I just finished the most fabulous book: Caroline Burau’s Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat. If I had read this seven years ago, I might not be a writer today; I might be a 911 dispatcher. I’m serious. And the weird thing is, I’m not sure Burau wrote this to convince anyone to do what she does. Her job is not exactly glamorous. The hours suck…it’s boring sometimes…it’s stressful a lot…people yell at you…yet, given where I was in my life seven years ago, I may very well have thought this was the job for me.
After my dad had his stroke, I took a good long look at my life. I wasn’t sure I was “meant” to continue writing at that point. I’d published a bunch of magazine stories, six Sweet Valley Twins novels, three state ABC books and one other picture book with a small press, but no novels of my own. And that was what I really wanted to do — write novels. So maybe this was it? Maybe I’d already come as far as I was ever going to go as a writer?
After my dad’s stroke, I went through this thing where I realized LIFE IS SHORT…and I’d always wanted to do something “meaningful” with my life. Somehow being a wife, mother and writer just didn’t feel meaningful enough. I felt like I should be doing MORE. I should be doing something that makes a difference in other people’s lives. (I’m guessing everyone goes through something like that when they first face a loved one’s serious illness or death?)
There was a time in my life (back in college) when I considered going to medical school. I wanted to be a child psychiatrist, pediatrician or obstetrician. I didn’t really consider going to medical school seven years ago…I was 34 years old seven years ago. I had two kids…and I’d never held a “real” job. I didn’t think I had a prayer of getting into medical school anymore then (who knows if I could have even gotten in right out of college?). But I did consider other careers in the medical field seven years ago…careers in the “helping” profession. I considered becoming a paramedic….for about ten minutes. Until I realized paramedics drove ambulances and I have too many driving issues to really consider that.
But I DID think seriously about going back to school to become a certified nurse midwife. One of the most “meaningful” experiences I’d ever had was the night I was there for a friend’s home birth. So, I thought, maybe I should become a midwife?
I looked into it and discovered I’d need to move back to Minnesota because there wasn’t a midwifery program here at Iowa. My husband was willing to do that…there were a lot more jobs for him in the Twin Cities than there are here. So while I was making my weekly pilgrimage to visit my Dad at St. Mary’s hospital in Rochester, Minnesota (and help my mom, who was having a real hard time dealing with what had happened to my dad), I was thinking very seriously about this career change. I sent for information…I informed the Iowa SCBWI that I was stepping down as Regional Advisor….I started getting things in order, thinking about what all this was really going to mean for myself and my family…but in the end, I couldn’t do it. Oh, I still gave up the R.A. position — there was somebody else who was willing to take it on…but I couldn’t give up the writing. When I thought about giving it up…REALLY giving it up to pursue this whole new career path…it didn’t feel right. I actually got this ache in the pit of my stomach when I thought about not writing anymore (even though I hadn’t been writing that entire fall).
So the next summer, we ended up moving to Iowa City (for a variety of reasons) instead of back to Minnesota, which, from my perspective, turned out to be the best move we ever made (also for a variety of reasons). And I kept writing.
And a year later, within DAYS of each other, I had sold TWO novels…one to Albert Whitman, the other to Peachtree. To think how close I was to giving it all up!
But what if I had read Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat back then? I couldn’t have…it just came out last year. But if I HAD read it…would I have looked into 911 dispatch work? I think it would’ve filled that same need inside that I thought becoming a midwife would fill. Only becoming a 911 dispatcher wouldn’t require additional schooling and it wouldn’t require moving back to Minnesota. It’s something I could have done right here. I maybe could have even kept writing (there is downtime on the job…instead of playing games on the computer between calls, I could’ve written…)
I don’t regret any of my choices…but every now and then I think about how different my life could have been if I’d made a different choice somewhere along the line…