Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When Life goes, “Ha ha, you doofus…”

A few months shy of my 40th birthday and about two years into my second career as an author, I was feeling pretty contented with life. I’d published seven books, won several literary awards, and book sales were happily trucking along. It’s no secret though that I’ve been thinking about pursuing a MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) and devoting more time to the study of the art of writing, so naturally, when I saw a link to the top ten schools for creative writers, I had to click on it.
Johns Hopkins University - Gilman Hall
The list was like a smack to the face. Sitting pretty at number THREE of the top ten schools was the Johns Hopkins University. I WENT to the Johns Hopkins University for my undergraduate education. Heck, I remember walking past Gilman Hall and looking (condescendingly) at those Writing Seminar majors sitting and smoking on the front steps of the building. They were pale-skinned and dressed in black like vampires wannabes. I don’t know if they were deliberately playing up the not-quite-so-starving artist hype (you’ll have to look at the tuition costs at Hopkins to realize that there’s no room for the “starving” sort of anything as you’ll need a hefty bank account or a heck of a lot of scholarships to be at Hopkins) but they sure looked cool compared to me–the nerdy Biology and Philosophy major. Still, I told myself then, writing wouldn’t pay and my future was going to be ever so much more financially secure when I graduated.

But now, looking back, man, what wouldn’t I have given to be one of those vampire wannabes in front of Gilman Hall (minus the smoking which is bad for your lungs.) I had been interested in writing long before I went to college. I could have been there in the basement of Gilman Hall, learning from illustrious writers, including Chaim Potok, the author of one of my favorite books of all time, The Chosen. I had, in fact, attempted to sign up for Potok’s class, but was summarily dismissed. Writing Seminars majors received prioritized placement in Writing Seminars classes, and with a vaunted guest lecturer like Potok, an outsider like me stood no chance of enrolling in that class.
Looking back, I wonder if I’d taken one of those Writing Seminar classes, would I have realized where my heart really lay? Would I have switched majors? Would I have written more, written sooner, been published sooner? I couldn’t help feeling that Life was looking at me from the pages of the article about the top ten schools for creative writing, pointing a finger, and laughing, “Ha ha, you doofus…”

It’s rather discouraging to be a few months shy of forty and wondering if you’d taken the wrong path in life.

Follow Your Brain

And then, I saw this picture on Facebook that made me chuckle and think that maybe I hadn’t screwed up after all. My choice of majors eventually led me to graduate business school, and my MBA landed me a job with the Boston Consulting Group. Better yet, I met my husband while we were both pursuing our MBAs at the University of Virginia, and I would not have traded HIM for anything, not even status as a New York Times bestselling author. My qualifications and work experiences have provided me with a full-time job I truly enjoy, which pays for all of life’s necessities and a large chunk of non-necessities for myself, my husband, and our three children, AND has given me the time and financial freedom to pursue a second (and concurrent) career as an author.

If I missed out on important writing skills as a non-Writing Seminars major, I have certainly picked them up over the past two years, possibly even more effectively than I might have if I were in college. (I considered myself a fairly conscientious student, but even so, I was only at Chapter 5 of Plato’s Republic when the professor was discussing Chapter 10…) Necessity is the mother of invention, and it is also the mother of learning. In the past two years, I did not just learn about how to write well. I learned how to edit a book. I learned how to publish a book. I learned how to market a book.
So, to Life, all I have to say is, “The only time you can make me feel like a doofus is if I never take the path at all. I’m on that writing path now, and I don’t even feel like I had to take the path less traveled. I managed to find a way to walk both paths at the same time. I’ve been abundantly blessed.”

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