I have spent this morning and last evening with my face squished against my keyboard trying to imprint a message on my forehead with the keys. If the keys could just assemble the letters together in some way that would make sense and give inspiration. Please, one meaningful word, anything. Give me an idea and I promise to write about it.
Since I was a little kid I have always wanted to be a writer. It hasn’t been about making headlines or inspiring anybody – I just like words. I guess in the same way a child obsessed with Lego might one day want to be a builder, architect or engineer, I have always liked to assemble and reassemble words to see what I can come up with. Even now as an adult I love to build up my forts with words. Language is so tactile and active, I often idle away great blocks of time while twisting through different sentences in my head.
My primary school reports identify me as having reading and writing skills far beyond my years, but a very stubborn streak coupled with a strong desire to not participate in group discussion. “Needs to develop social skills”, one writes, “Will not step out of her comfort zone without encouragement”, euphamizes another.
I find it spooky that a lot of their assessments of me at such a young age could quite easily be used to define my personality now. Don’t get me wrong, I do like people, and I have developed people skills, but I am just not really a ‘people person’. Not off the page anyway.
This is one of the many reasons why I have found my recent hospitality stint to be such an unpleasant experience. Being around strangers makes me feel awkward, insecure and slightly anxious. They have expectations and of me and what will happen should I not live up to them?
The problem of course is that when you are a child everyone is so eager to ask you: What do you want to be when you grow up? You can answer with anything: tiger-tamer, cloud sculptor… their reply is almost always one of encouragement. You can be anything you want to be. Dare to dream. Be brave enough to imagine. We believe in you.
When I reflect on it now, that seems to be an incredibly stupid notion. It creates the expectation in us as children that we can just pick a future role in life and when adulthood arrives we will be the best person possible for that vocation. We are told as children that no dream is too impossible, that no feat is too unachievable, and that no aspiration is too improbable. I don’t have a problem with this: we are children and though the age of enlightenment seems to be getting younger and younger, our ability to believe anything is reflected in our relationships with Father Christmas, the Tooth Mouse, and a strong belief in magic.
At age six saying you want to be a ballerina is cute, people encourage it, “That is so precious!”. Twelve years on you are eighteen and finishing school, and if you give the same answer you are generally told to “Wise up, buckle down and be realistic”. The question has changed from “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “What are you planning on doing now?”. The inference is that you are now ‘grown up’ - you no longer believe in magic, a jolly present distributing fat man, or a mouse that will trade money for teeth – naturally you should have also stopped believing in yourself to such an extraordinary degree.
Something about becoming a grown up seems to strip from us permission for wild ambition. Be sensible. Be smart. I have tried both of these things but none of it makes me engaged. Perhaps it’s a silly first-world-problem to have but without feeling at all fulfilled or interested in the day to day moments in your own life: what is left?
I think there is a combination of things we all need to cultivate us into the people we were born to be. They aren’t necessarily the same combination every time but it lies somewhere between humanity, imagination, perseverance, realism, idealism, confidence, aspiration, and hope. They sound like silly big ideas when I list them that way but the logic is solid – all great recipes require specific ingredients.
From my view the best writers are those who pursue great experience or great imagination. Often one or the other, sometimes both, rarely neither. I want to be more brave and less careful. More daring. To leap first and look later.
I want to live a life that makes not writing about it seem a totally empty notion.
Oh, and I still have no idea what I wan’t to be when I grow up. I’ll let you know when I get there.