Who am I?

Who am I? As a writer for young adults, this is a core question in my work. My protagonists strive page after page for the answer. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that I keep asking the same thing of myself.

It’s a ginormous question. Even after several drafts, I still can’t put my finger on the solution for some characters. They don’t want to be plopped into a trope: “Nice to meet you. I am the brooding loner with a heart of gold.” But I also need to succinctly move them along a story arc towards greater understanding of themselves and their world.

I’ve been around for over three decades, and I am still asking, Who am I? After each life milestone, I thought I would have the answer. And then when I thought I finally had it, I got it wrong. I’m a nurse! I’m a scientist! I’m an activist! I’m a fiction writer? All these shifts got to be embarrassing. When people asked what I do at a party, I would give a respectably vague answer (aka a lie), “I’m a consultant.” After writing fiction for five years now, I give the courageous answer, “I am a writer.” But the question, Who am I?, still niggles me.

This is the third blog that I’ve started. I resisted writing directly about myself because I didn’t know how to pull all the pieces of me under one idea and what if the answer changes again. I kept waiting for a sense of stability. And in some ways dedicating half a decade to an endeavor is stability, but I still feel so full of possibility.

I am starting to understand why this question is so wiggly. Because people grow. I grow. Identity is something that evolves and evolves. Maybe that’s why so many adults enjoy YA. It’s a chance to revisit the question with vitality and optimism that gets wrung out of us over the years. The evolution of my identity isn’t a result of flippancy or indecision, as many damaging tropes of young women might suggest, but conscious reflection. Each identity, each blog that came before this informed these words. Instead of shame over an evolving identity, I am choosing to celebrate it as a sign of my growth.

But there is something deeply comforting about having a global understanding of who you are and what you stand for in the world. And then sharing that idea in few words. I imagine it’s like having a developmental itch scratched. So I made a list of my passions: writing, books, creativity, feminism, love, spirituality. But I couldn’t pick just one to blog about so I began searching for my unifying theme. A theme is an idea that a writer repeats in her literary work. I know how to write theme, so I could find the theme I’m living.

The answer is me. I am what all these concepts have in common. This is who I am. The word authenticity bubbled up. Authenticity, the degree to which one is true to one’s spirit or character despite external pressure. Or the quality of being who I am. Standing as me.

And again, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that this theme encapsulates my protagonist’s journey too (but it still surprised me). This journey of finding and being one’s true self is what I am focusing on right now. In writing, the way to rise above tropes and create an authentic character is to embrace all her flaws, her quirks, her fears, her desires (even the edgy ones, strike that, especially the edgy ones). So I will embrace all of myself here in my writing under the theme of authenticity.

I hope you enjoy it, but it’s okay if you don’t.

joanna phoenix writer
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