I have always envied those people who have always known ‘what they wanted to be when they grew up’. My son knew when he was just 16. I witnessed the exact moment as I watched him starring in a play, in the spotlight on centre stage, real tears coursing down his anguished face as he faced the audience and held everyone spellbound. Ten years later, while he now leans toward creation, coordination and artistic direction, theatre is his passion and will be his lifelong focus. No doubts, No questions, No ‘what ifs’. He is going for it, in a milieu in which it is infamously difficult to navigate or earn a living.
So many of us just drift our entire lives: through high school, then university or a trade, then the job market; never quite pinning down what we want to ‘do’. So many of us figure it out as we go along. So many of us know what we don’t want but we can’t quite put a finger on what we do want. I was one of those. I went into the field of education right out of high school, not because it was a calling, but because all my friends wanted to become teachers.
If I could go back with all I know about myself today, I would gently steer my younger self into some field involving writing. As it is, that is more or less what I ended up doing in any case: even if it felt very much like I was adrift for the duration of my working life. My career path almost always involved project development, grant writing, strategic plans and action plans. And I always loved that part of my job.
And then I got a promotion that didn’t involve writing and had a spectacular burnout. And retired early. And sat in a chair in my living room, filling one adult colouring book after another for well over a year as I tried to recharge my failed adrenal glands. I clearly recall thinking that it was a shame that I never had figured out ‘what I wanted to do when I grew up’ and here I was; my working life ‘over’. I wasn’t ashamed. I wasn’t devastated. I was just… disappointed.
Perhaps a year and a half ago, I went out for lunch with my very wise son who creates things; who inspires creativity in others; for a living.
“How did this happen?” I asked him, “56 years old and I’m ‘done’? I was supposed to be a writer! I was supposed to write something! How is it that I never managed to figure out what that ‘something’ was?”
I talked to him for a long time about ‘the book’ I thought I might have ‘in’ me. I told him of all of my failed attempts at that book, sitting in a number of disorganised files in my computer. I told him how I always seemed to be able to start ‘the book’ well and then never knew where to take it after I got it underway. I told him I felt I am old enough, now, to have a bit of wisdom to share; things I’ve learned; stories to tell. Perhaps not earth-shattering or terribly original stories, but my stories: stories I wanted someone to hear before my time on this earth is up. I told him how I just couldn’t figure out how to bring all my stories together; that I didn’t know where to start.
We were sitting in a little restaurant in Québec City, our plates long emptied and pushed to one side, forgotten. As I poured my heart out, he leaned forward, not saying a word, intense and engaged. At one point, I finally had to stop talking simply to fill my lungs with more air.
“Maybe you’re too focussed on the form and not enough on the content, Mom.” he told me during the lull. “Have you ever tried just writing, period? You’re all focussed on what the end result will look like. Don’t even think about the form. Just write. And write. And write some more. If you write enough, and if you’re any good, eventually, the form will define itself.”
And so, just about a year ago exactly, I started a blog. I have published 100 posts since that time; written perhaps 200,000 words – some published; some still waiting to define themselves. Like the REM song, some days I fear I haven’t said enough and many days I feel like I have said too much.
But the words keep coming, like a flood.
I recently met someone at a big social gathering. We hadn’t been speaking for very long when she asked me ‘what I ‘do’’. I have had such a lot of practice with that question; most of us have. But for once, I didn’t say “I am recently retired.” And I didn’t tell her “I used to work in the field of education.” I didn’t even say “I started a blog recently and I am trying to write…something…”.
I just smiled and told her, “I’m a writer.”
For my son E_: Thanks honey… I figured out what to do with that train story after all… : )
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com