A few weeks ago my daughter’s middle school was holding a career day, a day in which each child was to find a person to shadow in a career of their choosing. When I asked my daughter what she most wanted to be in the world, she said a software engineer. I was amazed that she had such insight at a young age and that she had chosen something that so fully incorporated much of her personality, her strengths and her passions. But then something unexpected happened. My daughter asked me what I would be if I could be anything in the world and without pause I said I’d be a writer. There were several things about this conversation that struck me. First, the fact that my daughter asked me the question meant that she knew that I wasn’t doing the thing that I most wanted to do in the world. Second, I had just told my daughter that she should follow her heart and pursue whatever she had a passion for, yet clearly I had not done that myself. I felt immense grief that I'd never even tried to live my dream of being a writer.
I spent many years telling myself it wasn’t practical or reasonable for me to be a writer, despite knowing in my heart at a young age that it was the one thing I felt the most passion for. I wrote countless stories as a child, illustrated them myself and even learned to sew my own book covers. I revered writing and writers; I still do. I spent a lot of time reading interviews with writers and studying the craft of writing. I majored in creative writing in college and even as I did so, I was already planning an alternate life, one that didn’t include writing because I believed I couldn’t pursue it as a career or even as a passion. To do so would be impractical and wouldn’t lead to any version of success that our culture prescribed, so I pushed down this passion I had to write and resolved to live a life that was dream adjacent, not my true dream that embraced my personality, my strengths and my passion, but one that let me dabble near the margins of my dream.
Near the end of college, I started working in publishing. If I couldn’t be a writer, I would try to be near writers. I had a great internship at a small literary publisher and wrote biographies for authors and even meet some of them. It never dawned on me that these writers were following their dreams while I toiled in support of them, rather than living my own dream. By this time I had already dashed my writing dream and cast it aside as something that shouldn’t see the light of day. Once I left the publishing world, I decided to become a librarian, a steward of the books that other writers created. I felt such great passion for the written word that I did whatever I could to be around books and the people who wrote them, never considering myself to be part of that hallowed group of creators of stories and purveyors of written thoughts.
As the years wore on, I often had nagging feelings that I should be writing. There were times when I did write that I felt myself come alive in ways that I hadn't since I was a young girl writing mysteries from my bedroom floor. Still I pushed down this desire thinking it a waste of my time. If I wasn’t going to make money from it, I believed, it wasn’t worth my time. This is cultural expectation speaking and I let it talk over my inner voice. I wonder how many artists our culture has squashed for the expectation that we partake only in money making endeavors?
I often think of being a parent as having your child standing in front of you with a giant mirror reflecting yourself back to you. I didn’t like what the mirror was reflecting back to me when my daughter asked me what I'd most like to do in the world. I saw a person who had so easily and quickly abandoned her dream to be a writer because she didn’t think it a valuable way to spend her time, that it would never lead to an income, or that it wasn’t a passion worth pursuing. I’m now dismantling those false stories I told myself and once again am embracing my dream of being a writer. I’ve come a long way. I now call myself a writer and I’ve given up the notion that I need to be seen by others as a writer to call myself one. In my heart, I know that I am a writer and that’s all that matters.