“I started a joke, which started the whole world crying.” ~ Bee Gees
I heard a joke a couple days ago. “What’s the difference between an aspiring writer and a park bench? . . . .The park bench can support a family of four.”
Ouch, but not as bad as the “Oh, you’re majoring in music/art/creative writing? So you’re majoring in waiting tables.”
There are two choices: throw yourself into the arms of the art or juggle. The first has you writing what you want, writing what you don’t want, writing to survive, and working to make rent. The latter is doing something that sets you up comfortably while writing on the side. You can write what you want, if you can make the time and find the drive.
I chose the second option and have no regrets.
Except for a particularly cringe-worthy one.
During my freshmen year in college, I volunteered as an usher at the performing arts theater. One performance was a recital given by an opera major. It was a small event in the Great Hall with her friends and family seated on the stage. Before the performance, one of the attendees approached a fellow usher and me and asked us the question.
“Where do you see yourself in five year?”
Freshmen year — I was still trying to shovel myself into my cookie cutter major, reminding myself that with a chemical engineering degree I could land whatever job I wanted. Till this day, I regret regurgitating the hastily thrown together chemical engineer’s dream of working for an oil company.
She hoped to have a novel published.
My diaphragm dropped out from under me. I might as well have disappeared into the floor or been split in two, my twin winning the adoration of this man. “Really? Come talk with me after the performance.”
All those jokes made to make artists and writers feel ashamed but there’s more shame in denying that you aspire to be something different from your peers. That moment haunted me and every blank page that stared back at me.
A lot changed in five years. I didn’t write much during three of them but after a dismal junior year, I changed majors. I started writing again. I graduated, landed a decent job, and don’t have to worry about bread or rent. I think back to that afternoon on the Great Hall stage and wonder if that girl ever published her novel. I wonder what that man would think if he knew the usher who disappeared into the stage floor was an aspiring writer, too, who took the second option out of fear of having to scrape by.
What’s the difference between an aspiring writer and a park bench? The bench can support four but the writer can inspire a million more. . . .
Or something like that.