Somewhere around the third grade, on Career Day, when all the other kids were standing up and saying they wanted to be either a policeman, or a fireman, or a ballerina, I decided I wanted to be all three. I didn’t want to limit myself to just one occupation. I wanted to be everything from an astronaut to a monkey trainer. That left me with only one career choice. I would be a writer.
My classmates looked at me as if I’d just announced I wanted to make a living euthanizing puppies at the pound. By now, I was used to being a little outside the pack. I’m not saying I was friendless, but I played alone a lot. Still, the other kids had learned I was good to have around when it came to imaginary role playing games. They knew who to come to when they needed a storyline for Roy Rogers or Tonto and the Lone Ranger.
My desire to make a living using only my imagination and my highly developed skill at hyperbole persisted throughout elementary school and into high school. My father was an itinerant college professor and we moved around a lot - throughout the Deep South, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma. I was always the new kid trying to fit in, the outsider looking in, the breeding ground of all neuroses, angst, and future artistic endeavor.
I attended public schools in the days before Ritalin was routinely prescribed for bright, imaginative students who had trouble paying attention. This was in the 1960’s and 1970’s when a public school education still meant something, back before Self-Esteem became the cornerstone of learning. When my high school English teacher, Charlie Chesmore, called me an ignoramus and a sloth for coming to his class without first reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he wasn’t too concerned about my delicate self-esteem. The result of this public humiliation was that I showed up the next day having read the play in its entirety. Go figure.
I went to college to learn, not necessarily to get a degree. I took creative writing and literature courses from enthusiastic professors who taught me to be a good reader, and, consequently, a better writer. Somewhere around my junior year I realized that if I spent any more time studying the great writers I’d be too paralyzed with insecurity to write anything myself.
I left school, married, had children, worked a series of meaningless day jobs, and wrote. I wrote essays and short stories, which were never published, and novels which, eventually, were. It hasn’t been easy. Still, when I think back to that third grade girl who stood up on Career Day and told the class she wanted to be a writer, I’m not sorry for the choices I’ve made. It seemed so simple then – just a matter of putting a few good stories down on paper and making them all fit together. Years of hard work, rejection, and perseverance later, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.