When I Grow Up ...
At the age of nine I wanted more than anything to be Nancy Drew, girl detective, with her good looks and her mysteries to solve and her always-there-for-her chums and her convenient boyfriend, Ned, not to mention the yellow convertible that she drove with the wind in her hair. It seemed to me that Nancy had it pretty good – random threats on her life aside.
It was also around that age that I decided I wanted to be a writer. I announced this to my parents one day, presenting them at the same time with evidence of my boundless talent: a two-page Harlequinesque short story that made my father blush and fumble for words. The story was filled with kissing and proclamations of love, as I recall, but distinctly lacking in plot. A few days later I overheard my parents, a lawyer and a teacher, discussing my “decision,” and how surprised they were that a child my age would be determined to become a writer. Wasn’t that unusual? they exclaimed. Where had that come from? they wondered.
Given my mother’s bottomless appetite for reading, it’s little wonder that I believed being the author of books (which could dovetail nicely with being a detective) was a worthy goal. Mom was, at the time, the only member of the local public library who was allowed to fill a box during her weekly visit. She was so reliable in her returns that for her and her alone, the librarians waived the strict seven-books-at-a-time rule. I could read before I’d started school, and was onto adult books by age ten. My four siblings and I were all bookworms.
There were slight deviations from my chosen path. At various times I aspired, briefly, to be other things: a nurse (a la Cherry Ames), though that was short-lived as I fainted at the sight of a needle; an archaeologist; a psychologist; a nutritionist (but only because I liked to cook, but better yet, to eat). Also a brief flirtation with the idea of becoming the first female Elvis imitator. When I was a teenager, my mother, marvelling over my somewhat provocative dancing around the house, told me that I looked like I had a ball bearing in my spine and should be a stripper. I assume that was an observation rather than a recommendation.
Looking back, I guess there were many different people I hoped to become, though the seeds of who I would be were already planted. It’s a certain lens we peer through when we remember the child we were. Our memories are fractured and colourized and restructured as a result of our experiences since. Trying to piece it all together is like sitting by the window of a fast-moving train and trying to pick out details in the passing scenery.
In one frame I see myself experimenting with how much more attractive I might be if only I didn’t have to wear glasses. I’m standing in front of the bathroom mirror, holding one lens of my glasses over the left eye so that the right side of my face is unobscured. Yes, I think, I could be beautiful ...!
In another frame I am a young teen, waking up from a nightmare in which I’d been walking down the aisle, about to marry someone I didn’t want to marry. His face is not recognizable. I only remember the terrifying feeling that I was doing something irreparable, that I was trapped. Why? My parents had a good marriage at the time and I’d had no unduly traumatic experiences with boys.
In one frame, I play one of my famous three-chord songs on guitar, dreaming of being on stage as a singer/songwriter – little realizing that only in the throes of teenage angst will I find this sort of inspiration or motivation. And then there is the minor issue of my terminal stage fright.
And in yet another, I ponder the (potentially cancerous?) bump in my knee. A fan of medical dramas, I am often convinced that I will die young of something tragic (but not before the cute doctor declares his undying devotion). I make a deal with God (do I even believe in God?) that I’ll be a good girl if he’ll let me live to the age of twenty-one, the age at which my mother got married. That is quite old, I think to myself, and it seems a good bargain.
Well, years have gone by. The train is still chugging away. I lived beyond twenty-one, and, knock on wood, I’m still healthy. Though, I haven’t always been a good girl. I eventually ditched my glasses for contacts, and while I’m not beautiful, I make do. I haven’t written the book I was so sure, at age nine, that I was destined to craft, but I’ve built a satisfying career on words – as a journalist, editor, writing instructor. (There’s still time for that novel, I tell myself.) I’ve had adventures – moved cities, gone back to university twice, had lovers, travelled, lived abroad. I’ve adored my partner for over 20 years, lived with him for 16, and with him I have two wonderful children – but we have no plans to marry. Something portentous in that long-ago nightmare? He’s musical, so we play guitar and sing together (though he is firm about not playing Elvis songs).
I’m still growing up, and finding new things to want to be, but my goals are less tangible than those of my childhood. Among other things, I wish to be more forgiving, to be more mindful, to accept more graciously the imbalances that are a part of life. I can’t promise that I will ever achieve these abilities, or that if I do I will practise them consistently. But it’s all about the visions, and the striving. And most of all, about the awareness of becoming.
Looking back I don’t think that at nine years old dreaming of being Nancy Drew – who was independent and adventurous, and had good friends and a steady boyfriend – was such a bad thing. And in fact, I’d still love a convertible – wind in my hair and all that – though not in yellow. That's the great thing about being a writer: I can colour it any way I want.