Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

Why I Didn’t Become a Writer

I can admit that I became a teacher for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to be a writer. My realism and a profound lack of self-confidence pushed me toward the classroom. I knew that some of the best writers starved, and prospect of searching for someone’s leftover Chinese takeout through the muck and grime of a rat-infested dumpster did little to encourage the creative isolation that writing promised. I also knew that other writers only became recognized as true literary geniuses after they suffered some horrifying, heroin-induced death. Drugs scared me. I was always convinced that I was only steps away from an obsessive-compulsive personality, so becoming hopelessly addicted to anything that would cause me to break into my parent’s home in the dead of the night looking for that 1989 VCR to sell on the streets for extra cash petrified me. I had read about people who had one hit of a drug and spent the rest of their lives trying to recreate the sensation of that first high. I knew that would be me, and if writing did that to people, I would steer clear of it.

Besides, no one would want to read anything I wrote, right? The thought of people moving word by word through the honesty of my soul was frightening. What was scarier to me, though, was the surety of people gazing at my cognitive and emotional truths and criticizing them. My writing wasn’t that good anyway. I didn’t attend the most prestigious schools, and I only got a 26 on the ACT. I even scored better on the mathematics portion of the GRE than the verbal.  Surely, no good writer boasted such abysmal stats.

Then there was my dad. He harped from the time I was 12 that I needed to get my teaching degree.  I would “always have a job, be a respected community member, be involved in my kids’ lives, retire before sixty, retain a certain youthfulness, be home for all the holidays, and most importantly, get the summers off.” I was the daughter that valued her dad’s opinion above nearly all others’. I cared about what he thought of me. I tailored my life to mirror his expectations and dreams for me, so his insistence, regardless of the reasons that he found to “convince” me, added just the right fuel to flame my growing realization that writing was the wrong choice.

My college-graduated, 21-year-old mind did not understand the inextricability between one’s personal desires and one’s realized life. Always nagging beneath the surface of my existence was an inescapable need to write. Like Poe’s beating heart under the floorboards, writing crept eerily into my consciousness, beckoning me to pick up the pen once again. Mentally, I would spin little short stories out of my students’ comments, and as soon as the finished thought flashed behind my eyes, I would force myself to forget it. “This is not a living; it’s only a dream,” I would chant, going back to grading some incessantly error-ridden drivel, resolving to re-teach that comma lesson tomorrow.

But there I was, nearly eight years in, and I had not been able to quiet the beast inside of me. She was growing louder with each passing day, and as I aged, my discernment grew. I guess being silent so long forced Sheila (my inner beast) to bang furiously at the door of my pen. In addition, the older I got, the less concerned I was about people liking what I had to say. I didn’t like politics, and I had never thought of myself as a politician. Stupid stuff irked me, so career suicide was probably the inevitable consequence of a growing mind hell bent on saying what needed to be said.

Education had become a dumping ground where everyone got to decry the merits teachers, regardless of their experience with or understanding of school systems, so Sheila, like any opportunistic beast, was ready to swoop in and upset my perfectly ordered, albeit unsatisfying, world. I thought I would be able to quiet her once again. After all, I have a husband, kids, and a home that all rely on the scanty income teaching provides to keep our lives somewhat comfortable.

But then it happened. My father and I were talking at 5:30 one morning, as is our custom, and he dropped the bomb on me. “Remember what I used to say to you about teaching?” I did. “Boy, was I wrong.” And there she was staring me in the face. Her body a grotesquely misshapen, ink dripped form of my life’s promise, laughing haughtily and pointing knowingly at me. There was no escape.

The cosmic energy forced a revelation and conversation that I had avoided for my entire adult life. How can I appease Sheila and maintain what I have built without her, despite her? Will I be able to divorce myself from practicality in order to fulfill potential? Is it more important to provide for others than it is to provide for oneself? Perhaps the answers to these questions don’t matter, for Sheila has assumed her position as my right hand and has refused to let go.

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