There was once a time when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would respond with “a writer.” Depending on who asked, it would be an answer given timidly or one wrapped in self-assurance but it was always just that- a writer. I loved the finality of the word, the vagueness of it, and the underlying angst it carried in its two syllables. A writer. So simple and yet anyone who has tried their hand at writing, knows it comes with many challenges.
I recently bought a desk to encourage myself to write more, facing it towards the window to inspire myself with the sight of the laundry building behind the apartment. Instead it has become my go to place for slurping bowls of ramen wondering why my neighbor doesn’t just buy a laundry bag instead of carrying armfuls of clothes back and forth.
Then I had an experience visiting Juntura hot springs in Eastern Oregon with a friend. It was late at night, we had finished soaking and were preparing our sleeping bags to lay out under the stars, both grateful for the lack of wind in the cool air.
Once we were settled, my friend turned to me and posed the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
As if we weren’t tax paying grown ups but instead were a pair of kids camping out in their backyard, within arms reach of a safety net at all times. Our rapport together on this weekend trip had been light and silly so I responded with a goofy answer about being an astronaut or another career a three year old might not give much thought to before offering up. We settled into our down bags then, shoulder to shoulder, reaching up occasionally to point out the few constellations we knew before drifting off to sleep.
The next day we basked in the sun, our bodies drying from the steaming hot spring water and lay nestled in the dirt staring at the blue sky. I picked a piece of dried grass and held it to my lips to feel the rough texture while I thought. I didn’t look at him as I spoke but I answered my friend’s question again, more honestly this time and said as I have many times in the past, “A writer. I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up.”
It was like discovering my favorite sweater at the back of the closet, a flicker of recognition crossing my face as I gripped its familiar material between my fingers. Thinking to myself, I used to wear this every day, before picking another sweater with more practical fabric for the weather.
This is how writing felt to me, pushed to the back of my closet in pursuit of a more practical degree, a more lucrative career. The only problem is nothing else fits quite the same way. My 4.0 GPA felt like receiving a compliment to my top while I resisted the urge to pull at the collar and tug the sleeves down another half inch. This discomfort has brought to the surface a plethora of emotions but also a realization.
There are things in life we do, we ought to do, and we feel we should do.
Somehow writing for me has disappeared from all of these categories. I do work, I ought to eat healthier, and I feel I should have a science based degree to ensure a safe and comfortable future for myself.
The volume of these thoughts lessened as a result of a long drive, dust covered tires, and the submersion of a body into naturally hot water and only then did things become clear. It took stripping off all of my clothes and all the should-based thoughts in my mind to discover the most long term passion I have ever held still remained at the back of my closet.
In all honesty, I had forgotten what that passion bred and rediscovered all of these stories I have written here on Medium. Reading through my posts, I found myself tearing up reading what shaky hands had typed and laughing at the ridiculous details I thought to mention then. Lost in the world of my own words, I was amazed at my ability to tell a true story.
This is not a telling of all the ways I impress myself by any means, at least not by my writing skills. No, the truth is I didn’t realize how brave I could be, how vulnerable, and how honest. It frightened me really and more than once my cursor hovered over the ‘Delete’ button on a story to rid myself of the memory- of the story and the publication of it.
Instead I sat with the words that came from a younger version of myself, a different person than who I am now. I found myself thinking of all the ways I had changed and how somehow after months, years even, the same discarded sweater I used to sleep in, still fit.
This older, more cynical version of that writer still possessed the same wild creativity and desire to express those thoughts she always had. Even as I drive to work with only a monotonous 10 hours ahead of me, stories build in my mind, never reaching past my lips or fingertips onto paper.
On the rare occasions I see my family, my nieces and nephews gather around to hear stories of my life living in a van or raising hell as the only girl in a family of boys. In front of toddlers and preteens, I will accidentally let it slip I was high in one of the stories or reveal how their parents used to be a party animal. Their eyes will widen and they will giggle at my slip, holding it like their own personal secret to carry. Whether it is writing on a platform like this or telling a bedtime story, honesty fills my writing and gives shape to my words.
So if I want my thoughts to reflect my art, I will be honest in my answer when asking myself what I want to do. And the answer is as simple as it always has been- I want to write.
I want to pull a chair up to my desk, cast aside my judgements regarding my neighbors laundry habits, and put pen to paper. Or fingertips to keyboard in this case. This is not my career and writing does not pay my bills. Therefore I have nothing to lose and can write freely, without censoring the truthfulness that frames all of my work. Perhaps I am trying to convince myself as I type this, hoping to breathe conviction into these words, not fully convinced I will follow my own desire to write.
There will always be things we do, we ought to do, and we should do. Writing does not seem to fit into the last two categories neatly but as I type this confusing jumble of words, certain it will be seen by no one, I feel comfort in the fact that at least I am writing.