It was 2007 and I was a sophomore in college when Shauna first visited our campus to promote her inaugural book, Cold Tangerines. I had seen that deliciously orange hard cover in the hands of a few students scattered around campus prior to the event and had heard her name once or twice in reference to her collection of stories, but that’s about the extent of what I knew of her or her little appetite-inducing book.
I almost didn’t go that evening.
As a writer, reader and insatiable learner, I spend a good deal of time seeking out new books to add to my ever-growing shelf of “to be read” items. A solid book recommendation can go a long way with me, and I can’t quite imagine a better way to while away a slow afternoon than at Powells, book in one hand, a good Portland roast in the other as rain beats out a relaxing rhythm against the window pane before me. Fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t much matter; something ignites inside me when I crack the binding of a new book I’m really excited about for the first time. That said, I’ve become quite the aficionado when it comes to finding a really great read.
But then there are these moments, although exceedingly rare, when- much the way the wand chooses the wizard- a book chooses you.
I took a seat in the chapel that evening and listened as Shauna spoke, sharing little bits of her soul with us, meticulously and lovingly woven throughout the stories she had so bravely and graciously penned. I bought myself a copy of that shiny, tangerine-colored book, and made inconsequential chatter with her as she signed my copy: “To Cayla- warmly- Shauna Niequist”
I wish I would have known in that moment how much her words would, in time, find their way off the 2 dimensional sheets on which they’d been printed and into my heart in a surprisingly 3 dimensional kind of way. I would have ditched the small talk and hugged her the way I would hug a friend who has walked the dark and low valleys of life with me, because in truth, Shauna’s gift of storytelling would eventually affect the entire trajectory of my life. And even now as I continually return to her stories [currently compiled in three beautiful publications], they continue to shape me still, over and over and over again, reminding me who I am and liberating me from the self-imposed condemnation for all that I am not.
Throughout the years, all of Shauna’s books would manage to find me when I needed her words, honesty and bravery the very most, in the most desperate kind of way. In the winter of 2012, her book Bittersweet would find me in a particularly fragile state. I was sitting on the couch, curled up in a blanket before a dwindling fire as I read her chapter titled Twenty-Five through tear-filled eyes. I cried and cried as I read and re-read that chapter. And then… I took a really deep breath, pulled myself together as best I could manage, and marched my terrified little self into that fancy Portland high-rise and promptly quit my corporate job; the job I got the degree for; the job that promised lots of stability and status; the job that made me appear so very intelligent and together to those around me; the same job that had been sucking the very life out of me; the job that I loathed and dreaded but was too terrified to leave. But finally, I would, and it would be one of the very best decisions I would ever make for myself, and in no small way, I have Shauna to thank.
Why am I telling you this story? Often times, when I sit down to write, or even think about sitting down to write, I get really overwhelmed, because really, what is there left to say? There will always be someone else who has already thought it, written it and published it, and others who will have already heard it, read it, tweeted and re-tweeted it… you get the picture.
So what’s the point? Understand, if you can, that I am plagued by this question.
But then I remember Shauna’s books, her stories, and I’m reminded it hasn’t ever been about having something particularly new or revolutionary to say, but rather about managing to relate to and connect with another human soul at a particular point in time. Reading Shauna’s words, I’d already known what she was saying was true, but I needed, in those moments, to be reminded.
This is why I write. It’s why any of us do I suppose. These connection points, these “me too” moments, if you will, that make it all worth it.
If you’ve ever been a follower of my blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted new content in a long while. There are a number of reasons for this. In part, I took a deliberate step back to reevaluate, well… essentially everything. There was a part of me that began to panic at the thought of building a following of any kind. How might I be perceived? Would I be able to keep up? Was I really ready to seriously commit to writing? I kept talking about it, and the more I talked about it, the more I felt obligated to deliver in some sweeping, grand-gesture sort of way. I have a deep-rooted fear of being perceived by others as inconsistent in pretty much any capacity, but particularly as it relates to standards I hold myself to. And so the more I talked about writing, the more I started to freak out, wondering if I could really deliver; if I was really capable of tackling this dream that felt so big and frightening. So the very fact that you’re reading this post is largely significant. This is me coming out of hiding, out of my head, in a deliberate movement away from fear toward the first steps of faith; this me saying I am here to stay.
In more specific terms, I have officially begun the process of outlining and drafting my first book. Chances are that sounds far more terrifying to me than it does to you. But I’m saying it because I’m finally ready to put my money where my mouth is, that is, I’m finally ready to speak it, and then commit to the follow through.
With that said, you’ll be noticing some changes to my blog in the coming weeks as I’ll be working with a web designer to completely revamp it. I’ve done my homework and sought out a cafe in the city that is most conducive for writing and getting work done and I’ve carved out intentional time in my weekly schedule to hammer out content. I’m meeting with another writer friend of mine monthly to establish goals, check in on those goals and then continue setting new ones.
In addition to my blog and working on my book, I’ll also be working on pieces for one of my favorite blogs on the web, the Junia Project, as a regular contributor. I’m very excited about this opportunity and look forward to writing about and advocating for issues I care deeply about.
So I guess what I’m saying is this: I am a writer, as terrifying as that is to say out loud, and as such, I have a deep, unabashed and untempered love for words. And now, I want to be accountable to them. I’m going to need a tremendous amount of grace along the way, surely, but I’m choosing to believe that it will be a fruitful endeavor, because ultimately, I know that I will never be the truest, fullest version of myself if I do not step out in faith and do this thing that I am so deeply compelled by God to do.
Thank you in advance for your support and solidarity.
Grace & Peace