I recently celebrated my 33rd birthday, which is hard for me to fathom. I remember when I thought turning 25 was getting old! So, as is customary for me upon turning another year older, I ask myself: What do I want to be when I grow up?
I know what you're thinking: I already am grown up. Maybe that's true, or maybe being "grown up" is subjective. But that's only half the question. The other part of the question is what I want to be.
When I was a little kid, and someone asked me the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?", I would have likely given one of two responses:
1) I want to be an astronaut. Okay, that's a pat answer, and a tad boring, but I grew up in the '80s when NASA and shuttle launches were all the rage. I was 8 years old when the Challenger crashed, and that was really the beginning of it all for me. I wanted to succeed those astronauts who had tragically lost their lives and complete their mission. At the time, I probably could have even told you what their mission was, in great detail, though all of the particulars are lost to me now. However, my astronautical ambitions slowly faded over time, and it's probably a good thing, since by now, my chances of going on future shuttle missions would be greatly reduced.
2) I want to be Steven Spielberg. Well, I didn't actually want to be Steven Spielberg, but I did want to do what he did. I wanted to be a filmmaker. One of the first films I remember seeing in the movie theater was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. I was thoroughly and overwhelmingly impressed. And that was what I wanted to do. I thought for awhile I might even go to film school after graduating from high school. But that, like many childhood dreams, took a backseat to other aspirations.
Because there was this other thing that happened around age 9 or 10. I started writing. A lot. Make that, all the time. And, as it turned out, I wasn't half bad at it.
I had my first poem published in The Daily Reflector when I was 10 years old. If I can ever dig that thing up, I might post it here. It was pretty awful, but I was just getting started, so the roughness around the edges is understandable.
A year later, I started writing my first songs. My cousin Michael and I used to come up with these little ditties that we would sing in front of our family at special gatherings. I wish there were videos of these, because they'd probably be pretty hilarious now. But at the time they seemed pretty good to us; and in retrospect, I've likely heard worse stuff on the radio (especially the stuff on the radio these days).
Over the past 20-plus years (and calculating that time period is mind-boggling to me as well), I've continued writing for my own entertainment and for friends and family. I've penned over 200 original songs – most of them awful "unrequited love" songs during my high school days – probably an equal number of poems, and a dozen or so short stories. I even wrote a couple of one-act plays for college classes.
I got my B.A. degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing at ECU back in 2000. Then I worked for about 8 years at jobs that had nothing whatsoever to do with Creative Writing. Such is life. Then I was offered a job as a copywriter/copy editor for Gander Mountain's catalog and website. A few years ago, I couldn't have told you what a copywriter did if my life depended on it. I've since come to realize that I can easily explain my job to any Seinfeld aficionado by saying, "What Elaine did at J. Peterman – that's basically it." I like my job – it allows me to flex my creative muscles on a daily basis, though there is a good amount of "just the facts, ma'am" involved as well.
So, I guess it boils down to one more (albeit multi-part) question: Is what I do who I am, and is what I am what I want to be?
Here's what I think. I don't think that my life – or anyone's life, for that matter – can be defined solely by what I do. Nor will I resign myself – at least not yet – to the fact that what I currently am is what I want to be.
What do I want to be? The picture's becoming a little clearer of late. But the veil of uncertainty hasn't been completely lifted yet, so I'm still reticent to say. But I am working on it. Moving forward little by little. And maybe I'm growing up a little in the process.