As a little girl, I wanted to be many things. This, of course, made the favorite question of adults – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” – hard to answer. Dinosaurs fascinated me, so I wanted to be a paleontologist. Bossing around my little sisters (in the name of learning) was fun, so I wanted to be a teacher. At one point, while disemboweling a slug, I considered being a surgeon. But it was in my sixth grade Language Arts class that I realized I wanted to write.
I should note that my parents suspected this propensity before I did. They often read to me as a child, and I grew to love those books, memorizing and “reading” them to my parents. I wrote books of my own, too: scribble-covered sheets of paper made complete with clumsy pictures and bright colors. Only I could read those novels, but I had a willing audience. As I grew, and learned to read and write in a language others could understand, I became even more attached to books. They were an escape from the common life which I lived. Why pay attention to the goings-on of the playground when a world of magic lay just beneath the battered, plastic-covered bindings of a library book?
Nonetheless, I did not realize that I wanted to be a writer until sixth grade when my teacher, Mr. T, gave us a new type of assignment: a short story. I don’t remember the original prompt, but I do remember the feeling of excitement, of rightness, the assignment roused. I wrote furiously in class, plotted at home, and went so far as to type and print my finished draft. I still have that story somewhere, a childish tale of an adolescent superhero fighting against an evil, banana-stealing ape.
That story gave me a sense of self, and, I’ll admit, a sense of superiority. In the way that insecure prepubescent tweens (and teenagers, and adults) compare themselves to each other, I began to base my worth in something other than my appearance and propensity for nerdiness. Who cared if I had weird front teeth and was obsessed with Star Wars and didn’t own a sweatshirt from Abercrombie and Fitch? I could write stories.
Stories fascinated me, and from then on, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had one response:
“I want to be a writer.”