Passion is One Determined Bitch

This post is featured on http://www.nikkinigl.com as part of her #WordsByWomenWednesday blog series. 

My name is Becky Sarwate and I am a writer with an entrepreneurial, personal flair for the dramatic arts.

At two years of age, I stood on a theater seat and invented sing-a-long Xanadu long before crowd participation movie screening was a thing.

At age four, I produced my own version of the 95 Theses – a compelling treatise listing the reasons why I should no longer have to share a room with my slob of a little sister. While my case was ultimately dismissed, the panel of jurors, i.e. my parents did commend my creative and persistent effort.

At 14, I began documenting my life in diary, the analog blog if you will. In addition to chronicling my crushes, academic and social successes and failures, I also found a safe haven to tell the story of my family – an abusive, addictive, truth distorting narrative that required children to serve as brainwashed co-conspirators in their own deprivation. The journals where a safe space for keeping reality in play. I write almost daily in these private pages still, 23 years later. Dozens of books illustrating my inner life…and evolution from a large scrawling, exclamation point loving, scared little thing into a woman who’s taking her stories to the public.

This wasn’t how my life was supposed to go, according to society’s rules, and reinforced by the sociofamilial culture in which I was raised. I’ve already mentioned trouble at home – a bipolar, hoarding father and a soulless mother who literally and figuratively ashed four packs of cigarettes a day on top of the pile of neuroses that drove my immediate family to the fringes of society. Add nine years of repressive Protestant primary education, depression and the urgency to survive and get out of my home into the mix, and I set my career sights on a different path.

I needed money and stability. I was never having the IRS seize my bank account again, as they had in 1992 after my eighth grade graduation. My parents had stopped paying their taxes for 10 years and I was a minor. When I was 22 years old, my mother committed massive identity fraud against me and fled after I worked up the courage to file police reports. I found myself in bankruptcy court, $23,000 in debt at the ripe old age of 23, on my own finally and completely from that point forward. I couldn’t afford poetry, journalism and the luxury of my own creativity. That’s what I believed.

 

2014

2014

 

I spent 10 years after earning a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Illinois trying desperately not to tell my stories. I wanted to change the arc altogether. Through two failed marriages and a progressively soul crushing career in corporate operations (as the daughter of a hoarder, I turned out to be great at organizing and project management), I stopped listening my own voice altogether, let alone writing down anything it had to say. I wanted to be the perfect wife, the well-paid corporate ladder climber, everyone’s favorite party guest. I wanted, at long last just to fit in.

But here’s the problem – I didn’t fit in at all. And I knew it. That job made it hard to imagine getting up every morning with anything approaching inspiration. The same applied to the confining second marriage in which I placed myself, an entanglement I only realized after years of individual and group therapy was perfectly designed to duplicate the familiar dynamic I had with my parents. Dominate me, make me feel small. In silent martyrdom, at least I know who I am. I never had the chance growing up to figure out who I was if not nailed to the cross of some familial cause. I wasn’t sure I had the courage to try as an adult.

September 2015

SEPTEMBER 2015

 

BUT. But. But. That voice. The one I tried so hard to choke, that instinct that told me I was on all the wrong paths when I well knew what the right ones were. If only I’d channel that toddler Xanadu singalong star. That voice was always there. And it wasn’t always very quiet. In fact it was often so loud that I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t focus, couldn’t feel anything but that panicked animal escape instinct I felt as a kid. Weary of captivity, my gut instincts refused to go back into the cage in which I’d shut them. Very inconvenient at the time, but enlightenment doesn’t always arrive when we’re looking. I underwent a personal revolution brought about by a resurgent roar of the voice, and four different, but equally important influences:

ONE: A big push from my younger sister who was a constant, positive thorn in my side after I earned a Master’s in English Lit in 2007. She knew all about my secret dreams – and wouldn’t let me forget them (even if I could). This woman was in the trenches with me, every painful step of the way. No one knew my shortcomings, fears and hang-ups better. Yet she believed in me and lifted my passion as high up as she could to help me start to view it as something possible.

TWO: The death of my best friend from ovarian cancer in April of 2009. Jesika was a woman who always pushed me. I didn’t think we could fake ID our way into the Esquire movie theater in 1992 to catch the weekend premiere of the R-rated Whitney Houston classic, The Bodyguard. But she looked me in the eye and said, “You’re as mature as you think you are.” This was the second sister who sighed before asking me if she had to start trolling for homeless people. She wanted to be first to buy the issue when I proudly announced my first feature in StreetWise newspaper. Then she handed me a cosmo and told me to drink up. And this was the woman who died after a tragically brief 17-day battle with ovarian cancer at the age of 30. Before she got to practice law, her own career passion, or marry her longtime boyfriend Kevin, the love of her life. I owed it to this agitator, rebel and unfailing supporter to take advantage of the life I still had.

THREE: A painful divorce from my second husband, a man from a conservative Hindu family. Among many wrenching decisions, he asked me to choose between our union and my fledging authorial aspirations. I chose the latter. Sometimes I still can’t believe I did it. But I had to make that decision mean something. I had to prove those retreating taunts that I would fail, wrong – to myself and to him.

FOUR: The discovery of mentors, mostly female, who could shine some guiding light upon the new path I was walking. Such as Suzanne Hanney, the Editor in Chief of StreetWise, who gave a novice, 30-year old writer with no journalism degree, experience or bylines a shot at six cover stories in 2009. Just because she emailed and asked for a chance, and that email was well-written.

And you know what? It turned out that I could write freelance for publications and causes close to my heart – politics and media criticism for Contemptor, theater reviews for EDGE Media Networkmy own personal branded website and blog – without giving up that stability I once treasured above all else. I just had to stretch my mind a little bit. It was women who taught me this, offering different models of success that allowed them to have their own version of It ALL.

Real estate and personal finance expert Ilyce Glink hired me as a web content writer for her brand and small digital publishing company in 2011. She achieved the work/life balance by having her husband (an attorney) handle the legal stuff while she was the face and brains of the business. I have a great female mentor at my current day job. While I blog, write emails, web content and sales materials about the complicated and serious world of credit, anyone who comes across my work still finds my voice. I have a paycheck, health insurance and stability but I lean in my own way – writing about challenges and solutions I once desperately sought answers for myself – identity protection and credit health.

I do not have JK Rowling’s money, David Sedaris’ fame or even the journalistic reputation of Gail Collins. But in finally standing still long enough to listen to and heed the voices in my head, in finding a way to pursue my gifts in a way that satisfies all of my needs, I am following my passion.

What I have learned – at a painful and exhilarating cost – is that we almost always know what the answers are. We really do. But our upbringing, society’s presumed laws, individual experiences and deprivations, education and self-esteem – all of these forces interact to build soundproofing of various thickness between ourselves and our truth. After all, we wouldn’t get much done if we were always off chasing the whims of the id. But a little id goes a long way ladies. Don’t fear it.

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Friday the 13th (February 13, 2009)

Reading Jen’s post this week made me realize again how not ready I am for children. I have enough trouble getting myself (and my impish husband) out of bed in the morning, washed dressed and fed, without adding actual dependents into the mix. I think I have mentioned before that the Husband Unit is presently without a job, and has been for 6 weeks now. We are OK, far luckier than many people for certain, but hubby spends enough time agonizing over his failure to provide as it is without the additional stress of having little mouths to feed. Beyond the economic stressors of parenthood, there are random and sudden bouts of illness or infestation (such as Jen is coping with), the constant lack of sleep or time for oneself. I already have to remind myself on a near daily basis that I am 30, no longer 20 (see Atlanta posts from last week). But as I round the corner toward 31, in-laws foaming at the mouth for the next generation of Boops, I often find myself wondering if I will ever feel “ready” or at least capable. I tip my hat to Jen and all the other multi-tasking super parents out there.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, for some a Hallmark holiday, for others, perhaps the one time a year that they stop and to use a well-worn phrase, smell the roses. The next few days are packed with personal significance for me, so I thought I’d use the occasion to send a couple of blog Valentine’s to my loved ones.

    • To my sister, Jen, who turned 28 1/2 this week: I know you know this already, but it bears repeating. The day you were born was one of the happiest days of my life. Though I was only 2 years old myself, I can recall the day you came into this world with clarity. And that is because there has never been anyone happier to be a new big sister than I was. You may be a career woman, mother of two and all around capable force, but you have and always will be my baby.
    • To my best friend of 17 years, Gary, who is enduring a trying family crisis at this time: you are a rock of good sense and maturity, while still remaining a beacon of good times and belly laughs, the kind that make you feel like you might pee your pants. I don’t know what my life would be like without that.
    • To my husband, who turns 28 years old this coming Tuesday, coincidentally, the very same day we shared our first kiss and I knew I was really in for it. You alternately infuriate, shock, entertain and love me like I have never been loved. You are a maelstrom of chaos and contentment, all in one. I thought I was pretty complex until you and your rock star attitude turned my world on its ear. I have never looked back.
    • To my nieces, undoubtedly the two cutest and sweetest little ladies to ever grace this planet: KK, may you always be the character that has brought sunshine into all of our lives. “Aunt Bucky” felt connected to you from the moment you rained explosive diarrhea on her good jeans at the tender age of three days. Rosebud, thank you for reminding me that if a 20-month old can do 50 squats in a row without fatigue, a full grown woman ought to be able to do 10 pushups without tears. I never imagined a baby could motivate me to get to the gym, but there you go. A big shout out to their father as well, who has more than a small hand in affecting the good natured sweetness of these gals.
    • To all my girls, you know who you are: C, JTho, TWebb, the ghetto fabulous Yee, Di, Jane and the Roux sisters. Holla!
    • To my A.D., who is boy crazy and giggles like a school girl though she is well into her fifth decade. I am without a mother figure and have been some time. Thanks for reminding me to lighten up, and that you will always be there.
    • To Perez Hilton, Barack Obama, Entertainment Weekly, David Sedaris and CNN: I gave up a lot of my spare time and brain power to you folks in 2008, and it was well worth it.