Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Can I still be Batman?": Career questions for the modern woman

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be many things - a ballerina, a painter, an actor, a marine biologist, Batman - I wanted to be recognized for good work, work that helped people.

Despite practicing the art of making faces in front of the mirror, memorizing the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and reading a lot about dolphins, my goals of becoming an actor/artist/dancer/biologist/superhero weren't taken seriously by my teachers. Their idea of what I should be when I grew up was different than the ones I thought of while playing make-believe.

They told me I should be a writer.

Mr. Howard, my grade 6 teacher, was the first to speak to me about my career ambitions seriously. He asked me one day after handing back an assignment what I wanted to be when I grew up. Mr. Howard was a tall man, with a deep voice, and he'd fold his hands together when pondering something serious. Everything he said had a sense of gravity to it. I faced his question as seriously as he had asked it and responded that I was going to be an actor and was currently studying musical theatre after school.

He said "Are you sure? Because, Amanda, I think you might be a writer."

I smiled and insisted that I was sure, I was an actor through and through.

"Okay," he said. "But you're a very good writer."

All through high school my teachers echoed this question and their response was usually the same as Mr. Howard's: "are you sure? Have you thought about writing?"

It wasn't until I was reaching the end of high school, while sitting in the yearbook room working on a story, that I realized something. I was completely absorbed. Time had flown by, noisy classmates surrounded me, but it didn't matter - I was taken in by my work. Writing, editing, re-writing so the story would fit on the page, and in an instant I knew: "those bastards, they've been right all along. I'm a writer - worse, I'm a journalist."

For years I'd been working towards a goal that suddenly seemed wrong and I quickly had to change gears and figure out how to be what I was always told I should be. The show tunes and facts about krill had to be moved aside to make way for picas, the rule of thirds, and Caps and Spelling.

I studied hard, graduated with honours, and got into a university that I thought would teach me everything I needed to know about being a journalist.

My professors were encouraging, always telling me I was good, but instructing me on how I could be better. Again, I studied hard and improved, and graduated with more honours, and then BAM! The recession of 2008 started and the game changed.

The newspapers shrunk, Social Media got bigger, the TV stations started laying off hundreds of people at a time, and the papers that had been printed for over a hundred years stopped being printed and moved online, and everything got smaller, including the paycheques, until the day came when I was asked to write for free.

Because I can't afford to work for free I've had to face the question again: what do I want to be when I grow up?

But now it's coupled with other grown-up questions such as: does what I want to be allow me to afford a house? A family? Retirement? Am I still a writer if I can only afford to write part-time?

I doubt Mr. Howard could have predicted the financial climate of today and he was only thinking of a talent for a story well told when he encouraged me to consider the path of a professional wordsmith. And maybe if he could have seen the future he would have said "Amanda, I think you might be a writer" anyway because perhaps there are some things we can't help being whether we like it or not.

For richer or poorer, I appear to be a writer, but I often wonder... can I still be Batman?

I still type like this. 

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