They Laughed When I Wanted to Become a Writer
By Patricia Crisafulli
I made the decision at twelve, based on knowledge that had been affirmed over the course of my very short life: I wanted to be a writer. Not that I was a prodigy; no Mozart at the piano at age three, to be sure. However, I had recognized early on, starting at age seven or so, how writing made me feel. When I put into words (little baby words, like stick figure drawings in Crayola) the images and ideas in my head, I became transported. Love of that feeling and love of writing merged, became inseparable.
So by the time becoming a ballerina (I never took dance lessons) or an astronaut (I have really bad motion sickness) were nixed from the list, I declared my intention for the rest of my life: I wanted to be a writer.
And they laughed. You know the “they”—the well-intentioned, chortling adults who consider children to be an endless source of entertainment because, in the words of the late Art Linkletter, kids just say the darnedest things. Whimsical and adorable, children have imaginary friends, believe in Santa Claus, have fascinating theories about where babies come from, and think that shutting their eyes is the gateway to invisibility. And some of them want to be writers. Chuckle, chuckle.
Now, I could wring my hands and pout over how unfair it was that someone dismissed my dream, but it was a different time and place (please don’t make me do the math of how long ago it was). In the days before self-help, Deepak Chopra, Oprah, and other forms of enlightenment, folks just didn’t think about empowerment (at least not where I grew up, in a small northern town not far from the Canadian border). You stopped wishing on stars and you certainly didn’t shoot for the moon. It was better (read: safer) to have more ordinary expectations for yourself, based on the experiences of these around you. Becoming a writer wasn’t one of them.
Their reaction taught me at a tender age that this writer dream would (a) have to be internal for a really long time, otherwise I might get discouraged by others and (b) it would be hard. I might be really old, like twenty, before I wrote a book. That laughter hurt a little bit, like the needle prick of a vaccination, but it hardened my resolve to hold fast to my dream, inoculating me from succumbing to cynicism and disappointment.
Fast forward many years, when 12 turned to 20 and I was an apprentice news reporter, and then mid-20s and I was in New York City, and then 30s and I was in Chicago working for an international news agency, and finally, at 39, was the author of my first book, Remembering Mother, Finding Myself (written under the name Patricia Commins). Three more nonfiction books have followed since then, including my latest, Rwanda, Inc., about the economic development of that African nation in the 18 years since the genocide, which I co-authored with my friend, Andrea Redmond. I have a novel or two in the works, and I continue to pursue that creative dream through my web site, www.FaithHopeandFiction.com.
When I was twelve I had no idea how long and hard the journey to becoming a “real writer” would be. Before I was a published author, rejections would come frequently and even harshly. But I never let go of my dream, because I had learned early that it would take incredible strength and resolve to realize it. And I’m not done yet.
Yes, they laughed when I told them I wanted to be a writer. They shook their heads and said to themselves, “Where do kids get these crazy ideas?” When I look back now, though, I imagine the scene differently. I turn their laughter into smiles, their cynicism into wonder: Where do kids get their ideas! How fun it will be to see how this turns out.
Patricia Crisafulli is the founder and publisher of www.FaithHopeandFiction.com. She is the author/co-author of four nonfiction books, including her latest, Rwanda, Inc.: How a Devastated Nation Became an Economic Model for the Developing World, with Andrea Redmond, (Palgrave-Macmillan, November 2012).