Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dream: The writing life

Last month we went to our first parent-teacher conference of the year for Big E.  Her teacher raved about her writing --the plot development, the creativity, the voice. I nodded, smiling politely, then asked what kind of math practice we should be doing with her.

Please know, I'm truly proud of her writing.  I found the pirate adventure story that her teacher showed us riveting, and I don't think I'm overstating when I call her "Pinky Lou Pickens" series, penned in bed at night, a genius combination of  "Amelia Bedelia" and Junie B. Jones.  But she told me that math is her favorite and far be it from me to fail to support her interests --especially in what I imagine to be a potentially lucrative field.

And there's also this: I was once a little girl who wrote stories, whose teachers praised her mightily.  I'm not too humble to tell you that when I was around Big E's age I won my family a Carvel ice cream cake and half-a-dozen flying saucers when my story about a very special elf placed second in the local paper's Christmas writing contest.  In junior high I was honored for my submissions in gradewide essay contests in both seventh and eighth grade (about my undying love of The Constitution and a quick and simple solution to homelessness, respectively).  In high school, my otherwise thoroughly unimpressed senior year English teacher was so pleased with my college essay that she kept a copy to share with future classes.  All of this, plus praise from college and graduate school professors, and yet my resume is curiously light on professional writing experience.   

Yesterday, I had a post about my secret stint in fast food syndictated on Blogher.com.  It will pay just about what I used to take home for a weekend at McDonald's and was such a major coup in my non-existent writing career that my husband brought home flowers.  Prior to that, the closest I'd come to being a published author was writing ancillary materials for a textbook company. And while I am heartened to imagine the great service I've done the overworked, underprepared English teacher who will rely on my animated Powerpoint plot summary of Romeo and Juliet to kill some class time, it doesn't meaure up to the literary greatness that I think my elementary school teachers would have predicted.

There are a lot of really good writers in this world.  At least once a day I read something --a thoughtful magazine article, a moving essay by one of my students, a witty blog post-- that sets me in awe of another's talents.  This proliferation of gifted wordsmiths, along with the fact that literary success is not always tied to abilities --anyone pick up Snooki's latest chef d'oeuvre?--  makes me hope, proud as I am to hear her teacher gush, that Big E can find fulfillment in an area that promises a clearer path.

Growing up, I was always horrified by parents who hoped to dictate the course of their children's career path, especially if they were so hypocritical as to put their own job choice off-limits.  I swore I would never be that kind of mother, and so I won't.  But it is easy to see the question of what my girls should be when they grow up through the eyes of, well, a grown-up and to allow pragmatism to get in the way of supportive parenting. Following your dreams may be rewarding but so is staying out of debt and accruing a healthy savings (I would imagine).  Despite that, I know that a big part of my job is to nurture my children's talents and support them in whatever it is they choose to accomplish, and if either of them should choose the writing life, I'll be there to sharpen their pencils, proofread their manuscripts, and bring a fresh box of Sharpies to their signings.

Still, as long as she's liking math, maybe I should pick up an abacus or something to show my support, because I'd be just as happy changing calculator batteries and polishing Fields Medals.

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