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As a writer, I put myself in an extremely vulnerable position every time I put words to paper. My identity influences every story I write: why I write, how I write, what I write. I sometimes get “stage fright” when I offer my writing up to be read, because sharing my words is kind of like sharing a part of myself with anyone interested in reading it. I worry about whether they’ll like what I say, whether they’ll like how I say it, whether they’ll think my words are even worth their time at all. Sometimes, I feel a ton of pressure to write the “right” thing for my audience… and sometimes I forget that everything I write does not need to be a draft of the next great American novel. Sometimes, I can just write to explore my writing and explore myself.

In my advanced fiction writing class, we are spending part of the semester building toward a “statement of aesthetics”– basically the answer to those pesky “Why do I write?” “How do I write?” “What do I write?” questions. My professor challenges us to think about our race, our gender, and our other societal identities to build a picture of how we’ve come to be who we are, and how it influences us as a writer. They’re pretty heavy questions for a woman who’s still figuring out who she is and who she wants to be, and it can be intimidating to be reminded how intimately your identity is tied to your writing. I am my writing, and my writing is me.

Today, I experience the incredible rite of passage that is turning 21. At midnight, my boyfriend took me out to the bar so I could get my first legal drink– I settled on a Czech-style lager that I did not like. I have never been much of a drinker or a partier… I’m a “glass of wine with dinner” kind of gal (with an occasional tequila or jello shot here and there). I have been excited about this birthday not because it gives me permission to go out and get wasted on the bar top, but because it gives me permission to enjoy a cocktail after hours or buy myself a bottle of Pinot Grigio if I want to spoil myself while watching Say Yes to the Dress. (Not that there’s anything wrong with getting wasted on the bar top. Who knows, anything could happen!)

I have been given much advice on how to spend my birthday the “right” way– get blackout drunk, make sure you have a massive hangover the next day, buy yourself one of every kind of shot there is. Just like when I write, I have sometimes fallen prey to the insatiable need to do what is “expected” of me… in this case, get blackout drunk, ensure a killer hangover, blow a load on the entire cocktail menu. Well, my name is Katlyn Lindstrom and none of those things really sound like how I want to spend my 21st birthday. Contrary to my anxious belief, there isn’t one right way to turn 21. My way was beer at midnight, nice dinner (with wine) with my family later, and then some bar hopping with one of my best friends. Don’t get me wrong, I plan to take advantage of my first legal night on the town, but I do hope to remember it all the next day.

Being yourself is scary, whether it’s choosing how to celebrate a milestone birthday or choosing what story to write next. Both have required me to recognize that yes, I am a skinny, middle-class, liberal arts major, white girl, but that doesn’t mean I am any less valuable than anyone else. It’s okay to choose something different than what I’m told I “should” do, and it’s okay to just write what I want to even if it doesn’t have five different subplots and an entire alternate universe. As I explore my identities and grow into my 21st year, I am learning that I’m a pretty cool person and there’s nothing wrong with owning it. My voice is my own, my words are my own, and my birthday festivities are my own. I have an incredible amount of Katlyn to share with the world, and it’s time to let her shine, unimpaired by worries of who she “should” be to let her be who she wants to be.

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