Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Question I'll Never Be Able to Answer

I read quite a few blogs by writers. The majority are very serious and focused. Writing about their careers or critiquing other writers' work, writing about the process or the industry. Most of them are written by writers who are specialists, people who see writing as their calling. I do some of that type of writing here , but I suffer from being a generalist so my topics vary widely from cats to politics to cooking palache. I was not born a writer. I did not always know that I 'must write'. My conscious self is not vibrating from the urge to put words to paper and without it I will not wither away to dust. I am a generalist. My blog tends to spider web out into the wild reaches of my very generalist life and generalist state of mind.

I remember being a child and people asking me- what do you want to be when you grow up? I had a mind filled to capacity with ideas and not a single answer. Perhaps I'd be a famous ice skater (I was in love with Dorothy Hamill). I liked the idea of being a veterinarian. (Yes- I'd read every James Herriot book ever written). I thought a teacher seemed like a good job. Maybe I'd be a life guard and get to swim and sit in the sun all day. I liked the idea of being an ornithologist or a botanist and travelling to exotic places in search of undiscovered species of plants and bird. I thought writing for a newspaper would be fun. I knew for sure I'd own a monkey. As an adult little has changed. I still have all sorts of things I'd love to do. I'm always reading job advertisements just to dream a little bit about standing in someone else's shoes.

In America where I grew up, we were forever given aptitude tests that were supposed to guide us to the careers that we were most suited to. I was good at English and science and maths and French. I was not a genius at anything I was just above average at quite a few things. Nothing shouted out -choose me.

And now I'm a writer. I love writing, I have a bit of aptitude, but mostly because I love it I love to work hard at it. My generalist mind leads me into every field of writing. I write fiction for children and adults. I write for radio and television. Yesterday I worked on an essay about the best way to set up a programme to cultivate innovation. In every instance, I am interested since my generalist mind is open to a wide array of possibilities.

The other day I watched a movie about women surfers. I love learning about people who are specialists and geniuses in the area of their choice. I've been fascinated in the past when I've met people whose worlds revolve around a single thing- they raise and train cocker spaniels, they study a virus infecting ducks, they have given their lives for their religion. I have respect for them and at times have wished I could be pulled by such passion and devotion to a single thing, that I could devote the entirety of my life to it alone.

We can't fight who we are. I love being a writer and I chose it among many options. It didn't chose me. I have absolute respect and awe for writers who are specialists, who knew as soon as they could know things that writing was to be their passion. They will grow to become novelists described as geniuses. I know that won't be me. I will have success, I already have in my limited sphere, because I like to write.

I know too I will never be able to answer that question - what do you want to be when you grow up because I'm still testing the waters and I realise now that's how it will always be.


Sue Guiney said...

love this post! Thanks.

Karen said...

I second what SueG said.

I also find it difficult to choose a specific genre, or even a career that will make (and keep) me happy.

Except for writing. That's always been a part of me, always been there for me. Stories have always wanted me to tell them, but like you, I cannot seem to pick one specific type and stay with it exclusively.

Good for you and your excellent writing skills, generalist mind, and amazing talent, Lauri. You're the kind of person that makes the world a better place.

Lauri said...

Thanks guys.
Karen- You're such a funny writer. I've often thought you could write a fantastic book about your school experiences. Just the little snippets you let slip are quite hilarious. Thanks for your kind comment but after three days of being angry at various people I'm not sure if the world wouldn't be a better place if I just stayed in bed for a few days. :)

Monday tomorrow- cross fingers I behave this week.....

Tania Hershman said...

A great post Lauri, I know what you mean about envying people with a single-minded passion, people who've known what they wanted since the age of 5! But being a generalist is wonderful too, otherwise the world might just be filled by cocker spaniel trainers. This made me think of Jonathan Miller, described on his Wikipedia page as "a British theatre and opera director, neurologist, author, television presenter, humorist and sculptor". The world is all the richer for him not specialising in one thing...

Lauri said...

I think the thing is Tania, I've finally accepted that maybe I don't have to be a specialist, that I can just bounce along the way I do.

Anonymous said...

I think the generalists keep things real. I never wanted to be a writer as a child even though I always wrote and did well at it. I don't even think I want to be a writer now; I certainly don't regard myself as one. I think if I had to sum up what I really want it is to be able to tell stories about the world via some artistic medium which I suppose does involve writing.

I am unfocused. An imperfect dreamer. Yet I find this is where I draw my inspiration from. I am also still testing the waters. Hopefully one day I'll be able to swim in them.

Lauri said...

Selma you know I'm one of you biggest fans. You write so effortlesly and I know there is success waiting out there for you if only you get in the water. One day I might get in a boat and paddle over just so I can push you in! :)