What do you want to be when you grow up?
That strange question must be embedded in adult brains. It’s simple enough, and the optimists among us just want to know if the kiddo has ambitions. But it’s a backhanded reminder of fleeting childhood. What do you want to be when you grow up? As if to say, What do you want to be when playtime isn’t a thing anymore and you have to figure out a way to pay your bills?
What do you want to be when you grow up? they asked. And the answer was always something with its own outfit. A ballerina, a firefighter, a doctor, an astronaut, a teacher. They all have special uniforms, special outfits. These are the professions a child can picture in her mind and decide she’ll become someday.
Because isn’t being a grown-up is a little like Halloween? Putting on a costume and prancing around town and hoping for praise and treats and rewards?
The jobs that don’t come with uniforms are a little tougher to define. I always wanted to be a writer . . . but what even is a writer?
What does a writer do that’s different than what anyone else does? We all write — even if we’re typing an email or we’re scrawling a signature or we’re cramming our to-do list on a post-it. Is a writer someone who does all of that in larger quantities? Maybe. But I bake cookies for friends and that doesn’t make me a baker.
I still didn’t know what a writer was when I asked about it in school. Elementary school English class is when writing becomes more than a caption for your crayon drawing. We would get a writing assignment. The other kids asked how long something has to be. I asked if there was a limit. “How much can we write — if we want to write a lot? If we want to be a writer?” Sometimes I get stares.
Today, I get it. I get why I got the stares. I get why that was a crazy question. Who could possibly want to do more schoolwork? And that inescapable peer pressure wants us to keep passions to ourselves. But on that day, I was just a little girl knew she wanted to be a writer, whatever that was. I felt like myself when I was doing it and I felt joy when I was doing it and the minute English class was over was the worst part of the day.
Writers don’t have a cool uniform. It didn’t matter. Passions don’t have to.
A friend from college saw a tweet about my most recent writing assignment. He must have sensed my excitement and so he mentioned I should blog about it. My “Return to the Notebook,” as he suggested. So that’s what I’m calling my every-once-in-awhile blog series on my journey to, from and back to being a writer. Credit where credit is due: my talented and creative friend Matt Hibbard is a fellow Mizzou J-School alum, and I got to know him through our campus ministry, Mizzou RUF. He’s a talented photographer and works for the St. Louis Business Journal.