. More often now, I wonder why I’m here.

In an effort to redirect my future I comb through my past. I think back to my childhood and hear my mother, also a nurse, explain that the profession, above all, is a calling. I thought I heard that call. Maybe I still do. I’ve always appreciated how well nursing practice incorporates creative thinking, compassion, and technical skill. Sometimes, though, I consider my mother’s childhood, and there the doubts return. For a myriad of reasons, both cultural and practical, she grew up encouraged to pursue work she could lean on in case her husband failed her. Echoes of that encouragement lived in the back of my mind as I sorted through my own career goals; first to be rejected was pre-medicine.It would certainly be too hard to balance all that work with mothering, and how could I ever find a decent husband doing so much studying? I then passed up English, followed by theology, then psychology, because hobbies wouldn’t pay bills. Thus, in the service of practicality, another nursing student came into the world. 

Unfortunately that advice wasn’t entirely faulty; my nursing job did serve me well when I couldn’t rely on my husband. I married young, just after college, and was promptly carried off by his military career. Nursing provided some consistency in the chaos and I heard over and again how lucky I was that my job traveled so well. I agreed, thankful for the flexibility and the paycheck. I dove deeper into the field, supposing myself wise for working towards a masters before we began having children. Of course, life is never as neat as we hope for; my best plans were thwarted when my husband realized he didn’t want children. Thankfully, nursing was as reliable as ever when I realized I didn’t want him. I left and was indebted, again, to the job that traveled well.

Today, finally, in the absence of one dysfunctional marriage and many imagined children, I am free to envision what I want out of life for my own sake. There are things in my heart peeping out from the shadows, waking up with the spring to remind me of what I used to love. I easily recall the first book report I ever did and the vivid detail of my fifth grade English class. I remember ruining my eyes at seven reading Harry Potter by nightlight, poring through Lord of the Rings at eight, and my dad pulling me from the depths of teenage depression with The Right to Write. I recall the first book I ever scribbled out, a ten year old’s saga complete with fairies, and the newspaper I haphazardly started in high school. I used to tell people my dream was “to publish a book,” and it was writing that earned me a full tuition scholarship to college. I think back to nursing school and find that, of all the things I should have been proud of, the day my freshman English professor read my story aloud to the class was the highlight. Most recently, it was writing that helped me through divorce and brought me home to who I’m meant to be. Writing has been faithful.

Where writing has followed me, it is time I followed it. I am being pulled somewhere new and, hopefully, towards a more authentic version of myself. So far I’ve found that at my most wholesome, authentic core I am blissfully naive, enchanted with stories, and hoping to be in the service of beauty. In that service, in my most sparkling dreams, I join the class of authors who’ve told stories well through their novels, articles, television shows, films, poetry and music. The writing world is broad, the list endless. So endless, in fact, that I am not quite settled on where my writing voice will feel most at home in the future, though I do know where I’d like to begin. At this beginning, I hope for the chance to explore a world I did not allow myself to seriously consider in the past. Put simply, I want to write and I want to be given the tools to do it well. I am ready to learn. 

Naturally, there is also the possibility I find a way to weave my current profession into a writing career; I have found no better place to learn of humanity than entering into another’s experience of birth, life, sickness, and death. Either way, storytelling has my heart, and I want nothing more than to do it to the best of my ability in any of its forms. The unexpected nature of this journey has only proven that I must, we all must, invest in what we love. Destabilizing as it may seem to consider such drastic personal changes, all we can hope to do is take the small steps before us and move slowly in the direction of those passions. 


Further up and further in, friends.

The best is yet to come.