Writer Patricia Harrington says she “was told once by a psychologist: Ask a woman what she wanted to be when she was nine years old, and for a boy what he wanted to be when he was twelve years old. There will be elements of that desire or avocation later in life.”
Pat herself is a professional grant writer and mystery writer. She uses the idea that childhood aspirations mirror in some way, if they don’t duplicate, what people do become to develop characters in her mysteries. She says she “asked an Episcopalian bishop what he wanted to be at twelve. He answered, ‘a baseball player, and to play second base.’” She thinks his status as a suffragan bishop (“an assistant or subordinate bishop of a diocese” according to thefreedictionary.com) echoes the childhood dream.
Pat says she asked a public housing tenant “what she wanted to be at nine, and she said, ‘a hooker’. Made me wonder....” In fact, I’m less shocked, however saddened, by that response, than many would be because of my years working with alcoholics and drug addicts who ran the socioeconomic gamut from homeless to rich and privileged. The premise did make me want to know more about what people wanted to be when they grew up. So I asked the question on Facebook. It turned out to be more popular than many of my posts, but most the responses it drew were not quite what I expected. In retrospect, I was hoping for discrepancy rather than correspondence, along the lines of “wanted to be an astronaut...became a lion tamer.”(Come to think of it, there is a common thread in that pair: a tolerance for high risk.)
Some of the kids’ ambitions were imaginative:
“An opera singer & surgeon. At the same time.”
“All I wanted was to be a teenager like the girl down the street who I thought looked just like Annette Funicello.”
“I wanted to meet Roy Rogers & Dale Evans and have them come to the Bronx with their horses.”
“I wanted to be Dallas QB Roger Staubach. The only thing we had in common was I had concussions too.”
From a woman: “I wanted to be President of the U.S. I’ve since regained my senses.”
“At 9: mother of 12 kids. At 13: truck driver.”
Sounds like this last woman also regained her senses. I can’t tell you what she does today, because all the information on her Facebook page is in Finnish, a language that is known for bearing no resemblance to any other language (except Hungarian and Estonian; Basque is the language with no living relatives at all).
Many of my Facebook friends are writers, along with mystery-loving librarians and other readers, and that probably skewed the results. But quite a number of the writers have wanted to be writers since childhood. Of course, in today’s economy and publishing climate, many of the writers have other jobs as well. Mystery author Vicki Lane, for example, wanted to be an archaeologist as a kid; besides teaching and writing, she’s been a farmer for the past 36 years. Digging in the dirt...digging in the dirt. Makes perfect sense to me.
I’m one of those who wanted to be a writer from well below the age of 9. Of course, my plan was to become a published novelist at 24, not at 64. But luckily, writing is an occupation in which ability is not confined to any particular age group. In a creative residency I participated in a few years ago, all the composers of postmodern music were in their early twenties, the visual artists mostly in their thirties; the writers ranged from 20 to 62.