Write It with a Red Pen

Jan inner tube

It never occurred to me to be anything. Growing up as a kid in a small town and then later as a kid in a working class suburb of Detroit, I never thought about it, what I wanted to be when I grew up.

How is that even possible?

I wasn’t a dumb kid. And I wasn’t a boring or a bored kid. I spent a lot of time outside. I rode my bike a lot. I went to school. I came home. I changed my clothes. I went outside.

But being outside a lot never morphed into wanting to be a park ranger. I didn’t want to be a biologist or study trees. I sat in a lot of trees but that’s as far as it went. There didn’t seem to be a lot of career ladders lying around. And I never missed them. You don’t miss what you don’t know isn’t there, I guess.

I don’t blame anybody for this, my lack of career vision as a child. One could say it was part of the times. Nobody expected anything from girls so they didn’t expect anything from themselves. But Margaret Mead was born a long time before me, when they were still wearing knee length swimming suits, and she probably knew as a six-year old that she wanted to come of age in Samoa, finding Philly too tame for her vast ambition.

I did have a period when I was very taken with Amelia Earhart. I started to collect pamphlets about biplanes and wondered how I could buy one. I didn’t necessarily want to fly one. I just wanted to have one.

Writing that seems like a profile in passivity.

I bumped along like this for a long time. Never quite latching on to anything in school, going to the next station on the route, showing up but not doing much more. Being exceptionally average in all ways, looks, social life, school, work. Bump, bump, bump.

And then someone told me I was a good writer. She was an assistant professor at Central Michigan University. The class was in an old building across campus where there was frost on the inside of the leaded windows. I was bundling up to leave, head out across the Mt. Pleasant tundra, as we called it, back to my dorm. Mute after class as I had been during it.

She had folded my paper lengthwise and handed it to me like a menu. Excellent writing, she said, excellent. She’d written the same words on the front page of my paper next to my name. Excellent was next to my name.

Then I wanted to become what she said was excellent.

I think about that now and I wonder how many kids ever know what they want to be. Was I unusual? Was I missing something by only thinking about going outside and riding my bike? Were all the other kids more focused? I don’t know. We never talked about it. My friends never asked me and I never said. My parents never asked me and I never said. Had they asked, I’d have been stuck for an answer.

Until I grew up and did something someone thought was excellent.

Now when I see people doing things that are excellent, I tell them straight away. I try to replicate that snowy day in Mt. Pleasant, pretend that I am someone’s professor. Because I want to give that gift to someone else, the one that sets them in motion and gives them purpose.


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Futures Past.” The question: “As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How close or far are you from that vision?”

12 Comments on “Write It with a Red Pen

  1. I was much the same. People might ask what I wanted to be when I grew up and I’d answer “teacher” or “nurse,” not because I had any desire to join either profession, but because it seemed expected of me. They were safe answers. What I really wanted to be was a space explorer, but everyone knew girls couldn’t be astronauts. Writing was the next best thing, and when an early teacher praised my work in front of the class I thought perhaps that’s what I’d be. I’ve never really made a dime off of writing, except for the brief period of time during which I worked for a small town newspaper, but it gives me pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this post. I think we are of an age, though from vastly differing backgrounds. This said, I could relate to absolutely everything that you wrote. Not much was expected of girls in those years, unless you stood out for brilliance in sports – important in my birth country – or if you were super-brainy. The rest of us just sort of lumped along. And look where we are now! Blogging away happily!

    Liked by 3 people

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  5. Your childhood sounds so much like mine. I knew I was smart but not smart enough. For what, I don’t know. I rarely raised my hand in school because I was afraid I’d say the wrong thing, give the wrong answer. The TA for my freshman English class said I was creative. Cool!

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