I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.
I sat once in a college counselling office. My mind was swirling with all the thoughts and concerns that had brought me there.
Focus, I kept telling myself, focus.
The vortex of fear and negativity was sucking me in, so I decided to take stock of my surroundings. A small bookshelf was behind me. Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz caught my eye there. Yes, it was a good choice for college students who were trying to find their way.
To my right was a window that looked over the quad. Autumn in upstate New York is my favorite time of year. The blaze of color in the trees, the swirl of leaves all around, the crispness to the air all work to create a beauty like no other. The ivied stone buildings that formed perimeter of the quad added to the effect. The pink-cheeked college students laden with books, laughter, and friendship, almost made me miss my own college days. Almost.
The little round table in front of me held a neat little fan of Relevant magazines. I closed my eyes at the sight of them. They reminded me of the child of mine that had brought me there. That child also liked Relevant and the discussions inspired by its articles.
With eyes closed, I heard the music that had been playing in the background the whole time. Les Mis. “Who am I?” sang Jean Valjean. I smile to myself at that. Isn’t that the biggest part of college? Figuring out who you are? Answering existential questions about self and life. And was that a part of why I was there in that office? My child, heart of my heart, was questioning their own existence, unable to answer the question of who and why, and attempting a desperate escape.
Life can be so hard. The weeks and months and years that followed were a dark, dark haze. I had begun writing a blog a few years before to deal with a different difficult situation in my life, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, but I couldn’t write about this new dark place. No, I couldn’t whisper a word to anyone.
A third terrible blow came when someone from thirty years in my past came to accuse and attack me. With a bold black spray-can, they wrote ugly words across my heart. Calling my phone, coming to my town, saying the most awful things; I never defended myself to them. In my heart, I knew the accusations to be true of a former me, but not tired mother that was standing before them. I prayed that, as they let their venom out, it would help with their own healing.
I stopped blogging. I took down everything I had written. I closed myself up, like a turtle withdrawing into a shell.
A few months later, I was at conference called Hutchmoot. A woman at the conference – a warm, bright, beautiful, creative woman – grabbed me by the arm the first day. “I want to talk with you,” she said. “Let’s have lunch some day.”
I wondered at this. A lot. Rebecca Reynolds is, in my opinion, one of the stars of Hutchmoot. She’s a pastor’s wife, but she is wildly creative and funny. Her heart is the size of Tennessee. She barely knew me. What on earth could she possibly want with me?
The next day, at lunch, I dutifully went to lunch with Rebecca Reynolds. Before I had the first bite in my mouth, she said, “I think it’s terrible what those people did to you. You have to write.”
I tried to explain why I couldn’t, how I felt like writing had brought this evil to me, why I wanted, above all else to protect my family. I couldn’t write, I told her.
“Get a pen name,” she said. “When you’re a writer, you have to write. It’s not really a choice.”
She was so right. I knew that writing would help me sort through the rubbish that had been thrown into my life. I knew it would help. I still couldn’t do it.
For the next few months, I wrestled with different writing platforms. Using my name, but an obscure site. Using a pen name, on a less obscure site. Finally, I tried this blog, “Conversations,” with the simple goal of writing down some of the conversations I hear or in which I participate every day. I just wanted to write again.
Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
There is a part of me that feels so dishonest in not telling you, my dear faithful readers, that Sarah Langdon is only a pen name. I do have eight children, but they are not named alphabetically. I have a loving husband, but his name isn’t Bobby.
Will you still like me knowing that? Will you still read the things I write, all of which are true in so many ways, just not the names? My sincerity is real; my name, however, is not.
How do you feel about pen names?