I used to be a lawyer, heard the jokes. Nobody cared that I worked like a dog, earned a decent salary to pay my mortgage, made the right decisions, and spent a third of my time doing pro bono work for clients who would never be able to pay me. When I went to a cocktail party or joined my friends for coffee I had to endure the brunt of the latest lawyer joke, became the unintentional good-natured embodiment of the bottom-dwelling-scum-sucker.
Then I became a writer. Writers are a generous lot, empathetic and inclusive. We share writing contest URLs, support each others’ work, and voluntarily submit our darlings to peer criticism in the interest of intellectual growth and critical improvement. Foregoing most reasonable expectations of monetary return, we put ourselves out there to explore the breadth and depth of human experience and hope that we’ll find ourselves at the near edge of something important, something new.
I enrolled in university, entered the fine arts (writing) program with students three decades my junior exactly thirty years after graduating from law school. I diligently attend all of my classes, complete my homework assignments and do my required readings, participate in workshops, and generously critique the work of my peers. I keep up with a half-dozen literary journals, critically analyze the bi-monthly submissions of The New Yorker Magazine, discuss the latest critical writing in Harper’s and The Economist, and read a novel a week. Learning.
It all sounds very haughty and honourable until someone asks what I do. “Oh, that’s so cool,” is the most common reply, followed immediately by “I’m thinking of writing a book too.” And there’s the rub. I’m thinking of writing a book too. And often when they retire. It’s an appealing picture, rocking away on the front porch, looking out at a calm sea, with a quill in hand. Anyone can do it. Just words. You earn the right by living to a certain age, acquire the skill by simply being alive long enough. Spend your days poking around in someone’s mouth filling cavities and analyzing decaying enamel and you’ve earned the right to put your thoughts on paper and sell ten thousand copies to an adoring fan base. I get it, I really do.
There was a day, not so many generations ago when a person aspired to a single career, one that would take her from teen through old age without a break, without so much as a moment of doubt. Those days are long gone, replaced by a new reality- that we’ll each pass through numerous occupations and aspirations, dictated by a rapidly changing world as much as an enlarged perception of our individual impact on the universe. And I think this is a wonderful thing, an opportunity to stretch one’s wings and fly through one’s life with a level of diversity and engagement never before possible. I endorse the new, the adventurous, the far reaching. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking that when I retire from the writing life, I might take up dentistry. Set up a comfy chair on the porch, put on some Charlie Mingus, and dive into those nasty cavities with some modeling clay and a glue stick. The line starts from the left.