My mom has spent her life playing the violin, and I don’t think anything scares her as much as the fact that I want to spend mine writing books. She’s not hypocritical enough to tell me seriously that I should be an engineer, but I know how much she would love it; she practically does a dance when I get a B plus on a math test.
While my marginal understanding of calculus makes me a celebrated anomaly in my family, a good grade in English ominously suggests that I’m going down the same path as the last four generations. Nearly everyone on both sides of my family is an artist of some sort. My parents, both of whom are violinists, met in the Sacramento Philharmonic. My grandpa is a musician who proudly insists that he never worked a day in his life. My Facebook page is often flooded with pictures from my uncle’s rock band. Another uncle made his living for many years in musical theatre. I admire them for making a living doing what they love.
Unfortunately but predictably, there’s a flip side. My dad hasn’t played the violin professionally in years, but instead works as a computer programer. My mom recently went back to school for her second master’s degree– this time in marriage and family therapy. My uncle gave up acting, and now teaches middle-school English. I’ve heard all the warnings before: artists aren’t appreciated or well paid, there’s virtually no job security, and I could always start with the practical career and write in my free time.
It’s nerve-wracking to think of making a living by writing down things that interest me and praying that those things are interesting to the rest of the world. Yet I feel about books exactly the way mom tells me she felt about music. I feel, probably naively, that I couldn’t be happy doing anything else.
My cousin is majoring in creative writing; he’s written two books already and is working on getting them published. Our parents alternate between encouragement and warnings. They dream that at least one of us will be miraculously successful and will buy the rest condos in San Francisco, but “Are you sure you don’t want to be a doctor?” is a common question. No one in my family regrets sacrificing salary for passion, but they’d certainly love it if I made up for their artsy careers by choosing to do something a little more lucrative.
My dad has been known to tell me, “Do as I say, not as I do,” half-mockingly, quoting his father. That sentiment has never been particularly effective. If I become a writer, there’s a good chance that someday I’ll be telling my kid to reconsider her prospective career as a ballerina. I’ll say, “Are you sure you don’t want to be a pharmacist?” But I doubt I’ll mean it any more than my mom does when she says it to me.