It's funny... I took my son back to college this past week and it made me think of my own college experience. He is one of those students who has found a passion but doesn't know if he wants to make the passion (music) his career for fear of getting burned out. So he's trying different classes and seeing if there is something that he loves. My experience was somewhat similar, although I knew what my passion was but I also knew what I wanted my career to be- and they weren't the same.
From the time I can remember picking up a pencil, I was writing stories. Luckily I was also somewhat of a hoarder as a child (of everything- money, candy, drawings I did, souvenirs), so I still have many of my first writing attempts. I really began writing real short stories in 3-4th grade. I'd read a book and use the characters in a spin off of the book I just finished many times. I"d write the book, do the illustrations and then make a cover and probably force my sister to listen to me read it. I could occupy myself for hours with my writing. And if I wasn't writing, I was reading. Piles and piles of books that I would get from the huge, awe-inspiring library in downtown Erie. I"d reread my favorites over and over again- reading multiple books at the same time, which used to drive my non-booklover mother to distraction.
I then branched off into writing stories about a family of sisters I created -Rebecca, Allison, Grace and Eleanor- sisters who lived on a farm, which I recall was Whipporwill Farm. So many times the stories were written about how I wanted to live and since I was fascinated by the "old time days" and living in the country (we lived in typical 70's style in a suburban ranch house on a street of other very similar tract homes), my characters very often lived that way too.
When I think back on my childhood, books always stand out as my main passion.. whether I was reading them or writing them. Yes, I played house and school with my sister, I played outside and rode bikes with my friends on the block. But I never was a kid who had to be doing something with something.. I was just as happy doing things by myself and writing was the main thing that I did.
I continued writing short stories, poems, spin offs of other books, sequels to my own stories and then in 8th grade I decided to really work on a chapter book. I think back now and realize I was probably considered a little quirky by classmates and teachers (although I had no care about what the teacher thought of me since I never was a kid who buddied up to the teacher). If I had my choice of almost anything to do, I would go to the library and bring home books about life in the early 1900s- especially the history of the small town we moved to when I was in 6th grade- Girard, Pa. I read so much that I really could picture what it was like to live there at that time period and could write accurate details. So it was natural I"d set my story in my town and I used my family as my characters, altering their names slightly. I became Jeanette, my sister Rennae was Rue, etc. It was a chapter book about family life in th early 1900's. I wrote it for months in my room after school and doing my paper route, with my mother knocking on my door, 'What are you doing in there?", until finally I had almost 200 handwritten pages. I don't know if I ever titled it, but I was proud of it, and there were friends at school who borrowed it to read, although I was very trusting since I never made a copy of it. Somewhere in a box, I still have that story tucked away- my first "chapter book.".
So then in 9th grade I saw that the writer for the local news column in our weekly paper was quiting and they were looking for a new writer. I called the paper and asked if I could do it. At first they really didn't think a not quite 14 year old could write a column but they gave me the job and I continued writing about the births, deaths, birthdays, etc in our small town until I went away to college. It was also then I discovered that my passion had become work. And I didn't love doing it. It was a paycheck and no more. So I can understand Ben's concern about something you love becoming something you consider a drudgery.
Entering high school also brought with it the usual teen angst and insecurity. In Pa, there is a program called Governor's School for the Arts and the year I was a junior it was held at Bucknell University. It was a highly competitive 5 week school for arts (like Fame) with over 2000 students competing for 200 spots. I wanted to go.. badly.. for creative writing. I wrote a short fiction piece and then.. didn't turn it in. How could I be chosen from 2000 applicants? Finally at the final day, I took it to my guidance counselor and told him to mail it.
I made it.. after another round of interviews and writing samples. For 5 weeks I wrote and critiqued stories and poems, had readings in front of an entire school and even got fan mail. It was one of the best experiences of my life and one I am so glad I took a chance on.
Fast forward.. college, life and teaching took precedence over writing. I'd try but I was too busy to concentrate. Then I got into it again because I missed it so much and tried writing for children. Once again I immersed myself in my writing and began sending some short stories to children's magazines. And I got published.. by a very hard to get published magazine "Ladybug". It was one of my most exciting life moments.. to finally open up that magazine and see my story, with illustrations that totally did not match what my character looked like in my own head.. and then to have a mentor article after it written by Mr. Rogers himself!
And then I stopped again. And now that I am nearing a time when I think about what a 2nd career might look like, I am looking at what has been my passion throughout my whole life.. waxing and waning, but always there. It was funny.. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and a coworker, who isn't a close friend but who knows me, says, 'You should just be a writer," and the little light flickered in my head because my family tells me that, my husband tells me that, but to have someone else tell me that... makes me think. If you are born to do something that has been natural for you your entire life... shouldn't you do it? Shouldn't it come to the forefront instead of being pushed into the background by the tedium of every day life?
I think it should and I hope I remember that when someone says that I should just write and I say, "When do I have time to do that? " Make time for your passions.