When you’re young, people often ask you what you want to be when you grow up, as if growing up has some mystical power of transformation that allows a wish to become a vocation or career.

When I was young, I would often answer that I wanted to be a doctor, so I could cure Multiple Sclerosis. My mom has MS, and she still sometimes asks me whatever happened to that dream, why hadn’t I become a doctor and cured her yet? She was so proud of that dream. It was high school when I stopped wanting it and started trying to wean her off of the idea: “I don’t know what I’m going to go to college for Mom, maybe I won’t be a doctor.” Her selective memory never held onto those hints.

I have always loved to read, which engendered in me a love for writing. After being thoroughly discouraged when my poem was rejected from the high school literary magazine freshman year, I reclaimed some confidence when I managed to place several pieces in my junior year – enough that they instituted a rule limiting students to one or two accepted entries per issue, instead of the previous strictly anonymous, most-votes-gets-in rule. I had a poem published in the school newspaper and another in an anthology of young poets.

But that wasn’t really getting published – it wasn’t for pay; it wasn’t professional. I do still have a copy though, and copies of my high school literary magazines, and even the student newspaper. That was actually the most hilarious one to me – the previous year I had one of my poems rejected from the literary magazine because I included mention of a hand touching a thigh. In the work, it was completely about friendship and comfort, but the administration decided that it was too sexual and had it cut. The newspaper then published a poem of mine that had clear lesbian tendencies and was pretty much about orgasm. Must have been different oversight committees.

And so I began, in high school, to toss around the idea of being a writer. I took creative writing courses and wrote a short novel for one of them. I thought I could write. But I knew I wasn’t a writer. I never even tried submitting anything for pay, in part out of a lack of confidence, and in part because I was intimidated by the idea of actually printing and posting the damn things. To me, it would take an arrogance that I did not possess to pay even such a small amount for the privilege of being rejected.

But I journaled constantly, obsessively, filling large lineless sketchbooks with scribbles of varying size and legibility among single line abstract doodles and stickers. In my junior year, my English teacher introduced me to the idea of a sketch journal and, although I do not pretend to true artistic inclinations, I filled an entire sketchbook with writing and art, and started another one that I continued to share with her even when I was no longer in her class.

I wrote about my feelings, my thoughts, my stories and teenage poetry. I drew my mind in words and pictures, and drew my experiences through symbols and longing.

I kept journaling in college, but not throughout. There was a stopping point that I reached as I began to feel more alienated from my chosen academic life. I was not loud; I lacked the arrogance to put forth my unusual point of view.

I feared.

Calling yourself a writer opens you up for criticism, from the down-the-nose glances of those that insist that whatever you are, it isn’t a “real” writer, to the simple reality that art, being public, will be criticized. Calling yourself a writer can mean whatever you want it to mean, and it seems to mean something different to everyone. Calling yourself a writer is only slightly more concrete than calling yourself a dreamer.

“Come to the edge,” he said.
They said, “We are afraid.”
Come to the edge,” he said.
They came.
He pushed them…and they flew.”

― Guillaume Apollinaire

I’ve only dreamed of flying once that I remember. In the dream, I was in the train station formerly known as Northwestern Station in downtown Chicago, and I was on the run from the law. The station thronged with rush hour crowds and I shoved people out of the way even as I knew I was about to be caught. I fetched up against a railing overlooking a bank of escalators when it struck me that this was a dream.

“And if this is a dream, then I can fly,” I said to myself.

I swung into the air, with a motion like Christopher Walken’s in Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” music video.

And I flew, high to the glass windows near the ceiling by the entrance to the track, diving and swirling and reveling in my new-found freedom.

Then my mind played a trick on me, and I dreamed that I woke up. I stole from myself the power of flight, and I’ve not gotten it back since, not given it back.

I’ve allowed myself to stress out over schoolwork that is not truly difficult for me, almost as if I were seeking obstacles to overcome in order to bring more seriousness to my work. I’ve taken away from myself the enjoyment of the process of learning and improving myself and my work.

And for what?

A 4.0, an antacid addiction and a painfully knotted shoulder?

No, thanks.

It’s time to fly.

I’m a writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *