On a brisk autumn morning in 2009, I wriggled my way onto a standing-room-only subway car headed towards my office in downtown Manhattan. Wedged firmly between my fellow passengers, I squared up my feet and grabbed the pole in front of me in preparation for the 15-minute ride ahead. Suddenly, the woman who was seated in front of me jumped up and shoved her way out of the subway car, having almost missed her stop. I swiftly sat down in the empty seat just as the train lurched forward again.
Getting a seat during rush hour was rare, so I took advantage of both my hands being free to play with the new iPhone my fiance had gifted me a couple days prior — it was my very first smartphone. When I stumbled upon the Notes app, I found myself in awe of its bare naked simplicity and the fact that I could now “type” anything I wanted while I was on-the-go. Prior to this day, writing — for me at least — was big production that involved my laptop, Microsoft Word, and a bulky hard drive that housed all my work. As someone who had always loved writing, I found this app to be a groundbreaking convenience, and by the time I got to my office, my thumbs had feverishly penned an entire essay about my younger sister. Her recent birthday had inspired a litany of thoughts about how our relationship had changed (mostly for the better) now that we were both in our twenties. I got off the subway feeling accomplished, but little did I know, I would not create an introspective piece of writing like this for another ten years.
I would have thought that having a smartphone would have driven me to write more, like it did on the subway that first day. Ironically, it didn’t. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2009, 50% of Internet-using adults were using at least one social networking site. I didn’t know it at the time, but my increasing social media usage was going to turn into an addiction someday, and my brain was getting used to seeing thoughts expressed in 100 characters or less, as compared to reading an entire book. In my own social media posts, text frequently served as glorified captions for a photo, rather than being the focus of the post itself. The entries in my Notes app illustrate this phenomenon almost poetically — scrolling through my entries since 2009 is like watching a candle wick burn down slowly. Essays became a few short paragraphs, then a couple of fragmented sentences, and eventually, just bullet points.
But I can’t just blame it on social media. The main reason I stopped writing, was that life happened.
In the months that followed that first Notes entry, I began making preparations for my wedding. In the spring of 2010, my entries began to evolve. The one titled “Topics” listed 15 wedding-related items (invites, rehearsal dinner venue, bridesmaid dresses, toasts) that I wanted to discuss with various people. “Songs” was a list of 36 songs that we wanted the DJ to play.
There wouldn’t be another entry until the following year, when my husband and I began creating joint accounts and I needed a place to jot down the endless log-ins and passwords that I could never remember.
In 2012, there was an extensive packing list for a vacation to an unidentified place.
In 2013, my first child was born via c-section. There were no entries that year.
In 2014, an entry titled “How to make a very good beef stew” was copied directly from some website. Later that year, I made a list of potential names for our second child, who we were expecting in 2015. There were additional birth-related entries with notes on what to look for in a birth doula, my birth plan and a hospital packing list.
Over the next five years, my Notes app was peppered with lists — baby sleep logs, pumping/breastfeeding logs, shopping lists, packing lists, to-do lists… but what was noticeably missing were all the things that “pre-2009” me would have really wanted to know.
For example, how did I feel the day after I married the love of my life, a guy that I had known since I was in high school? Where exactly did we go in 2012 and, my goodness, why did we pack so much stuff? What was it like having my first baby via c-section and what was the impact of that experience on me, physically and mentally? What was going on in my head in 2013, when I went radio-silent during my first year of motherhood? Why was it so important to me that I do a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section) for my second child and that it be drug-free? Did I seriously get placenta pills made and did they really help postpartum? What’s it been like working full-time and raising two kids, who are now 6 and 4 years old, respectively?
These questions took a backseat to the very important task checking off of my never-ending to-do list. When would I have had time for that kind of frivolity when I was so busy getting married and traveling and having children and working full-time?
I wish I knew then that this type of thinking was faulty. Don’t get me wrong, the events that have transpired in the last ten years were some of the most significant in my life, and they certainly deserved to be prioritized. But what I had neglected to realize was that writing, and expressing myself creatively, could co-exist with the real-life responsibilities I had now as a wife and working mother.
In fact, writing about my experiences might have benefited me during some of the more difficult periods I went through. Studies have shown that writing can be therapeutic and can help people take a new perspective on stressful or negative experiences. Had I given myself permission to pursue a creative outlet where I could be open and honest with myself and share my thoughts on those busy, challenging years, my perspective on certain life events may have been different — in a good way.
On a brighter note, not all was lost. Luckily, while I was busy making lists and working on my identity as a wife and mother, the thoughts and experiences that would eventually give birth to this article were already forming in my head. They were just all jumbled up and trapped in there, like passengers on a crowded subway. At the time, each individual thought was not quite distinguishable from the next, and they stood silent and lonely like faceless passengers in a crowded subway train, traveling together back and forth every day across the busy city that was my brain. But sometime in this past year, one of them jumped up and realized it was time to finally get off that train.
I initially thought I had stopped writing because “life happened.” But it was really because I wasn’t aware that my personal expression and ability to create was, is, and always will be intricately linked to who I am, and I need to write, to create, in order to be a whole person. I used to think that creativity was something that people grew out of when they entered the “real world,” unless they were artists by profession or had the luxury of not having any bills to pay. But the ability to create is part of what makes us human — whether we consider ourselves “creative” people or not — and it is a beautiful way to interact with the world around us.
Today, I am 37 years old and am restarting my writing journey at a place indelicately described as “mid-life.” I’ve been asking myself questions like: What are my most important values and does my life reflect them? Do I have a life purpose or mission? If I were to catch up with a good friend another 10 years from now, what would I say about myself? If there were no limits, which of my dreams could become reality? How do I cultivate happiness in my daily life? How do I stay sane as a working mother in a culture of overwork? I look forward to beginning this journey of self re-discovery, supported by my smartphone and a renewed perspective on the role that writing plays in my life.