Writing from the inside out is much more difficult. In no time I can bang out a paragraph or two about my family, or friends, or complete strangers who spark my curiosity, but writing something about myself is far more challenging. Being asked to put together a brief autobiography is the most strenuous writing assignment I've faced in decades. Maybe it would have been easier years ago, when I could define myself by occupation. For years, and years, I was a student. Diploma in hand I became a terrible waitress, and when that proved too rigorous, I went back to the safety of student hood.
To the complete shock of my father, a man who had struggled through years of basic math with me, my next incarnation was banker, a title I held onto happily for years. Easy to describe, my personal ad would have read "single banker, more fun than stuffy suits imply, able to stay up much too late before early morning meetings, loves friends and family and blind dogs". When I left the banking world for the incredibly juicy not for profit community, I listed my profession on the new patient form at the dentist as "philanthropist".
Just this morning, while discussing author Doris Kearns Goodwin, my fellow swimmer asked "where does she tend bar?", meaning with which University is she affiliated? I have no bar, no University, no place to hang my hat and nothing terribly exciting to say about myself.
It's much easier to define yourself in relation to others. For years I was introduced as Bill's daughter and even now, when I run into friends of the family I extend my hand with "I'm Mary's granddaughter, so nice to see you". At dinner Saturday night I was Jack's wife, and at school I am Mary and Kate's mom, but on my own, it can get rather dull.
Or maybe who I am is, for now, the sum of all that I have been; an absent minded Chicago adoptee, lover of words and history and clean restrooms, prolific scribbler but completely inept at writing one thing about herself, mother of two, wife of one, daughter of many, who, in a pinch, could help you work out that estate plan you've been meaning to get finished.
Life was clearly easier to define when I had a bar to tend.