It is “nobody’s like me” month at my son’s preschool. They play body part bingo and read books about why being different is important. (Good timing, already it starts with If Jimmy Jumped Off a Bridge, Would You?) Yesterday the teachers posted a list of the children’s responses to What part of my body is different than anyone else’s? My son’s response: Nobody has my skin. True.

Today’s posted question/response was What do you want to be when you grow up? The infamous, quintessential existential dilemma of every human being after age 3. At 3, he used to tell me he wished people would stop asking him this question because he doesn’t know yet. I thought that was bang on. I of course mom-dutifully told him, Good, you can be anything you want to be, you don’t have to decide anytime soon. (I also told him he doesn’t have to go to college right away, that I’d much rather pay for him to travel the world for a year, get a hands-on education.) Now it’s a different story for him, every day, every new situation, he wants to be a fireman, construction worker, race car driver, King Arthur, Spiderman, Superman, the Hulk, Batman, and don’t forget Diego the Animal Rescuer. But today, he said:

“Policeman then a book writer.”

When I read that I had an immediate elated reaction, a gutteral woohoo. And for the rest of this night, I’ve pondered why this made me so automatically chufffed.

Let’s take his response as truth and forget he’s also Spiderman. He hit upon the great debate of life as an artist. Policeman then writer, as an artist you sometimes need another “vocation” to pay the bills and get on in  society. Policeman by day, writer by night. Or vice versa. Policeman then writer, in the understanding that being a writer is an actual occupation, as brave as being a policeman. Something we in my generation were never steered to nor convinced of at such an age. It’s not glamorous nor does it have to be some crazed, addiction-induced ride across the country writing on toilet paper.

But to be a writer is to answer a calling. Yup, Talent. There, I said it. A higher calling, right up there with priesthood, sexual orientation, a blessing and a curse. It’s not a choice. The free will enters in whether we choose to pursue our calling, and if not, live with the unnamed langolier licking our conscience. Sure, anyone can learn to write, and certainly even with having talent, one must always hone the craft and study and observe and communicate. But I do believe that even if a writer never publishes a damned piece, he or she is still a writer. Certainly we want to put pen to paper and make a connection, paintbrush to canvas and evoke an emotion. But being a writer is just that in my belief system, a state of being. There are writers and then there are writers. It is the way we as artists view the world, for good or for bad, finding and placing significance and nuances at every pass. It is a world of words and colors and seeing nothing and everything all at once. The world becomes an analogous fury. And I could not live without that perspective. I believe one can be an artist and not ever get paid one cent for said art.

But if we ever do get the opportunity to pay the bills as an artist: the Holy Grail.

Have you ever heard your mainstream capitalistic boss say, You know what this company really needs, a short-story writer and an abstract expressionist painter. That would really juice up sales.

Because I have always known that I’m a writer, because it’s always been just a fact to me like the color of my eyes, I know what I should and want to do, who I am, what contents and excites me. And still this doesn’t make it come true. It’s almost painful, and I’m ridiculously hard on myself and fear failure like some people fear death. I could work as an accountant or a seamstress or an editor, no matter, I’m a writer. Who is worse off, though? Me for knowing who I am but having to fill the space of a day with doing the opposite? Or those who just go to work and call it happy. And then they are.

And so it seems crazy that a parent would wish such frivolity upon her child. But I do. It’s this perfect combination of a blue-collar violinst—my ongoing inside familial joke even before I had kids: I said/say at every chance, my son’s going to be a violinist, go to Julliard. (This gets funnier by the year as my son hones his remarkable baseball skills, loves wrestling and horsing around, and uses his body as missile just for fun.) But at his core, he’s indeed a violinst. His world is made up of particular inventiveness, he’s attune to the clouds and the moon and the seasons, to how his body moves and the sounds he can make. He asks questions of me that could not be construed without days of thought. I can see in the glint of his eyes that  he adores the world around him, and is anxious to make it his own.

So If he chooses as his vocation a policeman, trash collector, violinst, writer, or shopkeeper, even if he deems it necessary to enter the cubicle cauldron (but only if he must!), fine. I just wish him that soul-knowing passion, that perception, that sometimes hard-won love of seeing the world differently. I wish him a balanced life, a policeman then a book writer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: