Thursday, February 01, 2007

Meant To Be

Right this very minute, are you, in your life, doing the thing you were meant to be doing?

How do you know?

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a teacher. My mom kept one of those "school days" scrap books, and every year I wrote teacher as my life's big goal. Which is funny, because the only thing that I wouldn't hate about teaching is the chalk (except not the chalk handprints that all teachers have on their butts). A list of things I would rather do than teach:

1. Scoop rhinoceros poop out of zoo enclosures

2. Make hotdogs out of ground snouts and hooves

3. Edit James Joyce

4. Be Teen Abstinence Captain

So I really wonder where my 5-year old mind ever got the notion that I should be a teacher. When I was 7, we had "career day", and we were all compelled to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up.

I drew this lovely picture of a no-necked nurse. On the back, it says: Jamie wanted to draw a teacher but she didn't know how, so she drew a nurse instead. So while I may have been confused about what I was going to be, I certainly knew what I would never be: an artist.

By the time I was 13, the whole teacher thing had completely disappeared. I was suffering greatly from the big fish, little pond syndrome. I was at the top of my class without any effort, so I started finding other ways to pass the hours between 9 and 3...and writing just happened to fit the bill. For every writing contest I entered, I was excused from the classroom so that I could copy out my essays on carbon paper whilst sitting on a cot in the sick room (incidentally, this is the same room where the priest would come to hear our confessions...we had mixed feelings about this room). The more I wrote, the less time I spent in class. And the more I wrote, the more I won. In fact, I didn't lose. I never lost. Which probably means that I would have quickly become bored with writing, except for some serendipitous good fortune:

1. Although some people mistakenly called me shy as a child, I was actually a lot more extroverted than most. At family functions I often performed for the adults. I remember at one anniversary party, my sister, cousin and I donned matching skorts, tie-dyed slouchie socks, and Vuarnet t-shirts and dazzled with our dancing. But then I started penning plays, even writing musicals with original songs, and once I went so far as to put on an adapted version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

2. I started writing really bad poetry, and even worse, people indulged me. One particularly horrifying piece was even printed in the newspaper, in the "Poet's Corner" section. Apparently it was a slow news week.

3. It won me lots of cool stuff (although sometimes all I got was a trophy with a little golden man on know, because my name is Jamie, people assumed I was a boy, and then got a worried look when I stood up to accept it). Once, I won my mother Mother of the Year - she got picked up in a limo, showered with roses and jewelry, treated to dinner and a night in a hotel. Another time I was invited to a banquet at the legion - I had written a poem about losing a grandfather to the war, which they loved. But during the dinner they kept telling the room how brave I was for writing about my grandfather, and I realized something about war veterans: they have no concept of "fiction." And also, 12 year old girls are loathe to explain it to them.

All of these things combined led to an inflated sense of ego, and soon my goal went from teacher to psychologist\prime minister\ "famous author" (note: even at the age of 13 I must have known the difference between 'famous author' and 'writer', the latter perhaps meaning a life as a starving artist, penniless in Paris).

And so a monster was created.

High school was much the same. I was bored to tears, but I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. When I graduated, I won 27 different scholarships, not counting the ones offered by all the schools I applied to. I went back and forth between psychology and medicine. And that's when I started having nothing in common with my family.

All I know is that the single greatest moment of my life was when Jason emailed me after reading a rough draft of mine, and said "Don't ever stop writing, you made me cry with this one." And from time to time, someone will write that they were touched by some of the drivel that gets posted here. I print out every single one, and tack them to the walls of my office. It's the steam that keeps me going; I've learned to take support where I can get it because it's not always easy to come by. Not everyone in your life will believe in you.

What are we meant to be, anyway?

Are we meant to follow in our parents' footsteps?

Are we meant to follow our own bliss?

Are we meant to try, even when it means poverty, even when it means disappointment?

And in 10 years, if my only accomplishment is to be a 2007 Bloggie Award finalist, what then? Does that mean my mother was right? When am I meant to give up?

How do you know what you are meant to be?

And what the hell kind of kid wants to scoop rhinoceros poop when they grow up anyway?

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