Every once in awhile someone will ask me what I do for a living. These conversations usually occur in the kinds of places where strangers feel compelled to carry on polite chitchat. In line at the grocery store. Doctor's office waiting rooms. Airplanes idling until cleared for take-off. When I tell people I am a writer, they often respond in the same way I imagine I would respond if someone told me they traveled with the circus or roadied for Def Leppard in the 80s. An incredulous mix of shock and awe, with undertones of questioning sanity.
“That must be...interesting,” they say. What they really mean is, “How do you sleep at night knowing you could be one dry spell away from the unemployment line?” My answer is simple: I have no answer. I just know this is what I was meant to do.
I was born with an innate love of language. My childhood scrapbook, a chronicle of tidbits from my early years stealthily pilfered and lovingly preserved by my mother’s hand, can attest to this.
As so often tends to be the case with keepsakes, many of the artifacts are truly terrible. In many instances, what once seemed like staggering works of genius now seem more like the literary equivalent of those coconut monkeys souvenirs people pick on on vacation in Cabo. Given a few decades to marinate (and fester), my early works leave me awash in a sea of simultaneous horror and nostalgic delight, reveling in the absurdity and purity of first love-inspired poems, drama-laden high school notes and even the occasional elementary school valentine.
Among the written wreckage, you will find classic hits such as: a third grade essay I wrote about my teacher’s best quality (her red fingernails), as well as a pillow-side plea asking “Molly” (the tooth fairy) to keep the pocket change and leave me a unicorn. There are cleverly written scripts starring my sister and I. Acted out in the living room, those performances were a relentless negotiation (with an occasional musical number thrown in for good measure) as we tried to persuade our parents to get us puppies, ponies and, sights set slightly lower, pizza on Friday nights. (Rhyming "pepperoni" is hard.)
Perhaps my favorite relic, however, is the neatly folded copy of a letter I sent to former Ohio Governor George V. Voinovich. In the note, I implore him to help me save the environment (and future of the planet) by becoming a partner in my third grade fight against the formidable Styrofoam lunch trays used in my elementary school cafeteria. Apparently Governor George was busy that week. And while he didn't swing by to chain himself to the cafeteria tables, he did send an autographed head shot and a letter of encouragement to “keep it up." The day I received that piece of mail was one of the most thrilling afternoons of my young life.
Not too long ago, I found myself on delay in an airport taking a seat beside an older gentleman. In a sea of kindles and ipads, he was the last of a dying breed, perusing the newspaper with a quiet sort of page-flipping dignity. We exchanged the usual pleasantries of strangers who are temporarily forced, more by inadequate airport seating than by choice, into each other’s lives. After a a few minutes of small talk, he asked the inevitable. What do you do? I told him I was a writer, expecting the usual response.
Instead, he looked at me, smiled and said: “A writer is who you are. Writing is what you do. Never confuse the two.”
Nearly two decades ago, a college admissions counselor sat across the desk and asked me what I wanted to do. “Write,” I said. She looked at me, laughed and replied, “Write? You might as well go into philosophy. Writing is a useless degree.” I went on to spend the greater part of my early college years fighting what I really wanted instead of fighting for it.
Sitting here, 17 years later, it's hard to imagine what I would have missed out on had I stayed on script and opted for the more pragmatic path laid out before me by someone else. Only by wandering -- and ultimately going off script -- was I able to discover my innate strength as a woman by embracing the power and authority of my own voice. As a result, I get to wake up each day and use that voice to advocate for passionate, courageous, amazing people doing meaningful, important work in the world. They're abolishing sex slavery, advocating for rescue animals, promoting literacy, redefining healthcare, empowering women, ending domestic violence, protecting the environment.
In our culture, women are often told to stay small, modest, polite. I challenge you to do the exact opposite.
Be big. Be bold. Be brazen.
Tear up the script. Write your own story.
GIVEAWAY: TWO TICKETS TO KEYHOLDER 2016
Sponsored by The Women's Fund of Central Ohio, Keyholder is a night to convene as a community and amplify the voices of women and girls. As a guest, you will unlock the potential and influence gender equality and economic security in central Ohio. You hold the key to be part of lasting social change-- and that’s what Keyholder is all about. It’s a night to give visibility to issues affecting women and girls while also providing inspiration and highlighting solutions.
On Tuesday, May 10th 2016 actress, author, producer, trailblazer and humanitarian Vanessa Williams will take the stage at the Ohio Theatre.
Vanessa's integrity, resiliency, and grace make her an authentic voice as she lives her life with dignity and professionally defines her own path to success. Vanessa’s strength and endurance over the years to become a multi-faceted performer and actor will resonate with many, while encouraging us to script our own lives.
Enter for a chance to win two free tickets to Keyholder 2016 by leaving a comment on this blog post sharing a time you have "gone off script" and how that has made an impact in your life.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. In exchange, I received two free tickets to the 2016 Keyholder event from The Women's Fund of Central Ohio.