I once read about a writer who'd basically been raised with pen in hand. Her father was a writer, and growing up in his shadow somehow authorized her to pursue the same dream. A morning spent toiling among words and manuscripts, and an afternoon sitting in the sun reading were considered a valid day's work. Perhaps even noble. Her father's stories were a springboard for her imagination, her bedtime companion, practically a member of their household. So when the time came for her to choose a profession, the deciding had already been done years before. She would tell stories, of course.
I envy this writer. That's not to say I don't appreciate the hard work and determination of my own parents in their chosen profession, but what a luxury to grow up in a family where your creative instincts and imagination are considered prized attributes. There are many different versions of this story, of course. Atheletes whose fondest childhood memories are playing pick up games with their family. Scientists whose earliest experiments nearly blew up their parent's basement laboratory. Artists whose first materials were the charcoal crayons they spread all over the floor of their mother's studio. Many of us grow up beneath an umbrella of future dreams and professional accomplishments.
But what about those of us who don't? Who have goals and objectives outside the realm of what was normal or comfortable in our family life? I think it's a brave step to leave behind a family history of businessmen, doctors, computer engineers, dentists, or mechanics in favor of choosing something else. When I was in college I had a friend who was the first college graduate in the history of her family. Talk about pioneers!
I've been reading the Little House on the Prairie books to my girls at night, and I'm periodically struck by the boldness of the Ingalls family. You can tell that the mother, Caroline Ingalls, would have preferred to put down roots and stay in one place, but she married an adventurer. I admire her bravery in saying over and over again, "Alright Charles, we can go." And off they went in their covered wagon.
So much has changed, yet the courage of pioneering remains largely the same. Professional pioneering, I mean. For the past six years I've been working on developing my craft as a writer. Many days this feels like an odd choice considering my background. I don't have a lot of writerly friends. My parents and siblings aren't writers, and when the subject of my work arises they are supportive, and maybe mildly curious. But it's certainly not their thing. I didn't write poetry in high school, nor was I an editor of the school newspaper. I studied English in college, but English majors as as malleable as Business majors. Where did this come from, I've often asked myself.
The answer is nowhere, which I suspect is where many people find inspiration. It just comes. It happens. You wake up one day and think, Nothing sounds as wonderful as climbing all of the fourteeners in Colorado. Or I think I'm going to cook every single recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." The foil to our grand objectives is when we realize we've never before hiked in the Rocky Mountains, attempted to cook french food, or in my case, written a women's fiction novel. But I'm learning that inexperience and ignorance is merely a trifling detail compared to the necessities of curiosity and dedication. You can get experience. You can practice. You can learn the things you need to learn in order to do what you want to do. I am eternally grateful to these never-dusty nightstand companions that have improved my craft and enlarged my soul:
One of the common refrains in all of these books is that it doesn't matter where you have been, it matters where you are going. You don't need a dad who was a famous man of letters in order to love the work of writing books and give your life to it. You don't need any sort of professional pedigree to authorize your dreams. So, to all you modern day pioneers out there, I wish you a safe crossing!