Friday, April 9, 2010

Why not a writer?

I was chatting with another writer this week about what we wanted to be when we were in high school. Turns out both of us wanted to be actors.

I didn't pursue it because the university programs I looked at required a singing audition. (Those of you who know me can pick yourselves up off of the floor now. I know I can't sing. Well, my son thinks I can, but he's only 3.)

My fellow scribe, on the other hand, didn't pursue acting because her parents wouldn't accept it and likely wouldn't have paid the bill for a fine arts degree. She did get a degree in another area that lead to writing, but she still feels like she disappointed her parents. I just don't get it.

Here's why. I ended up getting my first BA in Law. I flitted between Mass Communications and Law but ended up in Law because a) I was fascinated by it, b) second-year stats in Mass Comm nearly killed me and I just couldn't fathom doing it in my third year and c) one of the mandatory third-year Mass Comm courses was full and I would have had to take it in fourth year, dragging my degree into five years. No thanks. Law it was.

I toyed with the whole law school idea and even wrote the L-SAT once. I barely passed it and didn't get into any of the law schools I applied for. I worked a year of full-time retail knowing it would force me to make a decision one way or the other. I liked Mass Comm because I got to study the media. And I always enjoyed story-telling. Journalism it was. I somehow managed to get into the two-year program at Ryerson University. And then I managed to get work in the field when I graduated. I'm still plugging away, now as a technical writer.

My point is, there was never any point at which my parents told me or even hinted to me that I was a disappointment. Now, some of that may be because my dad was a reporter for many years. But I think most of it was because they had experienced moments where they were told they had to do something because it was expected of them.

My dad came from a poor family so the school system of the day tried to force him into hands-on courses like shop. I guess the reasoning then was that without money, you couldn't afford to continue your education at a university, so needed a trade. Or it could have been as mean-spirited and unfounded as if you didn't have money, you simply weren't suited for the more "academic" courses. (I know some brilliant mechanics, including my father-in-law, so I don't subscribe to this sort of outdated thinking). If you met my dad you would know how ridiculous this is. My sister told him how to put the gas barbecue together when she was 9. Handy he's not.

My mom, even though she came of age in the late 60s, grew up in a conservative, rural area. She was accepted by every university she applied to. But she decided to get married and have kids. You simply didn't do both where she was from.

So I guess my parents figured they wouldn't inflict their own expectations on us when it came to the professions my sister and I chose (she has a fine arts degree and worked for many years as a photographer). They never made me feel like they needed a lawyer in the family. They made me get my pictures taken for both graduations so they could send them to the extended family. My dad's media friends knew who I was by the time I graduated because he wouldn't shut up about me and how bloody proud he was.

I'll just never get people who can't encourage their children's dreams and goals. I'd like to thank my parents for being cool enough to let me figure it out on my own. I plan to do the same for my kid. And now I've said it on the internets, so you guys can keep me honest.

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