Becoming The Author of My Own Story


Erika Willaert

Writing has always come easier to me than speaking when it comes to expressing myself. Specifically, social media has been a networking opportunity for me to keep in touch with a multitude of people from my past and present, with whom I wish to share my future. Although a self-proclaimed technology dinosaur, digital communication has become my primary modus operandi, and using it to connect with the people and places from my past has helped me discover and acknowledge my true writing voice.

Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with a number of classmates and teachers from my alma mater. We were a small, 180 strong, public arts school in Willowdale, circa 1981, and I was in the first cohort. Posting, messaging and emailing with this group brings me back to hanging out in the cafeteria ringing with clever banter and one-upping each other. Our shared experiences of late night performances, early morning rehearsals, field trips to concerts, galleries and festivals, tightened our peer group to the brink of exclusivity with the privilege of a ferocious loyalty and nostalgia.

Recovering My Past Years and Finding My Writing Voice

I am having a similar phenomenon with my former summer camp staff. Counsellors I idolized as a camper were now my peers, with stories of family and careers in our interwoven narratives; shared memories of bonfires, overnights, canoe trips and swimming lessons link us across time and distance. With my son now attending the same camp as a leader-in-training, I am invited vicariously to relive my glory days of sunburns, campfire singalongs and learning what kind of person I wished to become. Liking and sharing our posts, and subsequently finding links that resonate with my childhood summers informs my personal narratives in my journals and commentary.

The last sector of my life I am recovering are my graduates, students I have had the privilege of teaching and learning from in my twenty-year career so far. Leading writing workshops was the
highlight of my day, and bearing witness to the evolution of a young writer is a humbling and excruciating journey through their rite of passage. They recall the words I shared of work I had written at their age, my moments of vulnerability and my presence to theirs, with a fondness that brings me to tears. I am overwhelmed by their appreciation for my vision of what it means to matter and to belong.

Embracing My Story

My username on Facebook is my childhood name. People who knew me before I got married identify me by this name. When my students find me, they recognize that my status has changed, yet they bravely address me with the joy and enthusiasm they brought to my classroom. I have not decided whether or not to change my name for further written publication, or whether I should create a pen name that is distinctive from my other two identities. My married name is someone I tried to be for a long time, and for awhile, I managed to convince myself I knew what I was doing. Looking back, through yearbooks and old photos, I am reminded of who I was and why I inadvertently chose to become something I was not; I am grateful to have caught myself in time, before it was too late to remember who I was.

I understand why people wear masks. We are afraid to be ourselves because we fear judgment, disapproval, rejection and abandonment. The acceptance of these three groups of individuals showed me I was enough. My recollection of being an awkward, wanting and desperate girl is simply a reflection of my fear of inadequacy. The reason I am so determined to please, to provide and to serve is because of some phantom insecurity, and my purpose is to make friends with that darkness inside of me. It is my writing that invites me to find my voice in that darkness.

Until we awaken to this truth, we remain characters trapped in a story arc of our own creation. We must choose to be the author of our stories.

Erika Loughran MacNeil is a dancer by training and teacher by trade, who works as the librarian at Rogers Public School in Newmarket and is the Youth Coordinator for the WCYR’s WriteNow. She is both a poet and flash fiction writer. Her poetry and short prose has appeared in online magazines such as Fiction Wars and CommuterLit, and in anthologies such as Word Play and The Human Condition. Her short memoir was published in 2000 with Raincoast Books in the anthology, Our Grandmothers, Ourselves, and her short story “Canoe Launch” won first place for Kink Library’s MOSAic Magazine in 2012.

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