About ten years ago, I attended a writing workshop in Iceland given by the wonderful Icelandic-American poet and essayist Bill Holm, who died way too young, and David Arnason, a very fine Icelandic-Canadian fiction writer. One of the exercises David gave us was: imagine a point in your life that was a fork in the road, when you had a choice of going in two different directions. Then write a description of what your life would have been like if you had taken the other
I could not do the exercise. I couldn't imagine a point when my life had those kinds of choices. I talked to David afterward. He said he had a very clear point of decision in his life. His father had been a fisherman on Lake Winnipeg. He could have followed in his father's footsteps and become a fisherman. Instead, he went to college and became a professor of English Lit and a writer.
I began writing in grade school, and I've known I wanted to be a writer since I was junior high or high school.
I knew in college that I didn't want to join the professional middle class. This was the 1960s, and the middle class did not have a good rep. I thought they were servants of the ruling class, who earned enough by their servitude to be comfortable when many other people suffered. This was a black-and-white vision. Life is more complex, and many middle class people do good work. But I felt then that the middle class was morally compromised. I also felt that a professional career would interfere with my writing.
I went to graduate school for several years, but quit when I realized I was getting close to an MA. I knew if I got one, I'd take the easy way out and get work in an art museum or teaching at a college. (An MA was worth more in those days.) Since my father was an art historian, I had spent my entire life in art departments and art museums. I wanted to find out what else was in the world.
After college, I worked a long series of crap jobs -- mostly in offices, but some in warehouses. 'Crap' is unfair. I found most of the jobs interesting. But they were poorly paid and not respected.
And I wrote, first poetry and then fiction.
Gradually, over time, I learned to do accounting. I ended by being a bookkeeper or financial manager for several small organizations, mostly nonprofits. This was sort of professional, though I never made much money, and I had no credentials, no degree in accounting or CPA. I did end up with more responsibility than I liked. I have never wanted to be any kind of boss, and I ended up as a supervisor -- a strawboss -- a couple of times.
In 2009 I got laid off. I discovered it was really hard to find a job at my age in a depression. In the end, I retired and became a full-time writer.
So where is the fork in my road? I could have finished my MA, I suppose, and gone on to work in a museum. But I didn't want to.