A Different Path

When I was younger, I loved doing anything creative. I took black and white photographs with my father. I sang; I danced; I acted. I sat in front of my neighbors’ houses sketching their facades. I even wrote lovelorn poetry for my high school literary magazine.

Then came time to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. After much consideration, I had two contenders: study musical theater, or architecture. In the end, the practical side of me won out. An architect has a better chance of getting a steady job, and I couldn’t picture myself waiting tables in between acting gigs.

So I chose a great university (The Catholic University of America) in a great town (Washington, DC) and I jumped in with both feet. I studied hard, joined the choir, got involved in student government, and soaked up all the culture DC has to offer.

But I had a problem. I had always been an A student, but I was earning Bs and Cs in my Architecture Design Studio courses. What was wrong? I was designing practical buildings, giving myself practice at what I thought I would build when I graduated. Those of my classmates who designed completely creatively with no sense of practicality got As (the long-haired guy who got top grades for his commercial building based on a banana, you shall remain nameless).

So in the summer between my Junior and Senior years, I made a decision to approach the construction field from a different angle: business management. I finished my architecture degree, and then an MBA.

Diploma in hand, I began interviewing. I was sure that with my combination of architecture and business management education, I would be a hot commodity. Who would be lucky enough to snap me up first? As it turns out, there would be no scramble for my services. I soon learned that architecture and construction firms promoted from within; partners and business managers worked for many years as apprentice architects, then full architects, then senior architects, then management. I really didn’t want to wait years to use my skills.

Fast forward twelve years later, and I had leveraged my business background into a successful career in Human Resources. I was employed by a large multi-national corporation, with exciting assignments working with employees, managers, and executives to help the business be successful. I even got to work on large acquisitions and mergers. I received honors, praise, and plum assignments. I was at the top of my game. But I was weary, and empty. There was not an ounce of creativity left in my life.

So when the company went through yet another reorganization, I took the opportunity to leave and start over. It allowed me to finally get pregnant with child #2 (our beautiful daughter), and take stock of my life.

I asked myself: what did I always dream of doing? What did I want to try before it was too late, so that I could live a life of minimal regret?

I quickly discovered that my short-list of dream jobs were full of fun, creativity, and imagination. And not very much practicality. But that’s what dreams are for, right?

With support from my family, I am actively pursuing two of those dreams: writing children’s books, and puppeteering. And I couldn’t be happier. I get to do what I love every day, along with a dream my husband and I share: to personally and actively raise two well-adjusted, loving children.

So, would I do it all again, with what I know now? Yes. Everything I have experienced and learned has informed my character.

I took a different path, and then looked up to find that I had mis-read the signs. Stepping off this road to forge my own path through the underbrush has confirmed my passion for a creative life. I am blessed to be walking this new path with those who love me, supporting me no matter which turn I take.

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Why I Write

Many writers these days reveal that writing was their childhood dream. I always wanted to be a writer. That’s not true for me, at least I have no distinct memory of it. I wanted to be a park ranger or maybe a surgeon. Let’s skip the surgical dream, since it never came true. But I did become an interpretive park ranger in Yosemite National Park, and recently I’ve noticed how similar that job is to the one I’m aspiring to now. I found a thought provoking quote from science fiction writer Brian Aldiss that helped me see the connection between my two lives.

There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.

– Brian Aldiss

In my previous career as an interpretive ranger, my goal was to make people think and to make them wonder. Connecting people to the cultural and natural history of national parks meant asking people to reflect on what it means to be human, how humans fit into the bigger world around us, and just how remarkable that world is. When I was a ranger, visitors joined my walks or snuggled close to my campfires, to hear what I had to say about the park. The commitment on their part was short–maybe an hour or two. Mostly, I addressed a choir of already loyal nature lovers and park supporters (you know who you are). And hopefully, they came away thinking and wondering, or at least having enjoyed a good crepuscular howl at the moon.

As a writer, I strive for the same goal. But the parameters are different.  Rather than using inspirational scenery to draw people in, I must develop abstract landscapes through the written word. It’s a different experience, and in many ways significantly more difficult, than my previous work. In Yosemite, I relied on an existing history, raw material if you will, to draw inspiration from and only had to find the magic within the material before me–cultural stories and natural events–in order to pull people in and inspire them. Now, I spend time crafting an entirely new world–even if the story has a contemporary setting. Most days I’m writing at the computer and very often in my head, mulling over scenes and characters and storylines, and I spend an awful lot of time staring at certain points on my wall in search of inspiration. How I miss the glorious days of a life spent outside! But I love the process of pulling something out of nothing, or at least out of less. And, of course, I love seeing how close I can come to inspiring reflection and wonder with my writing.

Come to think of it, I read books for the same reasons. To think and wonder.

Why do you?

While you consider this, I’m going outside. My new work-in-progress, Momentum, is a based in a ski town. The snow is melting fast and I could use a bit more snowy inspiration. Guess I’m not stuck inside or without raw material after all.

-Joanna