It can happen somewhere as simple as a doctor’s office or cafe, but all it takes is a glimpse of medical scrubs or chef’s whites and I’m a goner. I drift into a daydream in which I wake up to morning sun as gentle as lemonade and a kitchen sink that isn’t full of dishes, and then I pack a thermos of soup for lunch and ride my bike to work in a neatly starched uniform. At the office, I file things away the moment they cross my desk, make a difference in people’s lives for hours on end, and then maybe rehearse for a community theater production of “Pippin” before biking home for dinner. Once I get to this point in my fantasy, an optometrist usually jars me awake with, “Now, cover your left eye,” and I look back at him/her with what can only seem like the most psychotic brand of puppy-dog infatuation on the planet. Yeah, that’s right: I fantasize about being an optometrist. I realize this may sound insane, considering many an optometrist, chef, or meter maid out there probably fantasizes about being a writer on a regular basis, but what can I say? I feel there’s something positively dreamy about uniforms, office hours and designated stopping points.
This ridiculous way I romanticize the jobs of uniformed professionals is, no doubt, because every hour is a working hour for me as a writer and this sometimes drives me bonkers. I start scribbling away every morning before I’ve even had a bite of breakfast, keep clacking my computer keys until the sounds of evening rush hour die down outside my window, then I usually realize I’m still in my pajamas and haphazardly change so I can walk my dog and continue outlining new stories as we weave through traffic. I keep up this maddening flow all through the night by taking notes during movies, bemoaning the dilemmas of my characters’ lives to my spouse over dinner and staying up way past my bedtime to write down the things I didn’t get a chance to during the day. I then wake up exhausted and repeat the cycle, occasionally escaping into a fantasy world of eye charts and lunch hours that are actually devoted to lunch. These fantasies could not be more preposterous for me, however, because – back in the days when I worked regular jobs in offices and restaurants – the need to write and get stories out still kept me up all hours of the night. Putting a waitress uniform on me or giving me business cards did not erase my physical ache to tell stories or the compulsive twitch in my brain that won’t let me sleep until I’ve put pen to paper. This costume-and-accessory change merely forced me to lose even more sleep in order to give my writing the time it demanded.
Perhaps those scrubs-clad doctors whose jobs I covet would diagnose my need to write as a sickness, and I don’t think they’d be that far off. It really is something physical and ingrained in my brain, after all. Sure, there’s a part of me that’s motivated to write because of my life experiences and because of my desire to change the world for the better, but my compulsive need to write existed long before my life had a single blemish on it and/or I had any comprehension of why the world needed positive changin’. I used to make up stories to coax my sisters to sleep at night, would tell tall tales to myself as I roller-skated up and down my childhood hallways, and even scribbled a 100-something-page “novel” before I’d turned 11. I did not do this because I liked the idea of being a famous writer one day – I did it because I had to write. As Sylvia Plath once said, “I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still.”
I don’t think it’s physically possible for the voice inside me to ever be still, so one of the few things I know about this life is that I will keep writing as long as I’m living it. Maybe this will bring me moderate fame and fortune, or maybe it will just bring me enough money to finance my nasty candy-bar habit one day out of every year. No matter what infinite number of maybes become definitelys, however, I will keep writing. I will keep losing sleep over my characters, unwittingly wearing pajamas in very inappropriate places, and skipping showers my body desperately needs because I don’t want to waste valuable writing time sudsing my hair. I will be 98 and still writing, still boring my sweetheart with dinner conversation about people who don’t have pulses, and still drifting into daydreams about my alternate life as an optometrist. Yes, I will still write because I suffer from the most lovely sickness in the world and because a voice within me will never be still.
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