The other day I was asked, “Do you want to be a writer when you grow up?”
I was about to open my mouth and give the standard response–“No, I actually would like to be an ornithologist or a marine biologist; something more scientific”–when something stopped me. I realized something: I actually don’t want to be a scientist. Heck, I don’t even (really) like science–although there are exceptions. So why was I saying this?
I think the answer has something to do with peer pressure. It’s all anyone’s ever told me throughout my life–“You really seem to like learning, you should be a scientist”/”You’re Gifted And Talented, you should be a scientist”/”You should discover something and get famous as a scientist!”/”You could make a lot of money putting your brain to work and being a scientist”. Of course, there were people who have wanted me to be a teacher as well, or a doctor or something of that nature. But mostly what I’ve been told my entire life is that I should be a scientist. And so that’s what I internalized. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I was five, I would respond without blinking, “a marine biologist”. My parents had a marine biology CD with fun songs on it that told all about the glories of the ocean. I wanted to discover the first mermaid and have proof that they existed. This ambition continued up until a few years ago (only my hopes for mermaid sightings became less prevalent); then I discovered how much I loved birds and said that, in fact, I wanted to be an ornithologist.
The trouble was, I didn’t really understand what science entailed. Now that I’m taking more in-depth classes, I’m coming to realize that I actually find it dry (it’s not just swimming with dolphins all day–sorry, mini-me!). I mean, yes, I love to learn more about the way our world works, and some topics genuinely interest me, such as avian thought processes, genetic modification, and chemistry (if it can be related to baking in some way 🙂 ). But I realize now that I would be miserable studying them as a career. I’d rather be that crazy writer lady who keeps a whole aviary of cockatiels in her bird room, who watches birds out of her window, jotting them down in her life-list journal, keeping record but not studying exclusively.
Another thing I have battled is the fact that, as a young woman, there is a certain stigma attached to choosing a “softer”, more creative career, such as a writer, an interior or fashion designer, or an actress. It’s expected of you–like it’s a less challenging career option than an academic career. Recently, there has been a surge in education programs specifically targeted at young women and designed to bring them into careers in the scientific or mathematic field. Part of me longs to join this movement, just to say I did, to prove that, yes, women are capable and just as proficient in these areas as their male counterparts. It’s hard for me to accept that they may not be the right choice for me. But in the end, I have to realize how much I enjoy writing, and come to terms with the fact that it would be an excellent career choice for me.
And so, in response to the question? Yes…yes, I do want to be a writer when I grow up. A novelist, preferably. I can really picture myself in my mid-thirties (a total coffee junkie by then), sitting at a desk in my pajamas with a steaming mug in the hand that a cockatiel isn’t perched on, proofreading my latest piece. And I would be free to take a walk outside and look at the birds anytime, with absolutely zero obligation to capture and band them, or even try to draw them. I fantasize about going to book signings and having my picture on an “About the Author” flap. I think I would enjoy it a lot.