Almost four years ago, around the time my kids moved out and my first two books were released, my life upended itself. I won’t go into detail about everything that happened (well, maybe I will in the memoir I’m writing), but so much of who I thought I was fell away. Some of it fell away whether I liked it or not. Some of it went because I chose to let it go.
One of the things that went the way of the dinosaur was my house. “Who the hell am I really?” I asked myself. “I mean without all the trappings and labels that come with a normal home and existence?” More rapidly than I would have liked, the universe set about answering my earnest question. A series of brutally serendipitous events pushed me to give up my permanent residence, and filled with terror, I started to travel full time, thinking I’d embrace the itinerant lifestyle for about a year.
I have since lived in the South of France for a bit, taught creative writing in Sicily, performed in Mexico, and done all of those things just about everywhere in the U.S. I’ve just accepted an offer to do a stint teaching for the Rosemont College MFA program in Morocco. (Yayyyy!!!) I’ve lost relationships that needed losing, repaired loves that needed repairing, and found a slew of new friends who are wise, generous, brilliant, and all kinds of bad ass. I’ve yet to give up traveling completely, but the trek I’ve been on has been beautiful, horrifying, and utterly guided. It has served to peel away my layers of bullshit and unearth a version of me that feels more authentic, powerful, and honest than anything I’ve ever allowed myself to be.
Before I gave up my house, I’d been following a rock band for almost 20 years, and I had all kinds of clothes I dubbed my “groupie clothes.” The time I spent following that band changed me forever. In fact, it ignited the genesis that made me into a woman who would dare sell books, throw away houses, wander the world alone.
But suddenly, I was a groupie-no-more. I was teaching writing at universities and conferences and reading my work in front of audiences. Believing, as most of us do, that the real me was completely inadequate, I decided the best thing to do was stuff my real self in a box and pretend to be “professional.” (I know. This behavior was diametrically opposed to the question that made me set out on my quest in the first place. I never claimed to be a logical being.) I put all my groupie clothes in storage, bought a bunch of grown up stuff, and set about trying to be Margaret Atwood. (I’m just gonna go ahead and say I look really weird in khaki pants.)
And then, as the travel started working its magic of revealing my truest soul, and I simultaneously became more and more comfortable in front of audiences, I realized my classes and events were way better when I was just me—good ol’ earnest, probably gonna trip and fall, definitely gonna cry at least once and drop the f-bomb twice, more likely to reference Springsteen than Bukowski, can we talk about how love will save the world Tawni. When I let that girl out of the box, I was shocked to find how enthusiastically people embraced her. Who knew?
A few weeks before I came to Philadelphia to teach at the Rosemont College MFA retreat, I took my groupie clothes out of storage. As I packed for the trip, I threw some of the clothes in my suitcase, thinking I might where them to social events–say maybe to drink at pubs with other writers. Today, as I was dressing to conduct a series of manuscript consultations, a favorite shirt fell out of my bag. (I first wore this shirt to a CD release party in 2004, after which I followed the band everywhere they went on tour. It was a huge part of my artistic/spiritual genesis. I wrote much of Beauty of the Broken on that tour.) As I stared at that ball of flimsy blue fabric lying on the floor, memories of my groupie years–some of the headiest years of my life–washed over me. In an admittedly characteristic act of impetuousness, I decided to bring groupie Tawni out to play with writer Tawni. I paired my rock-n-roll shirt with a semi-grown-up black skirt (as opposed to the thigh high boots I paired it with way back when). I was kinda worried it would make people think I was trashy, but I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten more compliments on an outfit. And for the first time since I sold my books—maybe for the first time ever–I felt like I was wholly me.
Today, rock-n-roll Tawni and writer Tawni merged. I kinda think this outfit is a metaphorical answer to the question I asked four years ago.
This is who the hell I really am (for now).