Environmental Scientist. Writer. Mother.

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On Hiding

I am a self-conscious person. I am one of those people who hides behind her hair, because I have always been uncomfortable with people looking directly at my face.

I don’t know why I am like this, or how this came to be. I imagine there was a time when I felt confident, when I could simply be, rather than perform, relative to him, relative to her. But I’ve lost touch with when that was. Something happened — puberty perhaps? Childhood? Adulthood? Something made me painfully self-aware, so paralyzed by the perception of others that getting dressed, leaving the house, opening my mouth suddenly became a difficult chore.

As a young woman, I learned to wear fitted clothes, hide behind a large mass of curls, and sing the choral refrain, figuring that I was sharing the best of me, the pieces of me that people actually wanted to see: the positively focused, the aesthetically pleasing, the non-confrontational.

Except that wasn’t really the truth. And I believe in telling the truth.

It’s difficult for self-conscious people to commit themselves to something like writing creative nonfiction. Truth-telling is the core of the mission, and a fully examined self is almost always part of the game. It’s tempting to edit around the details, forget entire chapters to maintain one’s hiding place behind a thick curtain of hair.

Confession: I have a piece of writing that I’m currently hiding from. It is out there in the world, but I haven’t the courage to post it on my social media accounts. It’s an honest piece of me — not the environmental scientist-writer-mother me, but the stay-at-home-mother me who sometimes struggles with being a wife and mom because of how it was modeled for me.

This is considerably less comfortable to share than the identity for whom I have purchased professional business cards.

If the piece had been an environmental essay, as I’m otherwise accustomed to write, I would have gladly shared it far and wide, maybe even feeling a little righteous about doing the “good work” of environmental advocacy, of flexing my scientific muscles and applying knowledge obtained during the pursuit of my graduate degrees. I would have felt good when I received the editor’s e-mail that the piece was now live. I wouldn’t have woken up in the middle of the night, heart pounding in my chest.

But this is not such a piece. It is, simply, a glimpse of me with my hair pulled back and my flawed self showing. A glimpse of the things that used to keep me awake at night.

In graduate school, when I was working toward my MFA, a friend of mine who is also a creative nonfiction writer said, “I don’t think CNF writers get enough credit for the work that goes into their writing.” By which she meant the work before the work, the courage it takes to go there and wrestle that, the courage it takes to face the consequences of everything in between.

Last night I started reading Roxane Gay’s Hunger, and nearly a hundred pages had gone by before I could even put it down. The entire time, I thought: Holy shit, she’s brave. This is so fucking raw. But I could imagine people, people I know and love nodding along, feeling less alone in the world because of what she has decided to share.

I wish I had that confidence. I wish didn’t feel so compelled to hide from some of the writing that wants to come out.

But I do. I’m just so used to hiding my face.

It’s out there, though.  I was at least able to do that.


And maybe if  I




I can squeeze my eyes shut and let you look here and see me.


Just this once.










About Mary Heather

I am an East-coaster and a West-coaster. I am an academic and a creative spirit. I am an environmental scientist who always wanted to write, and a writer with a nagging nostalgia for the complexities of environmental science. Above all, I am a mother — so whether I’m writing about the natural world, family, or place, I like to consider my work as environmental advocacy in the broadest sense.



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