When I was around seven, I looked at teenagers and thought, “If I can just turn thirteen already, then I’ll have made it. I’ll be all grown up.” And then I turned thirteen and didn’t know what seven-year-old Emmalyne had been thinking. All the so-called “grown up” thirteen year old’s I interacted with (including myself) were nowhere near fully grown–inside or out. When my older brother, Derrick, turned thirteen, and became too busy to play with me, I told myself, “I’m never going to get busy. There’s no time for playing!” even though I eventually did get busy–just as busy as Derrick still is today.
I find it interesting how we often idealize our visions for life–up until we get to the same fork in the road and make the same hard decisions we vowed we’d never make. That’s when we finally understand. That’s why they didn’t stick XYZ out. That’s why they weren’t grown up yet. That’s why they stopped having time to play.
As children, our minds are so small that we often develop tunnel vision toward the things we want, since we cannot help but be–for the most part–self-focused. We want to be constantly entertained, we want to eat macaroni and cheese and candy every day, we want to play with our friends, we don’t want to do homework, we don’t want to go to bed, we are not interested in finishing all of the veggies on our plates. It’s hard being a kid and not understanding what our parents experience every day as adults.
Some of us, like me, looked at adulthood as the end of life, just because it was the end of childhood. Certainly it would be the end of life as I knew it, but not the end of who I was. For some reason, I never really thought about my life post-high school, although, obviously, I knew how to have a conversation about it, for instance:
Friend or adult: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Emmalyne: “I want to be an author and write books!”
Friend or adult: “Wow! That’s great! Do you want to get married and have kids?”
Emmalyne: “Yep! I’m gonna live on a farm and have twenty kids and a nice husband.”
But those ideals were two-dimensional and uninspired to me. I’ve always been a writer, and continuing to be one was just a fact, so the career question didn’t constitute any real change for me. Getting married and having twenty kids was also just a goal my fundamentalist culture wove into my mentality growing up. (More on that later.)
Today I am so forward-focused that I’d hardly recognize my young self looking back, and that too has had an impact on my upbringing. As a child, however, I couldn’t fathom my future as an adult. Young life was filled with homework and friends and trying to develop my hobbies so that they could turn into a career as a writer. A child-celebrity, to be exact. That never happened, but I sure wanted it to, because I wanted to make money without having to go to college. That sounds lazy and ignorant, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and I’ll get into that later. A huge reason why I wanted to become published as a child was because my parents really pushed for this. They tend to swing between wanting what’s best for their children, wanting to live vicariously through their children, and wanting to be recognized within their social circles as successful parents. Of course, us kids didn’t catch onto this until our high school years, so we truly believed that the potential we had as young, drippy-nosed kids to become immediate successes was much higher than what was realistic.
To clarify, there is a difference between encouraging your children to shoot for the moon, and guilt-tripping them into believing that their lack of success is directly correlated to their lack of motivation and effort.
Regardless, my parents wanted me to become published young because the younger I was, the more novel (pun not intended) it would be. Just look at Christopher Paolini (remember Eragon?), published at nineteen! Publishing at fourteen would be a miracle! This was something I aspired to and worked toward constantly, and ended up turning out a 410-page, 180,000-word long fantasy novel (within a year and a half) when I was in Jr. High, but never ended up submitting it to publishing houses for a number of reasons.
One big one was the fact that my parents seemed to be breathing down my neck about it. They attempted to be strict about what I could write about (magic is BAD!) but also wanted me to “publish it already” because “wouldn’t it be nice to buy a house?” These feelings were very subtle, but they were there, and still bother me today.
On the other hand, because my parents made it clear from the start of my interest in education and career-paths that they did not–for both religious and financial purposes–believe in college, I felt that my ticket to higher education depended on my ability to publish young, and so I wrote very vigorously. Me becoming a published author meant to them that I would have a career established without the need to obtain a degree (at the expense of my innocence as a home-schooled kid exposed to the wild sins of college life). Becoming a published author meant to me that I could afford to do what I wanted, including paying for college, if that’s eventually what I wanted to do. At that point, I wasn’t sure; I knew what my parents wanted for me wasn’t completely what I wanted, but I was also greatly influenced by their opinions, which they backed by religion.
Also, obviously, a huge reason why I wrote was because I loved it. It was my way of having purpose, and it gave me something huge that I could pour into and become a part of. writing this book was honestly my whole life, for a time. I got into a rhythm where I would be excited to wake up in the morning just so that I could write more pages to email to a couple of my loyal readers, and I’d write myself into a frenzy once homework was done too. From waking to sleeping, it was my most common pastime, my deepest interest. I’d go on walks to brainstorm what to write about next. I became obsessed with coming up with realistic problems for my characters to face, and would then resolve them with solutions that came to me as I was writing. It was like the characters were solving the problems just as I was. In many ways, as other writers–I imagine–are want to do, I lived vicariously through my protagonists. This attitude, I believe, serves to reflect on how little I felt real life was worth experiencing at the time.
Yet another motivation for so determinedly writing was the simple fact that I literally didn’t know that I was good at doing anything else. I’ve always been a decisive, committed person. Once I committed to becoming an author as a 7 year old, that seemed like IT. I was set; I was good at story-writing, I was creative, I was driven, and that was all I needed. That MUST have been what I was meant to do. (My parents have always been really into meaning, almost like destiny, except they call it “God’s Will.”) I guess I never really took opportunities I had to explore other skill sets I might have been interested in pursuing, other than sewing and clothing design, and singing (even though I was terribly untrained and vocally undeveloped at the time).
So…in high school, when I joined competitive speech and debate, and realized that I had potential as a speaker in the league we joined, that became my new obsession, and I loved it because I had so much control over what I was doing and the decisions I made. Competitive speaking is not for the faint of heart, and mine certainly grew in character over the course of the four years I was involved; but it was wonderful growth, and it changed me forever.
Anyhow, that got me off the hook with authoring books to make money for my family. It also put me back on course to pursue myself instead of a way to make money. Isn’t that bizarre? I never really fleshed this part of my life out until now, and I’m seeing how crazy and unusual this kind of situation is. I don’t want to give the impression that my parents were pushing me in the direction of an early career without a lot of willingness on my part to cooperate, but the way they handled my eventual push back with stress and disappointment as I let the Novelty Age Window pass me by says enough. My parents have deeply struggled to raise us children to grow up freely as ourselves, and have instead attempted to lay heavy burdens on us to redeem various mistakes they have made throughout their own lives.
On the other hand, it’s not like most other parents don’t struggle to do the same thing. I must give my parents credit because they grew up in extremely broken homes, and managed to keep our family “together” for the sake of our emotional well-being as children.