What I Might Have Been If I Hadn’t Become A Writer

All the people who stalk my dreams and inhabit me at odd moments are the people I might have been. They pass on a lifetime of workplace arcana: how to adjust a hubcap, how to arrange vitamins near a till, how to stage a strike in the car industry. They pass on techniques for cleaning office rubber plants, or teaching the English language or how to sell make-up. These past lives come crowding sometimes, there’s no stopping them, and the unpredictability of this writing life means that at any moment I may be called upon once again to step back into a former incarnation as a car detailer or shop assistant or plant cleaner or language tutor or surly consultant on the Estee Lauder counter. And that’s just for starters. A heartbeat is all that lies between myself and the many non-writing lives I’ve led.
When I was ten years old, I knew I was a writer and that I wanted to become one. I used to practise my signature over and over and invent other names and signatures for that far-off time when I would be a grown-up and people would read my work. Of course this precocity was hidden – all private obsessive markings in torn exercise books. More publicly I fancied being a spy, the Flying Nun, or a ballerina. Sometimes simultaneously. I used to jump off terraces and small hills, singing, convinced I could fly. My knees still carry the scars. As for the dancing, the ballet teacher took me aside at an early age and said I had nice hands and nice hair for a ballerina. She avoided the whole question of my feet. Writing and professional spying, though, have a great deal in common. Both spies and writers get paid to observe and report back. Writers have the advantage, of course, in that they can always make everything up.
I never had any notion of a career but I did grow up with a strong Catholic sense of vocation which has stayed with me. As a result, I’m not exactly sure that you ever become a writer. There’s nothing finite here – it’s a lifelong apprenticeship. It’s more a process of becoming. You are always your own work in progress. Even after many years and many stories, you are always a beginner, fronting up to the page. I’m not sure you have much choice in the matter either. It’s chosen for you.
I often fancy being an archaeologist, a photographer, a tightrope walker, a forensic linguist. It changes from week to week. The wonderful thing about being a writer is that all the professions you might have had, all the people you might have been are still out there, and still inside, just waiting for you to make contact, waiting for you to summon their signatures to the page, and to practise them, over and over.

From: Lost Careers in BRICK MAGAZINE No71, Summer 2003 Canada

Copyright © 2013 Meaghan Delahunt