I have always liked the idea of birthdays. My own birthday is December 18, 1971, and my own personal concept of time revolving around that date intrigues me. Mention something that happened on July 22, 1970, and something else that happened on February 15, 1972, and I will consider them through very different lenses. After all, one event took place during my lifetime and the other before I actually existed.
As I aged, the meaning of even existing in the first place popped in and out of my mind from time to time. Now, don’t worry, I’m not about spill freshman college Descartes all over this blog. But, the term existence itself is kind of arbitrary. I read somewhere that we go through a 100% change in the cells that make up our bodies about every nine years. In other words, every single cell that added up to make me “me” in 2005 is now gone. However, even that is more literal than my main point.
How does who I was tie into who I am? Metaphysically, my change is constant. I grow with every experience, every human interaction, every thought. Within that framework, certain milestones (or “birthdays”) come to mind when I look back on my life. My mom died early Valentine’s Day morning in 1989. I’d say that was a “birthday” for me, a day I changed drastically. After her death, I experienced life from then on as an orphan. A few years later, I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. Another “birthday”. I was no longer the same person after meeting her. (My family often says for the better. She gets a lot of credit for saving my, at the time, directionless life.)
And even then, the single biggest moment I could point to where I perceived myself as one person at one moment and literally as someone entirely different in the next happened with the birth of my first daughter. Her actual birthday, November 17, 2000, serves as another “birthday” of my own. I have taught Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet before (I am a high school English teacher), and the more pragmatic kids in the class often complain when confronted with the play’s concept of love at first sight. Before I became a parent, I echoed their sentiments. How can anyone possibly love someone they don’t know. The answer to the question “how” may escape me, but I know it’s possible. I loved my daughter completely and unconditionally from the first second I saw the nurse present her to me. And it wasn’t just me changing in that moment, the universe changed too. Suddenly, the meaning of everything I thought I ever knew shifted to revolve around the eight-pound bundle left in my care.
While my oldest daughter’s birthday may serve as the most significant rebirth in my life, it is not the most recent. About a year-and-a-half ago, my friend Ian Cahill told me about his writing group. After spending years dabbling in writing myself (including the past eight working on a novel), I asked him if I could join the group. As it turned out, three of the members were alumni of the high school I teach at, and one of them was not only a former student of mine, but one of my all-time favorites. They agreed to interview me, and after an informal “meet-and-greet”, they allowed me to join.
That in itself could be seen as a minor “birthday” moment. Since joining the Wordwraiths, I have completed that eight-year novel, written a second novel, and written a short story or two. I have written more in the past year and a half than in the previous 43 combined. But writing more is not what changed me, not the “me” of me.
It was NaNo.
If you are not familiar, November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short, or NaNo for even shorter). The point is to write 50,000 original words in the calendar month. People who complete the task get to say they “won” NaNo as well as gain access to other goodies courtesy the NaNo website. Last year my entire writing group (all seven of us) “won” NaNo. So, why is this a “birthday” of sorts for me? Well, before “winning” NaNo, I used to call myself a writer, and I always corrected kids when they’d say, “I want to be a writer some day.”
“You’re already a writer,” I’d tell them. "You probably mean you want to get paid for it.“
Of course, they were a writer, I’d tell myself, they write. And the advice was comforting because that made me a writer too! But I was kind of lying. I didn’t REALLY consider myself a writer just because of my eight-year long journey to complete a novel. Writing was just something I did, sometimes, when my life presented an intersection between motivation and time. After completing the November challenge, however, my mindset changed. No one can complete NaNo and NOT consider themselves a writer! It’s kind of like a person getting to call themselves a runner after completing a marathon. The label comes with the accomplishment.
This year, I am going after National Novel Writing Month again. A new project. Another 50,000 words. And when it’s all said and done, maybe, just maybe, a new me.
Good luck to everyone! Chris and the Wordwraiths.